U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, asked to speak to journalists who participated in the Panama Papers project.
Bharara wrote a brief letter to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), saying the Mossack Fonseca documents are relevant to a criminal investigation his office has launched.
The letter was released by The Guardian, one of the ICIJ media, and states, “The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (the “Office”) has opened a criminal investigation regarding matters to which the Panama Papers are relevant.”
Bharara’s request comes after 11.5 million documents from the Panama-based law firm, Mossack Fonseca, were leaked to the ICIJ and other news organizations. The data breach named 12 world leaders and 140 other politicians in connection to offshore companies in 21 tax havens. The names included Vladimir Putin, Argentine president Mauricio Macri, soccer superstar Lionel Messi, and the Prime Minister of Iceland.
American names have popped up in the massive Mossack Fonseca leak that was released on April 3, including retirees, a hollywood magnate, a singer, and a book author.The Panama Papers had at least 200 U.S. passport records and 3,500 shareholders with U.S. addresses. Almost 3,100 companies are related to offshore professionals in Miami, New York, and other locations in the United States.
Bharara is already investigating some of the Americans mentioned in the Panama Papers. One of them is president of New York Global Group, Benjamin Wey.
Wey was indicted in 2015 over securities fraud, with the concealment of true ownership interest in publicly traded companies at the center of the charges
Bharara said in a statement in 2015:
“Ben Wey fashioned himself a master of industry, but as alleged, he was merely a master of manipulation. The indictment charges that Wey used reverse merger transactions between Chinese companies and U.S. shell companies to illegally conceal his ownership interest and then, with the help of his alleged co-conspirator, manipulated the market so that he could sell his interest at artificially inflated prices. As alleged, in making tens of millions in illicit profit, Wey refused to let the securities laws or the rules of a fair marketplace get in the way of his dishonest scheme.”
Bharara’s office did not comment on the letter sent to ICIJ.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.