Some of Colombia’s top politicians and businessmen have been outed for storing money in tax havens, according to the leaked documents of the so-called “Panama Papers.”
The Panama Papers are a trove of over 11 million files leaked from a boutique Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, which has facilitated tax evasion by world leaders, banks and celebrities for years.
According to the Latin American media platform Connectas, roughly 850 Colombians hired Mossack Foncesa lawyers to create offshore accounts.
While the full extent of their involvement remains to be seen, Juan Ricardo Ortega, Colombia’s former tax chief, has estimated that the country’s elite have $100 billion stashed in offshore accounts.
Elsewhere in the world, heads having been rolling. David Cameron and Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, the current and former Prime Ministers of the UK and Iceland respectively, have paid high political prices for their lack of initiative when their names were implicated.
Here are some of the Colombians who have already been named in the leaked documents. More are certain to follow in the coming weeks.
Humberto de la Calle
De la Calle is a lawyer and a politician. He is currently the chief negotiator in the peace talks with FARC guerrillas.
This is the culmination of a long political career which has seen him hold the Vice-Presidency, among other positions.
He resigned as vice president in response to 8000 Process scandal in which the Samper presidential campaign received millions of dollars form the Cali drug cartel.
Tomas and Jeronimo Uribe
According to leaked documents Alvaro Uribe’s sons are shareholders of Asia America Investment Corporation, based in the British Virgin Islands.
Their lawyer has declared that the business was intended to sell Colombian handcrafts abroad but never took off, and that it was based in the British Virgin Island because one of the partners lived there.
Alvaro Uribe recently felt the need to release a video declaring that he and his family were innocent of any wrong-doing.
Gomez is a lawyer and a politician who appears in the leaked documents as a partner of Mossack Fonseca & Co. (Colombia). He is also a partner in the law firm Gomez & Suarte.
Gomez ran for vice president along with the conservative presidential candidate Marta Lucia Ramirez in the 2014 elections.
Juan Samy Merheg
Merheg is a businessman and a senator for the Conservative Party. He is an administrator of companies from the United States and has created a number of businesses in the construction, telecommunications and emerging technologies sectors that operate in Colombia.
Ramos is a lawyer and a politician. He is the son of ex-governor of Antioquia Luis Alfredo Ramos who is currently in jail awaiting trial on charges he used paramilitary death squads for his political benefit. Ramos Jr. was elected as a senator for the conservative opposition party Democratic Center in 2014.
A lawyer by training, Hinestrosa has pursued parallel careers in politics and academia. He is a councilor for the coalition Radical Change party in Bogota and was formerly the Vice Minister of Justice.
He was distinguished with the Order of the Congress of Colombia in 2006.
Jesus & Pedro Paternina
Jesus Paternina was the mayor of Sincelejo between 2008 to 2011 and a major political power broker in Colombia’s Caribbean coast. He was a leader for the Colombia Viva Movement, a political group directed by Habib Merheg, the father of the aforementioned Juan Samy Merheg, that went defunct after numerous members proved to be paramilitary pawns. Pedro Paternina is Jesus’ son.
Carrasquilla is a Colombian economist who served as Minister of Finance and Public Credit in the government of President Alvaro Uribe.
He was elected President of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Development Committee in 2005.
Gutierrez is the son of the Luis Eduardo Gutierrez, the conservative ex-councilor of Zipaquira. He is a wealthy businessman and marries to the wife of the sister of Gustavo Petro, the former mayor of Bogota.
The leaked documents indicate that Gutierrez is heading a network of offshore societies and foundations connected to real estate and cattle, among other things.
Acosta has worked in public and private sectors throughout his career, including positions as President of the Colombian Stock Exchange and as Colombia’s vice-Minister of Defense and, ironically, Colombia’s fiscal watchdog.
Now he is an independent consultant and a board member of various prestigious companies.
Andres Florez Villegas
Andres Florez is a lawyer who specializes in business law, including banking, securities, and mergers and acquisitions.
He has been the Legal Director of the Bogota Stock Exchange, the Director of Financial Regulation at the Ministry of Finance and he was also a negotiator of the US – Andean Free Trade Agreement.
Hernan y David Maestre
Hernan Maestre is the president of the board of the Chamber of Commerce of Barranquilla, one of Colombia’s largest port cities, while his brother David was a private consultant for the first mayoralty of Alex Char in Barranquilla, and then later for former mayor Elsa Noguera.
In the leaked documents the brothers are shown to control Mikron Equities S.A., a business registered in the British Virgin Islands. They claim it was set up for a business that never took off, and that “in fact in 2014 we requested the dissolution of the company.”
Luis Alberto Rios
Alberto Rios is a powerful businessman in the public service sector. He owns the cleaning companies Servigenerales and Aseo Capital and has stakes in the energy companies Enerpereira and Enertolima.
Alberto Rios is very close to the vice-president German Vargas Lleras. They have been friends for 25 years and his son was a councillor for Bogota for Radical Change, German Vargas’ party.
Miguel Silva Pinzon
Miguel Silva is a lawyer and a businessman. His last business Galileo6 was specialized in crisis management and political communication, which is handy.
At various points he was political editor of La Prensa and El Tiempo, and he was also a consultant for President Cesar Gaviria. He later became Secretary General of the Presidency. In 2013 Semana described him as “the new guru of government communications.”
Carlos Alberto Gutierrez Robayo
Gutierrez is the son of Luis Eduardo Gutierrez Mendez, the potato tycoon. He trained as a veterinarian and is passionate about animal husbandry; he is the founder and president of CGR Reproductive Biotechnology.
Beyond agriculture, Gutierrez has businesses involved in real estate, construction, coal, oil and railways. He has been implicated in scandals involving both his ex-brother-in-law and mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Petro, and Samuel Moreno, another ex-mayor of Bogota. However, no official charges have been made.
Hollman Carranza is the son of the late emerald Czar Victor Carranza, who has been dubbed one of the godfathers of Colombia’s paramilitary groups.
Jorge Milton Cifuentes-Villa
Jorge Milton Cifuentes is an imprisoned drug-trafficker and the former boss of the so-called Cifuentes Villa clan, an associate of the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel. Cifuentes’ sister has a child with the late brother of former President Alvaro Uribe.
Further releases from the leaked documents have been promised on May 9th. As more of the documents are made public, no doubt more of Colombia’s elite will face hard questions. The lost tax revenue is a blow in a country that is suffering an economic slowdown.
Yet, however distasteful, the majority of such tax evasion schemes are perfectly legal, and those involved have committed no crime.
Last week Colombia and Panama struck a deal to share tax information. They expect to sign it in June, and from then on Colombia can request information regarding its nationals for tax and prosecution purposes. The net may be tightening around Colombia’s tax-evaders.