It's illegal to help someone evade taxes or conceal their assets from a judge in the event of a divorce — but the Panama Papers show that unscrupulous lawyers will still do so.
The recent Panama Papers leak revealed how global elites use offshore companies to avoid paying taxes, but that isn't the only reason they're sheltering their wealth. The rich are also sending money abroad to keep it away from their future exes.
"Every now and then I get a call from someone saying, 'I'm thinking about getting a divorce in five years. Can you help me protect my assets in case I get one?'" said Randall Kessler, an Atlanta divorce lawyer and former chair of the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association. "That presents us with a problem."
Kessler said he doesn't help clients hide their money offshore. After all, it's illegal to help someone evade taxes or conceal their assets from a judge in the event of a divorce.
But unscrupulous lawyers will do so, the Panama Papers showed. The 11.5 million documents leaked to the press from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca detail numerous examples of high-fliers seeking to make sure their soon-to-be ex-wives and husbands don't obtain half of their fortunes after a breakup.
"For decades, spouses — nearly always male and part of the global One Percent — have solicited Mossack Fonseca to help shield assets from soon-to-be exes," says a report from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, or ICIJ, the American group that coordinated a worldwide effort to report on the Panama Papers. "Mossack Fonseca has agreed with little hesitation.
Mossack Fonseca representatives told the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung that they "regret any misuse of the companies we create or services we offer. Wherever possible we take steps to either uncover or stop such misuse."
The law firm has also complained that a hacker illegally stole the documents. Süddeutsche Zeitung was the first media organization to obtain the Panama Papers, but neither the newspaper nor the ICIJ has released the documents to the public.
The case of Dmitri Rybolovlev, a mining magnate whom Forbes listed as the 148th richest man in the world, is the perhaps most spectacular of the examples related to divorce in the Panama Papers.