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African nations respond to Panama Papers

Panama Papers stories from ICIJ partners across the African continent have led to official inquiries, but also warnings for journalists to be silent.

In 2010, the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca sent 409 Christmas cards to customers in Africa, the wealthy individuals, bankers and accountants living in what the law firm called “Target Territory.”

Since the release Panama Papers, however, some of those customers have themselves become targets as governments respond with investigations and inquiries into citizens and corporations with links to offshore activity.

On April 3, ICIJ’s media partners in Egypt, Algeria, Senegal, Nigeria, Mali, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda, Tunisia and Kenya published Panama Papers stories. Reports from Morocco and Mauritius quickly followed, as did the reaction from authorities, governments and the general public.

In some countries, such as Algeria and Tunisia, politicians issued fiery denunciations or offered conspiracy theories. In others, like the Democratic Republic of Congo, ministers warned journalists to be careful.

In Tunisia, authorities launched three separate inquiries. At the other end of the continent, South Africa’s Finance Ministry instructed its agencies to investigate South Africans linked to Panama Papers.

“It is in the interests of all those hiding their assets to come clean and disclose, and the government offers such persons a way to legitimize their financial affairs before they are caught out,” said the ministry.

In Sierra Leone, from where numerous diamond operators set up offshore companies, the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources announced in April that it was investigating allegations and would take “appropriate action where necessary.”

Civil society in Nigeria has called on the country’s Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to resign after reports the country’s third most powerful political figure was linked to offshore companies that allegedly held undeclared interests in valuable assets, including homes in London.

In Rwanda, the Minister of Finance issued a terse statement to confirm a company linked to the country’s former spy chief, Emmanuel Ndahiro, was used to help transport government leaders during periods of conflict.

ICIJ received requests from the Mauritius Revenue Authority and from representatives of the Uganda Revenue Authority to identify citizens or provide documents. ICIJ’s policy is not to share documents with governments.

ICIJ and its partners in Africa are continuing the investigation and plan to publish more Panama Papers stories in late July.

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