Skip to content

Panama Papers law firm co-founder ​​Ramón Fonseca Mora dies in hospital

Fonseca was recently absent from the long-awaited Panamanian money laundering trial arising from ICIJ’s 2016 investigation.

​​Ramón Fonseca Mora, one of the founders of the now-shuttered law firm at the center of the Panama Papers exposé, has died at 71, according to his lawyer.

Guillermina McDonald, the lawyer, confirmed via text that Fonseca died overnight.

He had been hospitalized since early April, shortly before the start of a landmark money laundering trial stemming from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalist’s 2016 investigation, McDonald told Reuters. Fonseca did not attend the hearings due to illness, McDonald said.

Twenty-seven people including Fonseca and his partner in the law firm Mossack Fonseca, Jürgen Mossack, faced trial over their alleged role in setting up shell companies involved in the so-called “car wash” corruption scheme in Brazil, dubbed “Lavo Jato” in Portuguese, and a separate bribery scandal involving German company Siemens.

Both Mossack and Fonseca have repeatedly denied any involvement in illegal activities. The verdict in the current trial, which concluded on April 19, is pending as the judge considers evidence presented in the hearings.

“In accordance with the judicial code, the criminal action in relation to the deceased accused is extinguished. The process, which is in the sentencing stage, continues for all the other defendants,” said Panamanian attorney Carlos Barsallo. A spokesperson from Panama’s Public Ministry confirmed the legal action against Fonseca will be dismissed.

In 2022, both Mossack Fonseca founders were acquitted in a separate Panamanian money laundering case.

Carolina Fonseca, Fonseca’s niece, shared the news of his death on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

“His presence and fascinating theories accompanied us on this network,” she said, referring to Fonseca’s frequent use of the platform. “Rest in peace, dear uncle, you will always live in our hearts.”

Born in Panama in 1952, Fonseca studied at the London School of Economics before becoming a successful novelist in the 1990s, twice winning Panama’s highest literary prize, according to the New York Times. He later entered politics and served as a top advisor to former Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela.

In 2019, Mossack and Fonseca launched an unsuccessful libel case against Netflix in response to its movie “The Laundromat,” based on the Panama Papers investigation. The pair argued that their depiction by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas was defamatory.

The Panama Papers investigation remains one of the largest cross-border journalistic collaborations in history and has become shorthand for financial chicanery and political corruption in the public imagination.

Based on a trove of 11.5 million files leaked to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with ICIJ, the investigation exposed the offshore financial secrets of world leaders and other powerful public figures, triggering protests, government probes and the resignation of Iceland’s prime minister.

In a recent op-ed published in La Estrella de Panamá newspaper, Fonseca’s children, who did not share their names, wrote that the Panama Papers had destroyed their father’s reputation and that his health had recently deteriorated sharply.

“Overnight, our father’s impeccable legacy went from being that of a writer, idealist, fighter, and successful lawyer to the biggest scumbag in Panama,” they said.

“As you can imagine, this affected our dad greatly.”

ICIJ is dedicated to ensuring all reports we publish are accurate. If you believe you have found an inaccuracy let us know.