The Real Deal Miami

Hundreds of secret offshore companies trace back to Brickell condo: “Panama Papers”

Firm's Miami representative helped incorporate more than 200 foreign shell companies in 2012

April 05, 2016 05:45PM

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Olga Santini and the Palace

Olga Santini (via LinkedIn) and the Palace on Brickell

A new report shows that the Miami representative of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, which set up hundreds of secret offshore companies identified in the “Panama Papers,” operated out of a Brickell condo tower.

Olga Santini, the law firm’s Miami representative, helped incorporate more than 200 of foreign shell companies for the world’s wealthy elite out of her two-bedroom condo at the Palace, a waterfront building in Brickell, between August and December 2012 alone. The entities were based in the British Virgin Islands, Samoa and the Seychelles.

The investigation, launched by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, together with 100 news organizations including the Miami Herald, analyzed 11.5 million documents, dubbed the “Panama Papers,” that were leaked from Mossack Fonseca. The law firm is one of many that set up offshore companies for a number of high-profile foreign nationals, many of whom have been convicted of or linked to crimes in their home countries.

According to the Miami Herald, the documents show Santini and her Panamanian employer did not offer much evidence of due diligence. But in an emailed response to the newspaper, Santini denied any wrongdoing, and in a separate statement Mossack Fonseca defended its practices, denying any intentional criminal activity. The law firm charged between $750 to $1,400 to incorporate each company with Santini pocketing about 30 percent of those fees in commissions.

Among those implicated? Mauricio Cohen Assor and Leon Cohen-Levy, a father-son duo convicted of tax evasion in 2011. One of their multimillion-dollar assets, a waterfront mansion at 5930 North Bay Road, was listed for sale for $26 million in October. The Cohens, owners of the Flatotel chain, had concealed more than $150 million in assets and failed to report more than $49 million in income to the Internal Revenue Service, according to published reports.

The Miami Beach attorney for Paulo Octávio Alves Pereira, a Brazilian politician under indictment for corruption in his home country, asked Santini to create an offshore company for the politician, who paid just less than $3 million for a unit at the St. Regis Bal Harbour. Octávio made his money developing shopping centers in his native Brazil, according to the Herald, and even stepped in as governor of Brasilia after his old boss was arrested for alleged bribery. But he quickly resigned after also being accused of taking bribes.

“I never took bribes. There were no papers, no video that incriminated me. I am innocent. Everything is wrong. It’s political,” he told The Herald. “We made the offshore because the lawyers in America said it was the best way to buy an apartment in Miami. Many friends of mine, they do the same. They buy property with offshores.”

According to the Miami Herald, Mossack Fonseca has more than 40 offices around the world, including its Brazil branch.

Giuseppe Donaldo Nicosia, an Italian fugitive wanted for significant tax fraud, was also identified, as well as Martin Lustgarten, who was acquitted of money laundering. Altogether, 19 foreign nationals were named in the report as buyers in Miami-Dade County, and eight have been linked to some sort of crime in their home countries.

The investigation comes just months after a division of the U.S. Treasury Department launched an anti-money laundering program targeting the same types of shadow-buyers in Miami and Manhattan’s luxury residential markets. [Miami Herald] – Katherine Kallergis