- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) - Millions of leaked documents showing how the world’s richest avoid tax obligations are “relevant” to a criminal investigation, a top federal prosecutor in Manhattan said in a letter to the journalism consortium that has overseen investigative reporting on the so-called Panama Papers.

In the letter sent to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists asking to discuss the papers, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara wrote that his office had “opened a criminal investigation regarding matters to which the Panama Papers are relevant.”

Bharara’s office didn’t comment. The consortium confirmed the letter had been received, and had no comment on any response.

The consortium oversaw an effort from investigative reporters around the world to delve into 11.5 million leaked documents leaked by Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca & Co. The stories have created a global firestorm since they started being released earlier this month, and detailed how politicians, businesses and celebrities hide their wealth through the use of shell companies and offshore accounts.

Most of the people named have been in other countries. Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the German newspaper that first obtained the documents, said passport copies from 200 Americans were in the records, and about 3,500 shareholders in offshore companies had U.S. addresses. Mossack Fonseca has set up more than 250,000 companies over the last 40 years.

A founder of Mossack Fonseca said there were few American names because the company preferred to focus on other parts of the world and not have American clients. Americans also have the ability to create shell companies in certain states in the country, precluding the need to go abroad.

The international repercussions have been far-ranging. The uproar led to the resignation of the prime minister of Iceland, and has brought scrutiny to leaders of Argentina and Ukraine, Chinese politicians, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his friends. British Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged his father had invested in an offshore tax haven, and that he profited from it before being elected.

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