Panama Papers: Argentine President Mauricio Macri on defense

Argentina's President Mauricio Macri gives a statement at the government house in Buenos Aires, Argentina, April 7, 2016, after his name appeared on offshore accounts. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

The leak of the Panama Papers from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca identify at least 12 heads of state, one of them Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri, who positioned his campaign last year partly on the promise to fight corruption in the South American country.

Macri was director and vice president of an offshore company in the Bahamas, Fleg Trading Ltd., which was created in 1998 and dissolved 10 years later. His father Franco Macri and brother Mariano were also on the board of directors.

The president’s opponents attacked him Tuesday over his connection with the leak, with lawmakers calling on congress to investigate any irregularities in Macri’s finances. The Lower House rejected one bill on Wednesday by opposition lawmaker Myriam Bregman, according to TeleSUR, who had called for the president to explain his involvement.

Macri denies any wrongdoing in his connection with the offshore company.

“It was an offshore company to invest in Brazil, an investment that ultimately wasn’t completed, and where I was director,” President Macri said in a television interview with La Voz. “There is nothing strange about this.”

Macri was also listed as president of a second offshore firm, Kagemusha S.A., set up in Panama in 1981. He did not list either company in his financial declarations when he became Buenos Aires mayor in 2007 or president last year, but the Macri administration said late on Sunday that because Macri had never had a stake in the Bahamas-based firm, he had not been required to disclose the connection.

“This [investigation]may not reveal any serious wrongdoing. It is related more to the activities of his father than to Macri himself,” said Mark Jones, political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, in an interview with Humanosphere.

The Macri administration has confirmed that the ghost company was his father’s, Franco Macri, who in a recent statement also confirmed his role as the company’s founder.

“The biggest challenge for Macri will be demonstrating that he received no financial benefit from his participation in the offshore company,” Jones added.

Other members of his political party, Republican Proposal, whose names surfaced in the Panama Papers leak include his cousin Jorge Macri, his brother Gianfranco and Néstor Grindetti, Macri’s former finance minister and the current mayor of Lanus, who was cited as the director of an offshore firm in Panama.

Macri’s minister of human rights, Claudio Avruj, also appeared on the list, though his ministry denied accusations about an anonymous firm, claiming it was created in “complete legality.”

Macri campaigned on a promise to fight political corruption and integrate Argentina into the global economy. His administration has already cut trade restrictions and energy subsidies, and maintained a vow to repair relations with the U.S.

“Argentina,” President Barack Obama said during his recent visit to Buenos Aires, “is re-assuming its traditional leadership role in the region and around the world.”

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com