Organized crime prosecutors in Panama raided the offices of law firm Mossack Fonseca on Tuesday looking for evidence of money laundering and financing terrorism following a leak of documents about tax havens it set up for wealthy international clients.
Soon after news reports based on a trove of documents from the firm began emerging more than a week ago, Panama's government had said it would investigate.
Half a dozen police officers set up a perimeter around the offices while prosecutors searched inside for documents.
The attorney general's office said in a statement that the objective of the raid was ''to obtain documentation linked to the information published in news articles that establish the use of the firm in illicit activities.''
It said searches also were made at other subsidiaries of the firm in Panama and at the company's computer support centre.
Mossack Fonseca has denied any wrongdoing, saying it only set up offshore financial accounts and anonymous shell companies for clients and was not involved in how those accounts were used. The law firm said on its Twitter account on Tuesday night that it ''continues to cooperate with authorities in investigations begin made at our headquarters''.
The search came a day after intellectual property prosecutors visited Mossack Fonseca to follow up on the firm's allegations that a computer hack led to the leak of millions of documents about tax havens. The firm filed a complaint charging the security breach shortly before the first media reports working with the documents offered details on how politicians, celebrities and companies around the globe were hiding assets in offshore accounts and shell companies.
''Finally the real criminals are being investigated,'' co-founder Roman Fonseca said in a message to The Associated Press on Monday. Fonseca has maintained that the only crime which can be taken from the leak was the computer hack itself. He has said he suspects the hack originated outside Panama, possibly in Europe, but has not given any details.
The law firm is one of the most important in the world for creating overseas front companies. Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela has defended the country's financial sector, which is considered of strategic importance for the economy. But Varela has also promised the international community that he is willing to make reforms to make the sector more transparent.
On Tuesday, Varela met with legal, banking and business professional associations. Afterward, he asked France to reconsider its decision to place Panama on a list of uncooperative countries in financial information.
The government announced that Joseph Stiglitz, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001, would be one member of an international panel formed to review Panama's legal and financial practices and recommend improvements.