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Editorial

The Panamanian offshore sector is still recovering from the consequences of the Panama Papers scandal. While the two founding members of Mossack Fonseca were arrested in February 2017 after another raid of the firm’s premises, the outcome of the affair still remains uncertain. The firm’s latest statement reads: ‘In the more than ten months since the beginning of this investigation, caused by a suspiciously unreported crime committed against our firm, they have not presented a single piece (of) evidence that shows us guilty.

In October 2016 the Panamanian Government approved new laws making it mandatory for offshore entities to maintain accounting records which must be kept for 5 years. Additionally, corporate rights of legal entities can now be suspended under certain circumstances. Consequently, compliance, cyber security and tax matters have increasingly moved into the focus of authorities and law firms alike.

Another big scandal shook the legal market in 2016; the listing of Grupo Waked as ‘Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers’ by the US Treasury’s Bureau of Foreign Assets (OFAC), and the subsequent freezing of all assets and prohibition of US entities from engaging in any sort of transaction with said group. The assets, including the Soho Mall and Felix B Maduro companies, were transferred into trusts, with the National Bank of Panama acting as trustee and top Panamanian law firms involved in various stages of the process. Meanwhile, the expansion of the Panama Canal is still fuelling disputes in the construction sector, keeping the legal market busy with complex arbitration and litigation cases.

Overall, the Panamanian economy is growing at a steady rate. After dropping to 5.8% in 2015, the GDP growth rate is expected to rise to 6.2% over the next couple of years. Major airlines, including Emirates and Turkish Airlines, have been setting up operations in Panama’s Tocumen airport. In 2017 Panama celebrates the 100th anniversary of its Flag Registry, which is currently undergoing optimisation and digitalisation processes. Foreign investment into energy and real estate projects is still high, but lawyers report that their clients are finding it increasingly difficult to sell their real estate properties.

Panama’s key market players remain the same; Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee, Arias, Fábrega & Fábrega, Galindo, Arias & López and Morgan & Morgan are strong and experienced firms, able to tackle the most complex, multi-jurisdictional matters that are no rarity in Panama, due to it being a financial, maritime and offshore hotspot in Latin America. In 2016 the ever-dynamic Arias & Muñoz split amicably into Arias and Muñoz Global, the latter entering into a combination agreement with Dentons, since when it has operated as Dentons Muñoz ever since.

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