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'Panama Papers' leak details ties to insurance fraud in boat tragedy

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A case of insurance fraud involving a fatal boating accident in upstate New York is cited in the so-called “Panama Papers” that detail the use of offshore accounts and shell companies by politicians and others, some of whom are allegedly engaged in money laundering.

The papers, which include more than 11 million leaked documents associated with the Panama City, Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca & Co., mention the sinking of the tour boat in 2005. “After the survivors and families of the dead sued, they learned the tour company had no insurance because fraudsters had sold it a fake policy,” according to the Panama Papers, which were assembled by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and released this week.

Christopher Purser, who owned Houston-based Monarch Insurance Services Inc., pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in Houston federal court in 2011 and was sentenced to federal prison. According to prosecutors, Mr. Purser sold Lake George, N.Y.-based Shoreline Cruises Inc. an insurance policy that included marine liability coverage for the Ethan Allen. The policy was underwritten by United Reinsurance Group Ltd., one of a number of shell companies he and five other co-defendants — including an accountant from Caribbean island of St. Kitts named Malchus Irvin Boncamper — founded as part of a fraud scheme dating back to 1999.

When Shoreline tried to collect on its insurance for the accident, prosecutors said Mr. Purser drafted falsified backdated documents in an attempt convince the tour company that it never bought coverage for boating operations or accidents on Lake George.

Mr. Boncamper also pleaded guilty to money laundering charges related to the insurance fraud in 2011, and was sentenced to federal prison and according to the Panama Papers, “this created a problem for Mossack Fonseca, because Boncamper had served as the front man — a “nominee” director — for 30 companies created by the law firm.

“Once it learned of Boncamper's criminal conviction, Mossack Fonseca took quick action. It told its offices to replace Boncamper as director of the companies — and to backdate the records in a way that made it appear the changes had taken place, in some cases, a decade earlier.”

Mossack Fonseca did not immediately respond for comment. It did, however, issue a statement shortly after release of the investigative journalists' initial report that read in part: “Recent media reports have portrayed an inaccurate view of the services that we provide and, despite our efforts to correct the record, misrepresented the nature of our work and its role in global financial markets. These reports rely on supposition and stereotypes, and play on the public's lack of familiarity with the work of firms like ours. The unfortunate irony is that the materials on which these reports are based actually show the high standards we operate under.”