A former Vancouver lawyer who has been named in the Panama Papers says he'll take his time in responding to a "frenzy" of media reports that are raising questions about the role he played in helping establish offshore tax shelters.
Corporate House, a company led by Frederick L. Sharp, is named in leaked data from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca as registering more than 1,000 companies, trusts and foundations.
Media reports have quoted internal Mossack Fonseca documents as stating: "Referrals of Canadian [clients] must be made to Corporate House" in Vancouver. Mr. Sharp has been described in some stories as "Canada's top offshore middleman."
In an interview on Monday, after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists made the latest in a series of ongoing releases – posting more than 200,000 new offshore account details – Mr. Sharp said he is planning to respond to the Panama Papers leaks "in a couple of weeks." He said he has been in discussions with an unnamed newspaper about publishing a series of articles written by him "to correct the record because, as you may guess, there's a lot of guessing going on … which is fair enough because it's difficult to put the pieces together."
While Mr. Sharp said he didn't want to make an immediate statement in response to the news coverage, he did make it clear he thinks the overall tone of the reporting has been unfair.
"I'm not particularly concerned whether the record is correct or not correct. What I'm concerned [about] is that … [the] journalists who are engaging in this frenzy are doing so with stolen information, which I find reprehensible, personally, and nobody – no editor – seems to be saying anything about that," he said.
"What I [want] to do is balance the reporting with getting away from basically the gossip side and getting more into the substantial side [of offshore tax laws]," he said. "I mean [media reports] keep saying being offshore is 'not necessarily illegal.' Well, there are many, many cases where they in fact [are] legal. You can run an international business, set up in Barbados, and there is a tax treaty and there's that whole area and it just has [suddenly] become politically incorrect to be offshore."
Mr. Sharp said that while he doesn't think most offshore investors deserve criticism, he does understand a different standard applies to politicians, because they are "leading the charge" against tax avoidance.
The Panama Papers leak has led to the resignation of Iceland's prime minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, whose family sheltered money offshore, and has placed British Prime Minister David Cameron under pressure, because his late father established an offshore fund in Panama in 1981.
Mr. Sharp said he doesn't enjoy being in the spotlight but expects public interest in the Panama Papers will wane soon enough.
"I know enough that this is the flavour of the day. I finally got my 15 minutes of fame – which I am just tickled pink about. And it will all be forgotten next month, or whenever. With Snowden, it took a year or so, but nobody is interested in any of that stuff any more," he said, referring to Edward Snowden, who leaked classified information from the U.S. National Security Agency in 2013, sparking a flurry of stories about the agency's surveillance activities.
"And so it'll be the same thing [with the Panama Papers]. It'll just peter out," said Mr. Sharp, who was called to the bar in B.C. in 1981, but who stopped practising after his licence was suspended in 1995 by the Law Society of British Columbia for one year and he was ordered to pay $12,000 in costs.
Mr. Sharp was disciplined because he took instructions from a company representative who was disqualified from acting as a director "because of a criminal record for fraud" and because in the same transaction, he released a certified cheque "even though he knew there were insufficient funds in his client company's bank account."