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US Opens Criminal Probe of Information in Panama Papers

FILE - U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is seen speaking at a conference Feb. 8, 2016, in Albany, New York. On Wednesday, Bharara disclosed the Panama Papers probe to a group of investigative journalists.

The U.S. says it has opened a criminal investigation into the massive cache of information leaked from a Panamanian law firm revealing alleged tax avoidance schemes across the world.

A prominent U.S. prosecutor, Preet Bharara in New York, disclosed the investigation to a group of Washington-based investigative journalists who wrote stories earlier this month about the more than 11 million documents leaked from the Mossack Fonseca law firm that detailed the firm's creation of hundreds of offshore companies owned by the wealthy, powerful and famous.

Bharara said he wanted to meet with representatives of the journalists' group, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, about what it called the Panama Papers. The journalists' group confirmed that it had received Bharara's letter, but had no comment on it.

U.S. authorities say their first priority in the investigation is to look for wrongdoing by U.S. individuals and corporations. Investigations have been opened in other countries as well.

When the information about the offshore accounts was disclosed in early April, President Barack Obama described global tax avoidance as a "huge problem." He added that "the problem is that a lot of this stuff is legal, not illegal."

Obama said, "A lot of these loopholes come at the expense of middle class families, because that lost revenue has to be made up somewhere."