NEW: Arms dealer Carlos Cardoen sold cluster bombs to Saddam Hussein.

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ICIJ’s investigations on secret money trails often bring us close to some of the world’s most notorious figures and their businesses. But alongside these underworld characters, we typically uncover some of the financial services industry’s most well-heeled professionals and firms working hand-in-hand with them.

A new trove of leaked documents gave ICIJ reporter Brenda Medina a rare window into the offshore activities of a one-time high-profile arms dealer: Carlos Cardoen, who had been on Interpol’s most-wanted list for more than a decade.

Cardoen had reportedly built weapons for the Chilean military during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, and had been indicted by U.S. authorities for alleged crimes related to selling more than $200 million worth of cluster bombs to Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq during its bloody war with Iran.

But that didn’t stop one of Panama’s most prestigious law firms from helping him quietly run his offshore companies. Internal documents from ARIFA — a pioneer in developing some of the country’s most sought-after anonymous offshore vehicles — provide an intimate level of detail on the firm’s closed-door deliberations over whether to keep Cardoen on as a client.

Vetting potential and existing clients is supposed to be a top priority for lawyers and financial agents who set up companies in tax and secrecy havens. They are legally required to consider whether the services they provide could aid and abet crimes like fraud, tax evasion and money laundering.

Our latest investigation highlights just how professional enablers weigh those risks and responsibilities when they’re in the business of selling secrecy.

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