Panama Papers: Vladimir Putin says attempts to link him with scandal part of US-led disinformation campaign to weaken Russia
WikiLeaks: Claims that Panama Papers themselves are a 'plot' against Russia are nonsense but US government funding of 'Putin attack' seriously undermines its integrity
Vladimir Putin has rejected allegations of links to offshore accounts uncovered in the Panama Papers and called the leaks part of Western efforts to weaken Russia.
Speaking in St Petersburg, the Russian president said even though his name did not figure in any of the documents leaked, Western media has attempted to link him with offshore businesses.
He went on to describe the allegations as part of a US-led disinformation campaign waged against Russia to weaken its government.
Mr Putin was not named in the Panama Papers, but the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists said some of the Russian President's closest allies are involved in offshore financial schemes.
The consortium is funded by the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment think tank, the Rockefellers and George Soros among others.
It has been processing the legal records from the Mossack Fonseca law firm that were first leaked to the German Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
Earlier this week, the Kremlin blamed "Putinophobia" for claims some of Mr Putin's associates moved millions of dollars through offshore companies in a series of covert deals.
In his first statement on the Panama Papers, Mr Putin said one of his closest friends, cellist Sergei Roldugin, had done nothing wrong. Mr Roldugin was revealed as the owner £1.42 billion in offshore assets.
Over 11.5 million files were leaked from Mossack Fonseca. The documents contain information on 215,000 offshore entities, connected to individuals in more than 200 countries and territories.
Shell companies are not necessarily illegal. People or companies might use them to reduce their tax bill legally, by benefiting from low tax rates in countries like Panama, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.
But the practice is frowned upon, particularly when used by politicians, who then face criticism for not contributing to their own countries' economies.
Claims that #PanamaPapers themselves are a 'plot' against Russia are nonsense. However hoarding, DC organization & USAID money tilt coverage— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) April 6, 2016
#PanamaPapers: If you censor more than 99% of the documents you are engaged in 1% journalism by definition.— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) April 6, 2016
Because offshore accounts and companies also hide the names of the ultimate owners of investments, they are often used to illegally evade taxes or launder money.
The leaks caused the Prime Minister of Iceland to step aside for "an unspecified amount of time" after it was revealed he and his wife had bought an offshore firm in the British Virgin Islands.
Calls for Panama Papers to be published in full
Icelandic investigative journalist and WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson has called for the Panama Papers to be published in full online.
The US OCCRP can do good work, but for the US govt to directly fund the #PanamaPapers attack on Putin seriously undermines its integrity.— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) April 5, 2016
Mr Hrafnsson, who worked on the ‘Cablegate’ leak of diplomatic documents in 2010, suggested the withholding of documents is understandable to maximise the impact, but said that in the end the papers should be published in full for the public to access.
He told RT's Afshin Rattansi on Going Underground: "When they are saying this is responsible journalism, I totally disagree with the overall tone of that.
"I do have a sympathy to stalled releases, we certainly did that in WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011 with the Diplomatic Cables… but in the end the entire cache was put online in a searchable database.
"That is what I’d want to see with these Panama Papers, they should be available to the general public in such a manner so everybody, not just the group of journalists working on the data, can search it."
Asked if he is surprised that there has been "no big American names released - so far" Mr Hrafnsson said: "It seems to be skewed away from American interests. American companies are only a third of British companies there.
"You have to keep in mind this one law firm in Panama servicing, providing tax haven companies mostly out of the British Virgin Islands - so it doesn't give the entire picture."
On Wednesday, WikiLeaks said on Twitter that the Panama Papers data leak was produced by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), "which targets Russia and [the] former USSR."
It said the the "Putin attack" was funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and US hedge fund billionaire George Soros. WikiLeaks said that US government funding of such an attack "seriously undermines its integrity".
Sueddeutsche Zeitung: Full release 'not in public interest'
However the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which received the documents from an unidentified source more than a year ago and shared at least parts of them with dozens of other media outlets around the world, has said it will not be publishing all of the documents.
The newspaper said the complete set of 11.5 million documents "won't be made available to the public or to law enforcement agencies. That's because the SZ isn't the extended arm of prosecutors or the tax investigators."
Authorities have legal powers to obtain such documents from those suspected of wrongdoing, and in many cases there is no public interest in revealing companies' or individuals' offshore business dealings, the Munich-based paper said.
Sueddeutsche Zeitung said it did not know how the anonymous source obtained the data, but that he or she had expressed "a very strong moral impulse" and wanted to make "these crimes public".
Panama's government on Wednesday accused wealthy nations of unfairly attacking the Central American country while ignoring their own failings.
President Juan Carlos Varela said an international committee of experts would be created to recommend ways to boost transparency in the Central American country's offshore financial industry. Experts say that while offshore companies can be used for tax evasion and money laundering, there are also legitimate and legal grounds for creating them.
German lawmakers said on Thursday they plan to hold an urgent debate on the offshore leaks next week.
"The revelations in the Panama Papers have triggered a broad discussion among politicians and the public about necessary consequences," said Christine Lambrecht, of the Social Democratic Party that is part of chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition.
Responding to readers' queries about the absence of prominent German or American politicians in the reports, Sueddeutsche Zeitung said such names have not yet been found in the documents.
It said the documents include copies of the passports of 200 Americans, and about 3,500 shareholders in offshore companies listed addresses in the United States.
"One possible reason why comparatively few Americans appear in the documents could be that US citizens have no reason to contact a law firm in Panama," the paper said. "That's because offshore companies can easily be created in US states such as Wyoming, Delaware or Nevada."
Belfast Telegraph Digital