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Politicians and celebs deny abuse of offshore accounts amid Panama Papers leak

Published 06/04/2016

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke during a meeting with Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe and business leaders in Tokyo (AP)
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke during a meeting with Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe and business leaders in Tokyo (AP)

The president of Ukraine has become the latest prominent politician to deny wrongdoing after his name was linked to secretive offshore accounts arranged by a Panama law firm.

The revelations have raised suspicion that such offshore entities were set up to avoid taxes, but Petro Poroshenko denied that was the purpose in his case. Rather, he said, it was necessary to create an offshore holding company to put his sweet business in a blind trust when he became president of Ukraine in 2014.

"This is absolutely normal procedure, and I think this is the main difference from the naming of all the political figures in this Panama list," Mr Poroshenko said in Tokyo, where he was meeting with Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe and business leaders.

"If we have anything to be investigated, I am happy to do that," he said. "But, this is absolutely transparent from the very beginning. No hidden account, no associated management, no nothing."

Reports, based on a trove of confidential documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, have purported to expose the offshore arrangements of public officials, businesspeople and celebrities around the world.

Iceland's prime minister became the first casualty of the affair Tuesday, stepping down two days after a video was aired showing him breaking off a television interview over questions about his family's offshore dealings.

Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson had faced opposition calls to resign over revelations he had used a shell company to shelter large sums while Iceland's economy was in crisis.

The so-called Panama Papers reports, which were coordinated by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, have implicated a diverse range of figures, including Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan.

Bachchan denied any connection to four shipping companies registered in tax havens following reports by The Indian Express newspaper. "It is possible that my name has been misused," Bachhan tweeted late on Tuesday.

"I have paid all my taxes including on monies spent by me overseas," he said. "Monies that I have remitted overseas have been in compliance with law, including remittances through LRS (Liberalised Remittance Scheme) after paying Indian taxes. In any event the news report in the Indian Express doesn't even suggest any illegality on my part."

Elsewhere, Spanish media are reporting that movie director Pedro Almodovar has cancelled publicity events for his new movie Julieta following intense interest in the offshore company he owned with his brother years ago.

The Europa Press news agency said Almodovar cancelled an appearance at a photo shoot and interviews ahead of the movie's premiere in Madrid on Wednesday night.

Almodovar's brother Agustin on Monday blamed his lack of experience for a decision to set up an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands in 1991 that was shut down in 1994.

The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, meanwhile, which says it is one of the outlets given access to the leaked documents, has said law firm Mossack Fonseca incorporated companies named Goldfinger, SkyFall, GoldenEye and Moonraker and was asked to set up a firm called Octopussy.

The OCCRP said the law firm also incorporated companies named Blofeld and Spectre, after the classic James Bond villain and his organisation. In addition, its report said, the files contain correspondence from a man called Austin Powers - but that apparently was his real name.

Panama is fighting back against the accusations that the country is a haven for money laundering.

Panama's Foreign Relations Ministry has sent a letter to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) saying any suggestion that the country harbours shady financial dealings is categorically untrue.

OECD secretary-general Angel Gurria said the Panama Papers leak has shown that the country tolerates a "culture of secrecy" in financial transactions. Mr Gurria said Panama was the last major jurisdiction allowing clients to hide money from tax and law enforcement officials.

Panama responded on Wednesday that it is being unfairly singled out for criticism.

The Foreign Ministry said Panama's laws "are not fundamentally different from those of any other financial jurisdiction".

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