While fighting between pro-government forces and rebels for a small Ukrainian town raged on in 2014, representatives of Petro Poroshenko were preoccupied hunting around for a utility bill, it has emerged.
The representatives of the Ukrainian president were trying to find the bill to allow Mr Poroshenko to create a holding company, Prime Asset Partners Limited, in the British Virgin Islands.
The revelation is one of many remarkable details to emerge from the “Panama Papers”, more than 11 million documents reportedly showing how Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca helped a number of current and former world leader to use offshore tax havens.
The information was sent by an anonymous source to German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung and then, in coordination with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), given to over 100 media organisations.
Although there is no indication that named individuals in the papers have done anything illegal, the head of Ukraine’s populist Radical party said an impeachment investigation needed to be launched into allegations that the President used an offshore account to avoid tax.
Referring to the company being set up at the peak of violence in Ukraine in 2014, Oleh Lyashko said: “It is the height of cynicism to open offshore companies at a time when hundreds of our soldiers are dying.”
In a statement, Mr Poroshenko denied any wrongdoing.
The company, Prime Asset Partners, is believed to have been registered on 21 August 2014, according to a share register published by the ICIJ.
At the time, Mr Poroshenko’s troops were being killed in the battle against insurgents. Both sides were trying to claim control of Ilovaisk, a small town in the Donetsk region of Donbass.
When he ran to be President in 2014, Mr Poroshenko pledged to his voters that he would sell his confectionery manufacturer Roshen.
But according to the ICIJ, a Cyprus law firm representing Prime Asset Partners said it was set up as a holding company for the Cyprus and Ukrainian companies of Roshen.
The firm said the company had nothing to do with the “political activities” of the person who set it up. A memorandum of the sole director, published by the ICIJ, shows Mr Poroshenko is the only shareholder.
According to the ICIJ, a spokesperson for Mr Poroshenko said the creation of the company had nothing to do with “any political and military events in Ukraine”.
In a response given to the ICIJ, financial advisors to the President said Prime Asset Partners had been set up to help him sell Roshen.
Following the information leaked in the Panama Papers, a senior official in the General Prosecutor's office said the documents did not show that Mr Poroshenko had committed a crime.
In a statement published on Facebook, the President said: "I believe I might be the first top office official in Ukraine who treats declaring of assets, paying taxes and conflict of interest issues profoundly and seriously, in full compliance with the Ukrainian and international private law."
"Having become a President, I am not participating in management of my assets, having delegated this responsibility to the respective consulting and law firms. I expect that they will provide all necessary details to the Ukrainian and international media."
On Monday, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine said it had no power to investigate the President.
In a statement posted on Facebook, according to the Interfax news agency, the bureau said: “In accordance with the Ukrainian law on the National Anti-Corruption Bureau and the Code of Criminal Procedure, Bureau jurisdiction applies to top officials [authorised] to [fulfil] the functions of the state or local self-government, in particular, the president of Ukraine whose powers have ended.”
Independent News Service
David Cameron’s father, senior Tory peers and former Conservative MPs are among the hundreds of individuals named in the the so-called Panama Papers leak of confidential documents showing how the world’s richest people shield their wealth offshore.
David Cameron’s father was allegedly involved in hiring what has been called a small army of Bahamas residents – including a part-time bishop – to sign paperwork for an offshore fund in what may have been an effort to avoid paying UK tax.
John le Carre’s 1996 novel, The Tailor of Panama, tells the story of Harry Pendel, a British tailor who serves the great and good but whose refusal to come clean about his past almost leads to his downfall. In Panama, he believes, discretion is the only way.