Panama Leaked Files Spark Angry Reaction in Moscow – WSJ

Panama Leaked Files Spark Angry Reaction in Moscow – WSJ

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Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting outside Moscow on Monday. ENLARGE
Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting outside Moscow on Monday. Photo:Associated Press
MOSCOW—News reports based on leaked documents that detailed alleged offshore accounts belonging to dozens of prominent people, including a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, sparked outrage from the Kremlin on Monday.
The reports, published late Sunday, are based on millions of documents that news outlets said were leaked from a Panama law firm that set up offshore bank accounts for dozens of global leaders, businessmen and celebrities.
They placed Mr. Putin’s childhood friend Sergei Roldugin and a high-profile Russian bank at the center of a web of complex transactions amounting to at least $2 billion that involved other close associates of Mr. Putin and Russian businessmen.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the reports didn’t implicate the Russian president himself, and dismissed the allegations as “the usual conjecture, insinuation, speculation, which do not demand a reaction.”
“It is clear that the degree of ’Putinophobia’ has reached such a level that it is impossible a priori to speak well of Russia,” Mr. Peskov said in comments carried by state news agencies.
Mr. Peskov had said last week that Western news outlets were planning an “information attack” on Mr. Putin aimed at destabilizing Russia.
Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung said it had received the documents relating to the law firm Mossack Fonseca from an unnamed source and shared them with more than 100 other news organizations,including the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.
The ICIJ said the files contain information on offshore accounts holdings of 140 politicians and public officials from around the world, including in Iceland and Ukraine.
In a statement published on the website of the Guardian, one of the papers that ran reports, Mossack Fonseca denied any wrongdoing, saying it “has operated beyond reproach in our home country and in other jurisdictions where we have operations.”
Articles based on the documents shone a spotlight on several people close to Mr. Putin, indicating they took part in transactions involving offshore companies, including loans and share deals, over several years.
The reports said that the leaked documents placed Mr. Roldugin, a cellist and godfather of one of Mr. Putin’s children, and Bank Rossiya at the heart of the deals. Bank Rossiya is controlled by another friend of Mr. Putin, billionaire Yuri Kovalchuk. The U.S. placed sanctions on the bank in 2014 over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, calling it “the personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation.”
Approached last week by reporters from the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which also reported on the documents, Mr. Rodulgin said that he couldn’t comment on the specifics but said he was connected to some of the businesses “long ago.” Mr. Kovalchuk didn’t respond to requests for comment from the media outlets covering the leaks.
Russian media, which is predominantly state-controlled, remained silent on the leak or focused on the non-Russians who had been swept up in the scandal.
While public opinion polls show that Russians remain highly critical of corruption, accusations of corruption have yet to tarnish Mr. Putin himself. According to the independent polling group Levada Center, Putin’s approval rating was 82% in March, only slightly down from its peak of 89% in June 2015.
The media outlets said that the leak also implicated Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who became one of Ukraine’s richest men through Roshen, the country’s largest candy business. Mr. Poroshenko, who has pledged to overhaul the corruption-riddled government after a 2014 revolution in Kiev, reportedly opened an offshore holding company in the British Virgin Islands that year.
Some lawmakers on Monday called for a parliamentary investigation. A spokesman for Mr. Poroshenko said he had no immediate comment.
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