World leaders and governments across the world on Monday went into damage control mode to deny possible financial wrongdoing after a cache of leaked documents showed them dodging taxes taxes or laundering money.
Dubbed the Panama Papers, the more than 11 million leaked documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca include the names of more than 140 politicians and government officials from over 50 countries connected to offshore companies in 21 tax havens. Twelve current and former world leaders were among them.
The information contained in the documents was published in a series of investigative stories reported over the past year by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and more than 100 other news organizations.
The Mossack Fonseca files are the biggest data leak to journalists on record.
The company told The Guardian in a statement that the company is a “responsible member of the global financial and business community” and has broken no laws.
The Panama Papers detailed schemes involving dozens of influential figures. Besides possible financial crimes, they also raise ethical and moral questions. Below are some of the biggest names included in the files.
It’s important to note that using offshore accounts in itself isn’t necessarily illegal.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
The documents alleged that Putin’s friends, including cellist Sergei Roldugin and Yuri Kovalchuk, the principal shareholder of Bank Rossiya (currently under U.S. sanctions), were engaged in an offshore scheme from which the president benefitted.
Reports said the pals had channeled $2 billion of Putin’s money through a complex network of offshore companies.
As one might have guessed, the Kremlin denied any wrongdoing.
“It’s obvious that [information attacks] have reached new heights in ‘Putinophobia’ that make it practically impossible to speak well of Russia or any type of actions Russia does, or any success Russia enjoys,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters Monday. “You need to speak poorly, and you need to say lots of bad things, in an abundance, and if there’s nothing to say, then you need to whip something up. This is also obvious for us.”
There will almost certainly be no consequences for Putin inside Russia. After all, Putin himself isn’t directly named in the documents, and his popularity among Russians has remained at a record-high even while he annexed Crimea and fomented a war in eastern Ukraine. Plus, state media outlets are largely ignoring the Panama Papers, with the exception of RT, formerly Russia Today, lashing out at Western media for “biased articles.”
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko
Poroshenko set up a secret offshore firm while his troops were surrounded and bombarded with rockets in clashes with Russian forces and pro-Kremlin separatists in the town of Ilovaisk in August 2014, OCCRP reported.
On the day they were encircled, Poroshenko’s holding company was officially registered.
As many as 1,000 soldiers are believed to have been killed in the battle for Ilovaisk. The event forced Kiev to agree to a ceasefire that benefitted Russia and the separatist enclaves, turning the tide of the war.
Poroshenko himself tweeted his reply and claimed nobody is more transparent than he is:
Meanwhile, Dmytro Kuleba, head of strategic communications for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, told Mashable Sunday night that “I don’t care.” Kuleba then walked back his remark, saying: “We don’t have an elite without offshores and that’s the problem.”
“Who didn’t know that he is an oligarch?” he added.
The Western-friendly Poroshenko, who rose to power from the ashes of Ukraine’s revolution and is known as the “Chocolate King” for owning the Roshen candy company, was expected to usher in a new era of open government when elected in 2014. But real reforms under his watch have been few and far between, and he has failed to deliver on his promise to sell Roshen.
As OCCRP notes, Poroshenko’s activities might be illegal on two counts: he started a new company while serving as president, and he did not report the company on his disclosure statements.
Oleksii Khmara, executive director of Transparency International Ukraine, said the president should also have to answer for “moral crimes.”
At least one member of parliament has called for Poroshenko’s impeachment. Two others are demanding a commission be set up to investigate the him.
Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson
The documents disclosed offshore holdings linked to Gunnlaugsson and his wife. Opponents have called it a major financial conflict of interest.
Gunnlaugsson said there is “nothing new” in the reports, but he walked out of a TV interviewwhen confronted about them. The face he made as two journalists grilled him also became a GIF shared widely across social media.
We’re already seeing the consequences in Gunnlaugsson’s case. The country is so upset over the revelations that the leader might face a vote of no confidence, and protests are planned for late Monday. The former finance minister, Steingrimur Sigfusso, told The Guardian about the prime minister’s dealings: “We can’t permit this. Iceland would simply look like a banana republic.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron
The leaked files show Cameron’s father, Ian Cameron, ran an offshore fund that paid no taxes in the U.K for three decades.
Cameron has refused to comment on the revelation thus far. But his spokesperson told ITVNews: “That is a private matter, I am focused on what the government is doing.”
Cameron has spoken quite a bit about tackling tax havens, even saying he wants to end “tax secrecy” in the UK. In 2012, he told Channel 4 News that tax avoidance schemes were not “morally right.” After the latest information, not only does Cameron’s words appear contradictory, but British tax investigators have contacted The Guardian and others, asking for the files so they can investigate possible offshore tax evasion.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
Documents show Sharif, who is believed to be a multibillionaire, and his family control a pricey land and property in Pakistan and overseas, including several in London’s swanky Mayfair district.
The government of Pakistan denied any wrongdoing by the family of the prime minister. Pervez Rasheed, the country’s information minister, spoke out in support of Sharif, giving a colorful statement to Reuters. “Every man has the right to do what he wants with his assets, to throw them in the sea, to sell them, or to establish a trust for them. There is no crime in this in Pakistani law or in international law,” he told the news agency.
Sharif is now reportedly being probed by Transparency International as a result of the leaked documents. The anti-corruption organization is seeking to understand how he manages his and his family’s fortune. Meanwhile, Pakistani opposition politician Imran Khan called on the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to investigate the Sharif family finances.