An international coalition of media outlets on Sunday published what it said was an extensive investigation into offshore financial dealings of the rich and famous, based on a vast trove of documents provided by an anonymous source.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a non-profit organisation based in Washington, said the cache of 11.5 million records detailed the offshore holdings of a dozen current and former world leaders, as well as businessmen, criminals, celebrities and sports stars.
In India, The Indian Express was part of the investigation and has reported that many Indian industrialists and celebrities, including actors Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai, DLF owner K.P. Singh and Vinod Adani (Gautam Adani’s elder brother), are named in the documents.
A cache of documents has exposed the secret offshore dealings of aides to Russian president Vladimir Putin, world leaders and celebrities including Barcelona forward Lionel Messi. An investigation into the documents by more than 100 media groups, described as one of the largest such probes in history, revealed the hidden offshore dealings in the assets of around 140 political figures, including 12 current or former heads of states.
'No monetary compensation'
A Munich-based daily, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, was offered the data through an encrypted channel by an anonymous source who requested no monetary compensation and asked only for unspecified security measures, said Bastian Obermayer, a reporter for the paper.
The data concerned internal documents from a Panama—based law firm, Mossack Fonseca. Founded by German—born Juergen Mossack, the firm has offices across the globe and is among the world’s biggest creators of shell companies, the newspaper said.
Ramon Fonseca, a co-founder of Mossack Fonseca, said the firm had no control of how its clients might use offshore vehicles created for them.
“We are not responsible for the actions of a corporation that we set up,” he told Panama’s Channel 2.
Panamanian govt offers to 'vigorously' cooperate
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela issued a statement saying his government would cooperate “vigorously” with any judicial investigation arising from the leak of the law firm’s documents. He said that the revelations shouldn’t detract from his government’s “zero tolerance” for any illicit activities in Panama’s finance industry.
ICIJ said the law firm’s leaked internal files contain information on 214,488 offshore entities connected to people in more than 200 countries and territories. It said it would release the full list of companies and people linked to them early next month.
Obermayer said that over the course of several months Sueddeutsche Zeitung received about 2.6 terabytes of data more than would fit on 600 DVDs. The newspaper said the amount of data it obtained is several times larger than a previous cache of offshore data published by WikiLeaks in 2013 that exposed the financial dealings of prominent individuals.
“To our knowledge this is the biggest leak that journalists have ever worked on,” Obermayer said.
The newspaper and its partners verified the authenticity of the data by comparing it to public registers, witness testimony and court rulings, he told the AP. A previous cache of Mossack Fonseca documents obtained by German authorities was also used to verify the new material, Obermayer added.
Among the countries with past or present political figures named in the reports are Iceland, Ukraine, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Argentina.
The Guardian newspaper, which took part in the investigation, published a video on its website late Sunday showing an interview with Iceland’s Prime Minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson. During the interview with Sweden’s SVT television, the Prime Minister is asked about a company called Wintris. He responds by insisting that its affairs are above board and calling the question “completely inappropriate,” before breaking off the interview.
Leaks trying to discredit Putin, says Kremlin
In Russia, the Kremlin last week said it was anticipating what it called an upcoming “information attack.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters that the Kremlin had received “a series of questions in a rude manner” from an organisation that he said was trying to smear Putin.
“Journalists and members of other organizations have been actively trying to discredit Putin and this country’s leadership,” Peskov said.
“The main target of this disinformation is our president, especially in the context of the upcoming parliamentary elections and in the context of a longer-term perspective - I mean presidential elections in two years,” Peskov told a conference call with journalists.
“This Putinophobia abroad has reached such a point that it is in fact taboo to say something good about Russia, or about any actions by Russia or any Russian achievements. But it's a must to say bad things, a lot of bad things, and when there's nothing to say, it must be concocted. This is evident to us.”
Peskov said the publications contained “nothing concrete and nothing new” about Putin.
Argentina president confirms offshore company
The office of Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, confirmed on Sunday that the business group owned by his family set up Fleg Trading Ltd., an offshore company based in the Bahamas. But it said Macri himself had no shares in Fleg and never received income from it.
Macri’s office commented after La Nacion, an Argentine national newspaper, reported that he and his family had links to Fleg.
The ICIJ said the documents included emails, financial spreadsheets, passports and corporate records detailing how powerful figures used banks, law firms and offshore shell companies to hide their assets. The data spanned a time frame of nearly 40 years, from 1977 through the end of 2015, it said.
“It allows a never-before-seen view inside the offshore world providing a day-to-day, decade-by-decade look at how dark money flows through the global financial system, breeding crime and stripping national treasuries of tax revenues,” the ICIJ said.
Iceland PM Gunnlaugsson refuses to resign
Iceland’s prime minister insisted on Monday he would not resign after the Panama documents linked him to an offshore company that would represent a serious conflict of interest.
News reports have alleged that Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson and his wife set up a company in the British Virgin Islands with the help of a Panamanian law firm at the center of a massive tax evasion leak. The reports have prompted calls for a no—confidence vote in parliament against him.
Going on Icelandic television Monday afternoon, Gunnlaugsson said he would not resign and added there was nothing new in the information contained in the Panama Papers data leak.
Iceland’s foreign minister also said on a trip to India that the prime minister had not done anything illegal.
“There is nothing strange there,” said Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, the minister for foreign affairs and external trade.
Poroshenko denies breaking law
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko insisted he has done nothing wrong and hasn’t managed his assets since being elected.
But Oleh Lyashko, leader of the Radical Party, said Monday the trove of data on offshore financial dealings revealed by an international media consortium has implicated Poroshenko in alleged abuse of office and tax evasion.
Poroshenko promised voters he would sell his candy business, Roshen, when he ran for office. But documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca indicated that instead he set up an offshore holding company to move his business to the British Virgin Islands, possibly saving millions of dollars in Ukrainian taxes.
Lyashko urged lawmakers to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president. Poroshenko, whose faction has 136 seats in the 450-seat parliament, appears protected from the motion, which requires a three—quarter majority to pass, but the scandal stands to hurt him politically.
In a Facebook posting, Poroshenko insisted that he hasn’t managed his assets since taking the office.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Global banks hand-in-hand with Mossack Fonseca
According to the media group’s website, global banks including HSBC, UBS, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and others have worked with Mossack Fonseca to create offshore accounts.
“The allegations are historical, in some cases dating back 20 years, predating our significant, well-publicised reforms implemented over the last few years,” HSBC spokesman Rob Sherman said in an emailed response to an AP request for comment.
“We work closely with the authorities to fight financial crime and implement sanctions,” he said.
UBS, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank did not immediately respond to a request for comment.