Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman on Monday dismissed a report that alleges close friends of the president and top officials funneled some $2 billion through offshore accounts.
The report, dubbed the "Panama Papers," links hundreds of political leaders and celebrities worldwide to offshore companies set up through a law firm based in Panama called Mossack Fonseca.
It alleges that Bank Rossiya, which is owned by close associates and relatives of the Russian president and is under EU and U.S. sanctions, built a network of offshore companies through Putin loyalists to hide and move secret wealth.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, along with over a hundred other news organizations, scoured through countless leaked documents from the law firm to produce the report.
While not finding any evidence of direct Putin’s involvement, the report states that classical cellist and conductor Sergei Roldugin, a longtime close friend of Putin, "directly or indirectly" controlled a network of offshore companies that carried out "dubious" transactions with shares of large Russian state enterprises, laundered “donations” from major Russian businessmen and received preferential loans from a Cyprus-based bank partly controlled by Russia's state-owned VTB Bank.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the report as having nothing specific about Putin except old speculation, telling journalists Putin appeared to be targeted because of Russia’s upcoming elections and what he deemed "Putinophobia."
He also denied that his wife, former figure skating champion Tatiana Navka, had ever owned an offshore company, as alleged in the report.
Navka told the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which analyzed the leaked Mossack Fonseka documents involving Russia, that she has never owned offshore companies or had offshore bank accounts.
The report also claims that relatives of other top Russian officials had offshore companies, including Dmitry Ulyukaev, the son of Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukaev, and Alexei Patrushev, nephew of Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Kremlin's Security Council and former director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia's main security body.
Russian news agencies Monday quoted Alexei Ulyukaev as also denying any connections to offshore companies.
Kremlin spokesman Peskov also claimed that former employees of the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, and other special services were behind the report and want to destabilize Russia.
Peskov said a week ago the Kremlin was preparing for what he called an "information attack" that would target Putin and people close to him.
Andrei Kolesnikov, an expert on Russian domestic politics at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said the Peskov's preemptive denunciation shows the Kremlin was nervous.
“But, on the other hand, I don't think this will have a very strong impact on public opinion or the collective consciousness of Russians," Kolesnikov said.
“There is a common view of Russian people, the majority of Russian people, that everybody are thieves at the top of this political system,” he said. “And paradoxically, it means nobody is a thief; nobody is responsible for this corruption.”
Russian state television channels, the main sources of information for most Russians, were dismissive of the allegations linked to Putin, or did not report on it.
What Is Mossack Fonseca Group?
Mossack Fonseca Group
Who: Founded by Jurgen Mossack, who was born in Germany in 1948, and Ramon Fonseca, born in Panama, 1952
When: Established in 1977; became Mossack Fonseca in 1986, when the law firms merged
What: A global company that provides comprehensive legal, trust and wealth management services. Incorporates, administers companies in offshore jurisdictions such as Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, the British Virgin Islands and Malta, as well as the U.S. states of Nevada and Wyoming
Where: Located in Panama
Global presence: Considered world's fourth-largest provider of offshore services
Response to Panama Papers: Firm declined to comment on specific allegations, citing client confidentiality, but said it acted responsibly and complied with international protocols: “The companies we incorporate are not being used for tax evasion, money laundering, terrorist financing or other illicit purposes." However, they added, "We regret any misuse of our services and actively take steps to prevent it.”
“It's just like in Soviet times when you're trying to keep some information in secrecy and to show another information which is good for Kremlin,” Kolesnikov said.
Other than those linked to Putin, the ICIJ said it uncovered holdings of 140 politicians and officials in tens of countries.
The report specifically names 12 current and former leaders, including the prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan, the presidents of Argentina and Ukraine, and the king of Saudi Arabia.
Mossack Fonseca denied any wrongdoing and said the vast majority of its clients were law-abiding.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko deflected the allegations in comments on his official English-language twitter account.
“I believe I might be the first top official in Ukraine who treats declaring of assets, paying taxes, conflict of interest issues seriously,” he tweeted.
The Ukrainian president went on to tweet: “Having become a President, I’m not participating in management of my assets, having delegated this responsibility to consulting&law firms.”
Ukrainian lawmakers called for an investigation into the allegations against Poroshenko.