Here’s a potentially huge scandal that’s just unfolding now:
An unprecedented leak of more than 11 million documents, called the “Panama Papers”, has revealed the hidden financial dealings of some of the world’s wealthiest people, as well as 12 current and former world leaders and 128 more politicians and public officials around the world.
More than 200,000 companies, foundations and trusts are contained in the leak of information which came from a little-known but powerful law firm based in Panama called Mossack Fonseca, whose files include the offshore holdings of drug dealers, Mafia members, corrupt politicians and tax evaders – and wrongdoing galore.
The law firm is one of the world’s top creators of shell companies, which can be legally used to hide the ownership of assets. The data includes emails, contracts, bank records, property deeds, passport copies and other sensitive information dating from 1977 to as recently as December 2015.
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.
There’s 2.6 terrabytes of data released, including Donald Trump’s favorite Russian dictator:
The most extraordinary allegations in the archive revolve around Putin’s closest associates, including Sergey Roldugin, a close friend since the late 1970s when Putin was a young KGB agent.
Roldugin is a cellist for the St Petersburg orchestra, yet his name appears as the owner of offshore companies that have rights to loans worth hundreds of millions of dollars. A Russian news service report in 2010 disclosed that he owned at least three per cent of Bank Rossiya, Russia’s most important bank.
When Mossack Fonseca helped open a bank account in Switzerland on behalf of Roldugin, the application form asked if he had “any relation to PEPs (politically exposed persons) or VIPs.”
The one-word answer was, “No.” Yet, Roldugin is godfather to Putin’s daughter Mariya.
“Roldugin is, by his proximity to a serving head of state, clearly an exposed person,” Mark Pieth, a former head of the Swiss justice ministry’s organized crime division, told the ICIJ team.
The documents show how in 2008 a company controlled by Roldugin had influence over Russia’s largest truck maker Kamaz, joining with several other offshore companies to help another Putin insider acquire majority control of the company. They wanted foreign investment, and German carmaker Daimler later that year bought a 10 per cent stake in Kamaz for $250 million.
The offshore company that connects many Putin loyalists is Sandalwood Continental Limited in the British Virgin Islands. Roldugin was a shareholder until 2012, as was Oleg Gordin, a little-known businessman whom incorporation documents describe as linked to “law enforcement agencies.”
The files also mention a company co-owned by Putin friend Yury Kovalchuk, the largest shareholder of Bank Rossiya. Kovalchuk was among those targeted by US sanctions in 2014 in retribution for Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Another friend, Arkady Rotenberg, Putin’s judo partner and a billionaire construction mogul, openly obtained companies through Mossack Fonseca. The US Treasury Department, when sanctioning him in 2014, suggested that the oligarch acted on behalf of “a senior official.”
That was widely believed to mean Putin, whose fingerprints were not on any offshore company.
The fact that Putin is lining the pockets of himself and his cronies is hardly shocking, but having concrete proof of it is a different thing altogether.
Strangely, the web page for the papers run by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, doesn’t seem to have any Americans fingered by the papers yet. There’s a good chance that could change.