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Panama Papers: There’s a Purpose to Every Leak

West tries to stir unrest in Russia, but Russians just shrug their shoulders: “There they go again.”

 

This post first appeared on Russia Insider


The author is a Professor at the Plekhanov Russian Economic University, and a former advisor to the Presidential Administration and Security Council


The other day the leading Munich daily 'Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ)' published a “sensational” article titled: “Panama Papers: The secrets of dirty money”. The on-line version is presented in the best traditions of the yellow press. .

<figcaption>A limited hangout operation</figcaption>
A limited hangout operation

The article begins like a fairy tale:

“Over a year ago, an anonymous source contacted the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) with encrypted documents from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that sells anonymous offshore companies around the world”.

The mysterious messenger delivered megatons of compromising information while seeking no financial compensation. He simply “wanted to make these crimes public”. Frankly speaking, I'm willing to bet that behind this modern Robin Hood are special services. In order to make the story more credible, the SZ added a video with a sort of “script” of the messenger’s call.

Then it describes how journalists worked for 12 months with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

As if to justify a rather dubious source of information, it emphasized the size of the  leaks.

“The Panama Papers include approximately 11.5 million documents.  The data primarily comprises e-mails, pdf files, photo files, and excerpts of an internal Mossack Fonseca database, covering a period from the 1970s to the spring of 2016”.


image

The paper boastfully compares the size of its leak with previous scandalous leaks, namely, Offshore Leaks, Lux, and Swiss Leaks. I teach finance  and studied these cases in-depth. Offshore Leaks (April 2013) revealed details of 130,000 offshore accounts. LuxLeaks (November 2014) disclosed tax avoidance schemes used by international firms registered in Luxembourg. Swiss Leaks (February 2015) were concerned with a giant tax evasion scheme by the British multinational bank HSBC via its Swiss subsidiary, HSBC Private Bank (Suisse).

All these leaks had an explicitly political character, labeled  as a noble struggle against the evil of offshore companies. Yet the struggle was very selective.  It's no secret that US multinationals such as Apple, Google, Starbucks etc. are the  biggest tax evaders, using offshore schemes. Offshore Leaks were focused on firms and persons from the ex-USSR and  China.  Apart from negative publicity for some minor political figures,  it didn't seriously hurt any of the persons mentioned. Maybe they were preparing the ground for new revelations.

LuxLeaks implicated  Jean-Claude Juncker, former Prime Minister of Luxembourg and just elected President of the European Commission. One wonder why a person with a tarnished reputation would be at the head of an important European entity. Taking into account Luxleaks’ perfect timing (not before, but after the elections), the answer is obvious. A compromised  civil servant would be more docile, particularly in difficult talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Probably only Swiss Leaks, which were aimed at cracking down on HSBC were commercially motivated.

While running a big cover picture with Putin and Assad, 'Süddeutsche Zeitung' didn't name names. In “The Panama Papers: how the world’s rich and famous hide their money offshore” 'The Guardian' goes further, pointing the finger at Putin. The on-line version has a video “How to Hide a Billion Dollars” with Putin on the cover.

'The Guardian' writes:

“Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.

A 2 billion dollar trail leads all the way to Vladimir Putin. The Russian president’s best friend – a cellist called Sergei Roldugin - is at the centre of a scheme in which money from Russian state banks is hidden offshore. Some of it ends up in a ski resort where in 2013 Putin’s daughter Katerina got married.”

Among other leaders with offshore wealth are Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister; Ayad Allawi, ex-interim prime minister and former vice-president of Iraq; Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine; Alaa Mubarak, son of Egypt’s former president; and the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.

Six members of the House of Lords, three former Conservative MPs and dozens of donors to UK political parties have owned offshore assets.

The families of at least eight current and former members of China’s supreme ruling body, the politburo, have hidden wealth offshore”.

Lately, the mass media have claimed the dubious privilege of bringing a verdict without presenting evidence. Neither the  'Süddeutsche Zeitung' nor 'The Guardian' bothered to publish the alleged documents pointing to  Putin or Assad. I'm pretty sure there aren’t any, since the main feature of offshore jurisdictions is their secrecy and lack of transparency. Can you imagine a person like Putin or Assad providing their passport data and other personal information?!

Knowing this weak point, 'The Guardian' fingers a certain Putin “friend” Sergei Roldugin, or rather his brother. Following this fuzzy logic, every citizen of St. Petersburg is a Putin  best friends, starting from Peter the Great.

The timing of the leaks is perfect: Western leaders cannot afford to applaud the Russian-Syrian victory in Palmyra, so they decided to put a spoon of tar in a barrel of honey, as the Russian proverb says.

It’s clear that the Panama Leaks are part of the West’s hybrid war against Russia.

I have nothing against international anti-corruption drives, but I strongly object to a selective Orwellian approach. Moreover, one of the favorite methods of hybrid war is to accuse undesirable national leaders of corruption, to inspire civil unrest which develops into a color revolution.

A few days ago, RI published an article by Pepe Escobar “Brazil, Like Russia, Under Attack by Hybrid War” about a US-inspired corruption scandal. I can guess that Russia's fifth column  was warned in advance about the information leak and was in full combat gear. Such liberal mass media as “Vedomosti” and RBC immediately published the news of the Panama Papers. And on 4 April 2016 at 11:08, the entry about  Sergei Roldugin in Wikipedia was updated to include Panama Leaks.

But I don’t think they will change the course of the  hybrid war against Russia. During the last two years, Russians have survived the devaluation of the ruble, a fall in oil prices, inflation, mutual sanctions and so on. We’re not likely to go to the barricades over Western gossip.


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