Panama Papers ruffle world: Russia to Pak, leaders face the heat

  • Agencies, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 05, 2016 14:53 IST
Daughter of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Maryam Nawaz (R) and her mother Kulsoom Nawaz wave to supporters in Lahore. Sharif’s family was defiant on Monday, defending their ownership of offshore companies after they were named in the Panama Papers. (AFP file photo)

The Panama papers exposed on Monday had irate governments all over the world reacting cautiously, having been thrown into the spotlight suddenly and unpleasantly.

More than 11 million documents leaked from the secret files of Mossack Fonseca , a law firm headquartered in tax haven Panama, revealed a list of wealthy and powerful individuals who paid the firm and bought the benefits of the secretive, lax regulatory system in which it operates — to set up offshore entities in tax havens around the world.

The Indian government said it will investigate allegations that over 500 Indians used the law firm in Panama to set up offshore entities across the world, finance minister Arun Jaitley said on Monday.

The Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up by the Supreme Court to trace black money stashed abroad also said it will “thoroughly investigate” the allegations.

The names of actors Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, real estate tycoon KP Singh and late gangster Iqbal Mirchi figured in a list of over 500 Indians who allegedly employed the law firm to set up offshore entities, a newspaper reported.

Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson refused to resign on Monday, despite calls to do so after the leaked tax documents showed that he and his wife used an offshore firm to allegedly hide million-dollar investments. “I have not considered quitting because of this matter nor am I going to quit because of this matter,” Gunnlaugsson said.

Read | All you need to know about the Panama papers leaks

Media reports alleging links between Russian President Vladimir Putin and offshore transactions worth billions of dollars aimed to discredit the Kremlin leader ahead of Russia’s upcoming elections, his spokesperson, Dmitry 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,” he added.

Kremlin also alleged that the investigative journalists who worked on the leaked Panama Papers are former US officials and secret service operatives. “We know this so-called journalist community,” Peskov said, referring to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism. “There are a lot of journalists whose main profession is unlikely to be journalism -- a lot of former officials from the (US) Department of State, the CIA and other special services,” he added.

Pakistan denied any wrongdoing by the family of Prime Minister Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after his daughter and son were linked to offshore companies.

Among those named in the papers are three of Sharif’s four children -- Maryam, who has been tipped to be his political successor; Hasan and Hussain, with the records showing they owned London real estate through offshore companies administered by the firm.

Read | Stars in Panama Papers leak: Big B, Jackie Chan, Aishwarya Rai

The British government, meanwhile, asked for a copy of leaked data so it could examine the information and act on any possible tax evasion. The document leak could be embarrassing for Britain Prime Minister David Cameron, who has spoken out against a crackdown on tax evasion and tax avoidance. His late father, Ian Cameron, is mentioned in the more than 11.5 million documents from the files, alongside some members of his Conservative Party in the upper house of parliament, former Conservative lawmakers and party donors, British media said. Cameron’s office declined to comment.

Dutch authorities said they would investigate allegations related to the Netherlands. The finance ministry said in a statement that the tax office would “actively look at whether there was data related to levying of tax”. Mossack Fonseca had an office in the Netherlands that closed last month after five years.

The repercussions of the leak were felt in Paris, too. President Francois Hollande promised that the massive leak of documents would lead to legal proceedings in France. “All the information revealed will lead to investigations brought by the tax authorities and to legal proceedings,” Hollande said. He thanked “the whistleblowers” for bringing the so-called Panama Papers to light.

Austrian regulators are investigating whether two banks named in the leak followed procedures to prevent money laundering, one of the firms having attracted attention for its lending to a confectionery company owned by Ukraine’s president. Two Austrian media groups that were among the more than 100 news organisations that jointly investigated the documents’ contents identified Raiffeisen Bank International and Hypo Landesbank Vorarlberg as companies named in the trove.

Read | Pakistan PM’s family hit back after Panama Papers leak

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