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Massive Document Leak Reveals Offshore Accounts Of World Leaders

Russian President Vladimir Putin during a joint press conference with his Finnish counterpart following their meeting outside Moscow on March 22.
Kirill Kudryavtsev
AFP/Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin during a joint press conference with his Finnish counterpart following their meeting outside Moscow on March 22.

Associates of President Vladimir Putin of Russia have channeled as much as $2 billion through offshore accounts, banks and shadow companies, according to a massive leak of documents from a Panamanian law firm.

More than 11 million documents, dubbed the Panama Papers, show how dozens of rich and powerful people around the world have used offshore and secret accounts to dodge taxes and sanctions and launder money.

The documents were leaked from the law firm Mossack Fonseca and connect to 140 politicians in more than 50 countries. Current and former leaders of Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Iceland, Georgia, Qatar and Iraq were among those named in the documents. Families and associates of Syrian President Bashar Assad, former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak have also been implicated, the BBC reports.

Fusion has a breakdown of world leaders who are connected either themselves or through family or friends.

More than 370 journalists from 107 news organizations were involved in a yearlong investigation, which began when the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung was leaked 2.6 terabytes of data. Süddeutsche Zeitung then worked in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which published the findings Sunday along with other media partners.

"I think the leak will prove to be probably the biggest blow the offshore world has ever taken because of the extent of the documents," ICIJ director Gerard Ryle said to the BBC. The files go back through 40 years of the inner workings of the secretive law firm.

The ICIJ reports that the papers describe in detail the role of classical cellist Sergei Roldugin, a very close friend of Vladimir Putin, who is "a behind-the-scenes player in a clandestine network operated by Putin associates that has shuffled at least $2 billion through banks and offshore companies."

Roldugin is listed as the owner of several offshore companies, and is in "ostensible control" of $100 million worth of assets, The Guardian reports. Roldugin says he is not a businessman. But the ICIJ says evidence "suggests Roldugin is acting as a front man for a network of Putin loyalists — and perhaps for Putin himself."

From the ICIJ:

"In almost every instance, the result is the same: money and power moves in the direction of the network, to companies and people allied to Putin. The network's covert deals allowed it to receive money in a variety of ways including hundreds of millions of dollars in sweetheart loans from a bank controlled by the Russian government."

Leading political figures in Iceland are named in the documents as well. The prime minister, finance minister and minister of the interior have "links" to secret offshore companies, Süddeutsche Zeitung reports.

FIFA, no stranger to scandal, also has a number of officials named in the leaked documents. Juan Pedro Damiani, who sits on FIFA's ethics committee, is now being investigated himself. According to Süddeutsche Zeitung, documents show Damiani "managed companies through which FIFA members may have received bribes."

Mossack Fonseca is one of the leading creators of shell companies, according to the Center for Public Integrity. The ICIJ notes that the files include data on 214,488 "offshore entities" involving individuals in 200 countries and territories.

The law firm responded to the reports in a statement Sunday:

"Mossack Fonseca is a leading international company with a presence in over 40 countries and with close to 40 years of history in the legal industry. We operate through our own and representative offices. All our offices maintain the highest due diligence standards that comply with all international laws and regulations."

It also said: "The vast majority of our clients are regulated entities, such as premier banks, attorneys, accountants, other law firms, trust companies, etc. ― all of them well-known and reputable business companies and firms."

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James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.