Russian President Vladimir Putin, seen here in November, said the Panama Papers leak is part of a plot by the United States to undermine Russia. Photo by David Silpa/UPI | License Photo
MOSCOW, April 7 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin denied "any element of corruption" over the Panama Papers, saying the leaked documents are part of an American plot to undermine Russian unity.
Putin, making his first public comments on the subject, said he has no direct connection to the documents leaked from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca that showed his close associate was linked to a $2 billion money-laundering scheme. Putin's long-time friend, cellist Sergei Roldugin, is named in the documents as the owner of two offshore firms used in an effort to hide money from Russian state banks.
Putin said Roldugin has tried to run a business bringing musical instruments into Russia. Roldugin is the artistic director of the St. Petersburg Music House, which trains classical musicians.
"I know that he has spent several months already on efforts to have the instruments registered as property of government-financed institutions," Putin said of Roldugin. "For many years he has arranged for concerts and promoted Russian culture abroad, in fact paying for this with his own money. And in doing so he always shuns publicity."
Putin said allegations he has any connection to the documents are part of a Western plot to undermine the "unity and cohesion" of the country, which he called "an exercise in futility."
The Russian leader bolstered his argument by saying WikiLeaks has reported the Panama Papers leak is an American-funded plot. The documents were first reported by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, with help from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. WikiLeaks has posted several contradictory Twitter messages about alleged U.S. involvement.
Panamanian officials announced Thursday they will put together an international panel of experts to help increase transparency of Panama's offshore financial industry in response to the document release. Mossack Fonseca has said the data leak was caused by a hack from foreign sources.
On Tuesday, Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davio Gunnlaugsson resigned his post after leaked documents showed he secretly owned an offshore company, Winters.
Experts said the lack of Americans in the document dump is not an indicator U.S. citizens are more law abiding than their foreign counterparts. Instead, it could simply mean the journalist consortium, which holds the records, has not delved deeply enough into the documents to find Americans or that Americans are simply using other firms.
"This firm is one of thousands in the world and there are hundreds or thousands just like it in the U.S.," said Ana Owens, with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a federation of state-level consumer advocacy organizations. "If a company in the U.S. can do the exact thing for you as this company in Panama, then you might as well do it right here in the U.S. And its perfectly legal, which is the issue."