Denial, obfuscation: how politicians react to Panama Papers

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

The rich and powerful who have been drawn into the reports about offshore accounts have had a remarkable variety of responses — from striking back with claims of a U.S.-backed conspiracy to indignantly storming out of an interview.

The millions of documents leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca and reported on by news organizations shed light on how mostly wealthy individuals shield their money from scrutiny, whether for privacy, convenience or illegal reasons.

With politicians under some of the closest scrutiny, their handling of the PR nightmare of being linked to such secretive accounts has been as varied as the countries they hail from.

Here's a look at the highlights.



Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugson's first physical response was flight.

He got up and walked out of a television interview in which he was confronted with the existence of a secretive offshore company he had links to.

Gunnlaugson later resigned after the publication of the reports, which allege he had sold an interest in an offshore company to his wife for $1 just days before he would have been required to disclose the interest. The company held millions of dollars' worth of bonds in Iceland's banks, whose failure plunged the country into a deep recession and burdensome capital controls.

Thousands of protesters gathered in front of parliament, which was hit with eggs and bananas. The fruit was a symbol of protesters' anger that the country was, in their view, becoming a "banana republic."



For the Russian government, the best defense was offense.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said "Putinophobia" had fueled reports that some $2 billion had been channeled through the accounts to people associated with the president. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported that a close friend of Putin, cellist Sergei Roldugin, is listed as the owner of offshore companies that have obtained payments from other companies of tens of millions of dollars. The ICIJ said "evidence in the files suggests Roldugin is acting as a front man for a network of Putin loyalists — and perhaps for Putin himself."

Putin described the allegations as part of the U.S.-led disinformation campaign waged against Russia in order to weaken its government. "They are trying to destabilize us from within in order to make us more compliant," he said.



The Chinese authorities opted to simply block out the news.

The reports say Mossack Fonseca had arranged offshore companies for relatives of at least eight present or past members of the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of power in China. Among those it mentioned was the brother-in-law of President Xi Jinping. China's foreign ministery denounced the reports as "groundless."

State media are ignoring the reports and search results of websites and social media for the words "Panama documents" were blocked.



British Prime Minister David Cameron's approach was to mete out the information in bits.

After this week denying owning any offshore accounts, he acknowledged Thursday that he had in fact profited in the past from shares in an offshore firm set up by his father.

Cameron told ITV news that he and his wife, Samantha, sold shares worth 31,500 pounds (currently $44,300) in an offshore fund named Blairmore Holdings in January 2010 — five months before Cameron became prime minister. They had paid 12,497 pounds for the shares in 1997. Cameron said the money was subject to British tax "in the normal ways."

He said he sold his shares because he did not want anyone to accuse him of having "vested interests."



Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko took a legalistic approach.

The reports show that Poroshenko, who had promised voters he would sell his candy business when he ran for office in 2014, had instead moved it offshore under a holding company in the British Virgin Islands.

The move possibly deprived Ukraine of millions of dollars in tax revenue. Yet Poroshenko focused on the letter of the law, not his political inconsistencies, insisting he has done nothing wrong and hasn't managed his assets since being elected. Some adversaries are calling for his removal from office.