Putin says alleging Russia’s links to Panama papers is “an American plot”
MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin dismissed on Thursday reports based on leaked legal documents that some of his close associates had shoveled around $2 billion through offshore accounts in the Caribbean, calling the allegations an American plot to try to undermine Russian unity.
The Russian president, making his first public remarks on the subject, also defended the cellist Sergei P. Roldugin, an old and close friend who was named in reports about the leaked documents, known as the Panama Papers. The cellist was at the center of a scheme to hide money from Russian state banks offshore, the reports said.
Mr. Putin said that Mr. Roldugin, like many Russians, had tried his hand at business, in his case to support his love of music by getting the money to buy expensive instruments.
“Almost all the money he earned he spent on musical instruments that he bought abroad,” Mr. Putin said at a public forum for regional journalists in St. Petersburg, broadcast live by state-run television. The musician had then donated the instruments to government institutions.
On paper, Mr. Roldugin’s shares in various enterprises linked to friends of Mr. Putin, especially Bank Rossiya, give him a net worth of hundreds of millions of dollars. Mr. Roldugin is the artistic director of the House of Music, which trains classical musicians in St. Petersburg.
“I am proud to have friends like him,” Mr. Putin said, calling Mr. Roldugin a “brilliant musician.”
There was an immediate, somewhat mocking reaction on social media, with many people questioning the president’s version. Sergei Parkhomenko, a journalist often critical of the government, wrote on Facebook that at $6 million apiece, the $2 billion reportedly stashed offshore was enough to buy more than 300 of the rare violins made in the 17th and 18th century made by Antonio Stradivari.
Mr. Putin noted that his name had not been in the leaked documents, but that it was plastered all over the reports about them.
The Russian president rolled out the standard Kremlin excuse for any bad news regarding Russia from abroad. Russia, he said, deprives the West of its monopoly on economic and military power, which irritates the leading nations.
So the West dreams up plots to undermine the “unity and cohesion” of Russia, which is “an exercise in futility,” he said.
Specifically, he named Washington, saying that WikiLeaks had reported that the Panama Papers were an American-funded plot.
“Behind all that, there are certain officials and official agencies of the very same United States,” Mr. Putin said. “WikiLeaks has just shown that.”
The WikiLeaks organization, which grew out of the release a decade ago of a huge trove of American government documents, posted several somewhat-contradictory messages on Twitter about the subject.
“US govt funded #PanamaPapers attack story on Putin via USAID,” said one on April 6, for example. “Some good journalists but no model for integrity.”
After the Russian state news media began citing WikiLeaks as proof that the Panama revelations had been all an American plot, the WikiLeaks Twitter account said, “Claims that
#PanamaPapers themselves are a ‘plot’ against Russia are nonsense.”
Coverage of the global scandal in Russia, especially on the main television stations controlled by the Kremlin, has been limited and focused mostly on allegations against others, including President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine.
There have been scattered individual protests about the disclosures in Russia.
On Wednesday, someone hung a poster at a bus stop showing a picture of Mr. Putin wearing what Russians refer to as a Panama hat. (It is a kind of floppy version of the straw original.)
“What Panama?” was written on the poster, which was quickly removed.
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