A trailer for the Panama Papers global investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists into the sprawling, secretive industry of offshore that the world’s rich and powerful use to hide assets and skirt rules by setting up front companies in far-flung jurisdictions.
By Alastair Wanklyn in Tokyo
China moved to block access to documents leaked from a Panamanian law firm after the data came to light Monday, and its state media characterised the data’s release as political.
In Russia, the picture was more nuanced, with initial silence from state television but some newspapers printing the allegations in full.
The data reportedly names hundreds of individuals as the owners of offshore companies, including people close to the Kremlin and associates of current or recent Chinese leaders.
They include Deng Jiagui, the brother-in-law of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Li Xiaolin, the daughter of former Chinese Premier Li Peng, and Sergei Roldugin, a concert cellist and a childhood friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
China’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment yesterday, news agencies said. Beijing’s online censors were reportedly active, thwarting searches for the word “Panama..
“Both China and Russia are in the global dock, and no amount of censorship to cover their leadership’s backs will let them off the hook,” said Professor David Robie, director of the Pacific Media Centre at New Zealand’s Auckland University of Technology.
An Op-Ed essay in the state-run Global Times newspaper characterised the data release as a Western assault on foreign leaders.
It suggested “disinformation” was at play, citing Putin as one of the targets, but stopped short of noting the China references in the data.
In one dispatch, the official Xinhua News Agency focused on New Zealand instead.
It is a real irony when China’s state news agency Xinhua can carry a report carrying criticism of New Zealand’s “shameful complicity” and virtually not much else pointing the finger at its own leadership in Beijing.
Dr Robie said there was “irony” that Chinese state media could criticise foreign nations but avoid mention of Beijing’s own leadership.
“It is a real irony when China’s state news agency Xinhua can carry a report carrying criticism of New Zealand’s “shameful complicity” and virtually not much else pointing the finger at its own leadership in Beijing.
“Let’s be realistic about this, New Zealand is small fry over this issue,” he said.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper said Mossack Fonseca, the Panama-based law firm involved, recently tallied the nations where its client companies’ owners hail from and found that China tops the list.
Mossack Fonseca’s website shows the company has eight branches in China, more than in any other nation.
China’s Communist Party is currently fighting an anti-corruption campaign and is seen as sensitive to discussion on the wealth of its leaders.
Dr Robie said censorship was a “typical” response but Chinese who seek the details will find ways to obtain them.
“Amid this social media revolution, many Chinese are really adept at always getting the real story no matter what,” he said.
In Moscow, a Kremlin spokesman called suggestions that Putin is involved in offshore funds a smear motivated by “Putinophobia.”
The documents appear not to name Putin but suggest that close associates were engaged in the movement of billions of dollars offshore.
He suggested the release is an attempt to discredit the Russian leadership after its military engagement in Syria and ahead of upcoming elections.
Iceland PM resigns
In Iceland on Monday, protesters took to the streets demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who was named in the documents.
He resigned yesterday as the first casualty of the fallout from The Panama Papers scandal.
It is alleged that he failed to declare partial ownership of an offshore company when he became a lawmaker in 2009. Gunnlaugsson denied wrongdoing.
A full account of the data leaked may be some months away, as media organisations involved said they will release it in batches.
Alastair Wanklyn is a staff writer with The Japan Times. This article was first published in that newspaper and is republished here with permission.