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Pandora Papers: Every US state-funded exposé on the lavish lives of elites is about Russia & Putin, even when he’s not mentioned

Pandora Papers: Every US state-funded exposé on the lavish lives of elites is about Russia & Putin, even when he’s not mentioned
The powerful are wealthy, and the wealthy are powerful. They'll also often go to great lengths to avoid paying taxes. Those are the conclusions from some 12 million financial files leaked to reporters last week and covered widely.

Known as the Pandora Papers, the revelations were handed to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and then picked up on Sunday by the BBC and The Guardian newspaper. The secret documents reveal how some 400 former and current world leaders, government officials and billionaires have funnelled their money through offshore accounts to buy property incognito and avoid paying taxes.

Oh, and in case you wondered what the fuss is all about, it all somehow leads back to Russia and President Vladimir Putin – though quite how is never properly explained. Suffice it to say that readers are meant to be shocked at the apparent corruption of the world’s elites, led by the most corrupt of them all – the Russians. Curiously though, none of those exposed are Americans. This may be because the American tax system allows its wealthy citizens to evade taxes without resorting to offshore companies. Or it could have something to do with the fact that the OCCRP is funded by, among others, the US Agency for International Development and the US Department of State.

Also on rt.com Absolutely no evidence in Pandora papers leak to back up assertions about ‘hidden riches of Putin’s inner circle,’ Kremlin claims

Regardless, its discovery that the wealthy are good at tax evasion is hardly a huge surprise. Moreover, the revealed transactions all appear to be entirely legal.

For instance, the papers discuss how King Abdullah of Jordan purchased properties worth £70 million ($95 million) in the US and UK via a network of offshore companies. They also show how the wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair avoided paying over £300,000 ($408,651) in stamp duty by setting up a company to purchase a building from the offshore organization that owned it. But neither transaction was illegal. As lawyers for King Abdullah noted, it is “common practice for high profile individuals to purchase properties via offshore companies for privacy and security reasons.” 

If there’s a scandal here, it’s that countries like the UK have set up their financial systems in such a way as to allow the wealthy to avoid stumping up the money that ordinary folk has to pay. Oddly, though, that’s not the way that the press has decided to play the story. Instead, the words “Russia,” “Putin,” and “Kremlin” have led the way, as if clever tax dodges were somehow part and parcel of a web of corruption leading back to Moscow.

So it is that BBC’s lead story starts off with a big picture of Putin, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev, and King Abdullah, before telling readers that the leak “links Russian President Vladimir Putin to secret assets in Monaco.” Meanwhile, on The Guardian’s website, the biggest headlines all mention Russia, referring to “the Kremlin,” a “Russian tycoon’s links to alleged corruption” and “Putin’s inner circle.” A group of headshots of several prominent world leaders sits atop the Guardian headlines, with Putin’s head by far the largest of them all.

This is odd, because the name “Vladimir Putin” never appears in the Pandora Papers even once.

This doesn’t stop The Guardian mentioning the name “Putin” no less than 50 times in an article entitled “Pandora papers reveal hidden  riches of Putin’s inner circle.” The obsession with a person not even mentioned in the papers seems rather excessive. Moreover, the alleged “inner circle” consists of just two people, and no evidence is provided to connect Putin to those persons’ financial dealings. In short, the “link” to Putin is decidedly thin.

The nature of the alleged connection is that in 2003, a wealthy Russian woman named Svetlana Krivonogikh purchased a luxury flat in Monaco via a complex network of offshore companies. The Russian media outlet Proekt has alleged that in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Krivonogikh was Putin’s lover and gave birth to his daughter, allegations that have never been substantiated.

In short, 20 years ago, somebody who may, or may not, have been Putin’s lover bought an apartment in Monaco. That’s it. As stories go, it’s not very exciting.

Nor is the other Putin “link” revealed in the papers. Krivonogikh’s apartment purchase was supposedly set up by a British accountancy and tax firm whose other clients include a long-standing friend of the Russian president – Gennady Timchenko.

And, that’s it, folks. That’s all that The Guardian has got. It can’t even come up with some allegedly crooked dealings by Timchenko and his British pals. And it most definitely doesn’t show that Putin himself is stashing cash away in Monaco, or anywhere else for that matter. But that doesn’t stop The Guardian’s ever-reliable mis-reporter Luke Harding from stirring up the dirt.

For Timchenko, you see, was a founder of Swiss-based oil trading company Guvnor, which is worth several billion dollars. This provides Harding with an opportunity to bring up allegations made by Moscow political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky that Putin is the real owner of Guvnor, supposedly making him a multi-billionaire.

The problem with Belkovsky’s claim is that absolutely no evidence has been produced to substantiate it. The entire story is one completely unconnected person’s entirely unsupported allegation. One would imagine that journalists devoted to reporting reliable information would give it a wide berth. Harding, however, devotes nearly 150 words to repeating the claim in depth. You can tell that he wants you to believe it.

It is a very curious piece of journalism. A set of leaked documents that have absolutely nothing to do with Putin are used as an excuse to throw out lots of articles mentioning his name over and over, and as an opportunity to dig out old and unverified rumours that are entirely irrelevant to the story in question.

Also on rt.com Pandora papers just another tool for the West to interfere in developing countries, says Chinese state media boss

The problem, one suspects, is that having got their hands on millions of pages of financial documents showing the wheelings and dealings of the rich and powerful, the massed ranks of Western journalism were left with the awkward reality that none of it shows any obvious wrongdoing. In fact, it’s all completely above board. There’s no scandal there – save for that of the fact it’s legal in the first place. So one has to be invented. At which point, Harding et al. turn to their favorite targets – Russia and Vladimir Putin – and make them their focus of attention. It’s a fairly shoddy tactic.

So what do the Pandora Papers actually tell us? Nothing about Russia. Merely that there are rich people out there; that power and money go together; and that the wealthy have the means and opportunity to exploit tax loopholes that ordinary mortals do not. In short, the rules favor the rich. Not quite the bombshell some had hoped for.

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