The Belfast Telegraph, April 5, 2016 (featuring information on RT.com‘s ‘Going Underground’ program of April 6, 2016)
Icelandic investigative journalist and WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson has called for the Panama Papers to be published in full online. Governments around the world are scrambling to contain the fallout from the publication of thousands of names of rich and powerful people who conducted offshore financial activity through Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.
Mr Hrafnsson, who worked on the ‘Cablegate’ leak of diplomatic documents in 2010, suggested the withholding of documents is understandable to maximise the impact, but said that in the end the papers should be published in full for the public to access.
He told RT‘s Afshin Rattansi on ‘Going Underground’: “When they are saying this is responsible journalism, I totally disagree with the overall tone of that.
“I do have a sympathy to stalled releases, we certainly did that in WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011 with the Diplomatic Cables… but in the end the entire cache was put online in a searchable database.
“That is what I’d want to see with these Panama Papers, they should be available to the general public in such a manner so everybody, not just the group of journalists working on the data, can search it.”
The reports are from a global group of news organisations working with the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The consortium have been processing the legal records from the Mossack Fonseca law firm that were first leaked to the German Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
Shell companies are not necessarily illegal. People or companies might use them to reduce their tax bill legally, by benefiting from low tax rates in countries like Panama, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.
But the practice is frowned upon, particularly when used by politicians, who then face criticism for not contributing to their own countries’ economies.
Because offshore accounts and companies also hide the names of the ultimate owners of investments, they are often used to illegally evade taxes or launder money.
RT’s Afshin Rattansi mentions that the ICIJ is funded by the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment think tank, the Rockefellers and George Soros.
Asked if he is surprised that there has been “no big American names released – so far” Mr Hrafnsson said: “It seems to be skewed away from American interests. American companies are only a third of British companies there.
“You have to keep in mind this one law firm in Panama servicing, providing tax haven companies mostly out of the British Virgin Islands – so it doesn’t give the entire picture.”
The full interview airs on April 6 on ‘Going Underground‘ on RT.com and can be viewed on the RT website [click on screen below].[The same edition of ‘Going Underground’ reports on Turkey’s bloody war against the Kurdish people in the east of the country, conducted amidst near-total silence by Western mainstream media. The program interviews Kani Xulam, director of the American Kurdish Information Network, beginning at the 19′ mark.]
Panama Papers fallout
In the UK, David Cameron has sought to distance himself from the row over the Panama Papers data leak, with Downing Street insisting the Prime Minister’s family “do not benefit from any offshore funds”. The Prime Minister himself declared he had “no shares, no offshore trusts, no offshore funds” after his late father Ian’s tax affairs were highlighted in the document disclosure.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn dismissed suggestions by Downing Street that the family’s tax arrangements were a “private” matter and called for an independent investigation into those implicated by the records. But Mr Cameron sidestepped calls for a probe and declined to say if his family had reaped the rewards of an offshore arrangement in the past or were likely to in the future.
The Prime Minister was asked to confirm that “you and your family have not derived any benefit in the past and will not in the future” from the offshore fund set up by Ian Cameron, referred to in the papers leaked from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca.
During a visit to Birmingham Mr Cameron said: “In terms of my own financial affairs, I own no shares. I have a salary as Prime Minister and I have some savings, which I get some interest from, and I have a house, which we used to live in, which we now let out while we are living in Downing Street, and that’s all I have.
“I own no shares, no offshore trusts, no offshore funds, nothing like that. And so that, I think, is a very clear description.”
Meanwhile Iceland’s embattled prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson has resigned amid controversy over his offshore holdings as outrage over the accounts angered the North Atlantic island nation. Mr Gunnlaugsson is stepping down as leader of the country’s coalition government, Agriculture Minister Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson told Icelandic broadcaster RUV. No replacement has yet been named, and Iceland’s president has not yet confirmed that he has accepted the resignation.
China dismissed as “groundless” reports that relatives of current and retired politicians, including President Xi Jinping, own offshore companies. The state media are ignoring the reports, and search results for the words “Panama documents” have been blocked on websites and social media.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said he would not discuss the reports further and declined to say whether the individuals named would be investigated. “For these groundless accusations, I have no comment,” Hong told reporters at a regularly scheduled news conference.
Ukraine’s president was accused of abusing his office and of tax evasion by moving his candy business offshore, possibly depriving the country of millions of dollars in taxes. [See: Panama Papers and Ukraine: The president’s offshore tax plan, by Anna Babinets and Vlad Lavrov, OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Sarajevo), April 3, 2016.]
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has announced he would set up an independent judicial commission to probe whether his family was involved in illegal overseas investments.
In Algeria, a company that manages the finances of the industry minister says he is linked to an offshore firm created in Panama, but says its activities are frozen while he is serving in the government.
French newspaper Le Monde reported that Abdessalam Bouchouareb runs a Panamanian company called Royal Arrival Corp., prompting accusations that he is hiding assets abroad and evading taxes. Contacted by The Associated Press, Bouchouareb declined to comment, referring to a statement released by his Luxembourg-based financial management company CEC. The statement says CEC created Royal Arrival Corp. to manage Bouchouareb’s assets, but when the minister learned about the new company, he ordered its activities frozen as long as he is in the government. Royal Arrival Corp. “has never been active in any country,” the statement says.
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin says the president is the “main target” of the media investigation into offshore accounts, but that he is not implicated in any wrongdoing. Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov says “it’s obvious that the main target of such attacks is our president”, and claimed that the publication was aimed at influencing Russia’s stability and parliamentary elections scheduled for September.
Mr Peskov said international media had wrongly focused on Mr Putin instead of other world politicians, even though he was not implicated in any wrongdoing, and suggested the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a key player in the publication, had ties to the U.S. government.
Nominee for notable Western mainstream grammatical contortions over Panama Papers revelations (whereby ‘associates’ magically become ‘current and former world leaders’)
Vancouver Sun (Postmedia chain) columnist Daphne Bramham writes in a front page story on April 7, 2016: “Included in the Panama Papers list of individuals who set up shell companies in tax havens are 140 politicians from 50 countries. That number includes 12 current and former world leaders including Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, the disgraced prime minister of Iceland; the king of Saudi Arabia; [and] associates of both Syrian President Bashar Assad [sic] and Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
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