In rare form, the Kremlin issued an apology to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) for President Vladimir Putin’s statements made during his annual call-in Q&A session on April 14. He said that the newspaper was owned by the U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs, thus showing evidence of U.S. interests behind reports linking him to offshore accounts detailed by the Panama Papers.
This year’s call-in Q&A by Putin lasted for 3 hours and 40 minutes, wherein he touched on various topics and placated the Russian public on the hardships brought on by the economic recession. Putin then addressed the Panama Papers, reaffirming his belief that the leak is a provocation backed by the U.S. in order to destabilize the Russian government.
“Who was the first to report it? Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, which is part of an American holding, Goldman Sachs,” said Putin during the Q&A in reference to his supposed links to the Panama Papers. “Who is behind all those provocations? We know that there are some employees of the U.S. state institutions.”
An article was then published on SZ the next day to address the statement made by Putin. SZ managing director Stefan Hilscher responded to Putin’s comments by affirming that the German newspaper “has no relationship under corporate law with Goldman Sachs.”
Suddeutsche Zeitung is one of the major international media outlets that published the findings from the Panama Papers, the biggest leak in the history of world journalism that consists 11.5 million documents from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that worked with clients from all over the world to keep their offshore interests in Panama confidential.
In turn, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov took full responsibility for the fallacious comments made by Putin in the public Q&A, owing it to aides getting information wrong before bringing it to Putin.
“It’s rather my mistake,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “The mistake of those who prepared the briefing documents. There was some unverified information there, which was given to the president without being double-checked. I mean the part about the owners of Suddeutsche Zeitung.”
“There was information there that had not been checked and rechecked again and we gave it to President Putin. We have apologized (to the bank) and we will also apologize to the publication,” he added.
While Putin’s name wasn’t explicitly listed in the leaked documents, his close associates were linked to offshore accounts handled by Mossack Fonseca. Among them was Sergei Roldugin, a famous cellist in Russia and a very close friend of Putin, who was found to be the owner of $2 billion worth of offshore assets, as stated in the Panama Papers.
The Panama Papers were published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on April 3 after the data had been processed for a considerable period of time. It exposed massive tax evasion by numerous entities all over the world, and the full list of companies involved is set to be published in early May. The 11.5 millions documents totaled 2.6 terabytes and spanned from the 1970s until late 2015, involving much of the 300,000 companies managed by Mossack Fonseca throughout the years.
[Image via AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko]