A massive leak of documents has revealed that leaders of countries that receive enormous amounts of U.S. foreign aid are secretly getting rich, stashing fortunes in overseas bank accounts.
An international coalition of media outlets, in conjunction with the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, released the report, which detailed the offshore assets and financial dealings of foreign politicians, businesses and celebrities, based on a cache of 11.5 million records.
Past or present leaders of countries including Ukraine, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, and Qatar were all listed as having stashed millions (and sometimes billions) in overseas assets. And all of those countries have received significant aid from U.S. taxpayers.
It wasn’t only U.S. allies on the report. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have been caught with his hand in the international honeypot.
Putin’s spokesman claimed that the Russian president was the “main target” of the investigation, which he suggested was the result of “Putinophobia” and aimed at smearing the country in a parliamentary election year.
In Russia, where the investigation was published by independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, the scandal faced an effective coverage ban. Russian television on Monday morning made no mention of it.
Ramon Fonseca, a co-founder of Mossack Fonseca — one of the world’s largest creators of shell companies — confirmed to Panama’s Channel 2 television network that documents investigated by the ICIJ were authentic and had been obtained illegally by hackers.
Businessmen, criminals, celebrities and sports stars — the ICIJ said the documents involve 214,488 companies and 14,153 clients of Mossack Fonseca. The nonprofit group said it would release the full list of companies and people linked to them early next month.
The Munich-based German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung said it was offered the data more than a year ago through an encrypted channel by an anonymous source. The source sought unspecified security measures but no compensation, said Bastian Obermayer, a reporter for the paper.
The documents provided to Suddeutsche Zeitung, amounting to about 2.6 terabytes of data, included emails, financial spreadsheets, passports and corporate records detailing how powerful figures used banks, law firms and offshore shell companies to hide their assets. The data dated from 1977 through the end of 2015, it said.
The newspaper and its partners verified the authenticity of the data by comparing it to public registers, witness testimony and court rulings, he told reporters. A previous cache of Mossack Fonseca documents obtained by German authorities was also used to verify the new material, Obermayer added.
“It allows a never-before-seen view inside the offshore world — providing a day-to-day, decade-by-decade look at how dark money flows through the global financial system, breeding crime and stripping national treasuries of tax revenues,” the ICIJ said.
The Guardian newspaper, which participated in the investigation, published a video on its website late Sunday of an interview with Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson. During the interview with Sweden’s SVT television, the prime minister is asked about a company called Wintris. He responds by insisting that its affairs are above board and calling the question “completely inappropriate,” before breaking off the interview.
The office of Argentine President Mauricio Macri confirmed a report by La Nacion newspaper that a business group owned by Macri’s family had set up Fleg Trading Ltd. in the Bahamas.
“The allegations are historical, in some cases dating back 20 years, predating our significant, well-publicized reforms implemented over the last few years,” HSBC spokesman Rob Sherman said in an email.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.