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Russian President Vladimir Putin(File Photo)
Russian President Vladimir Putin(File Photo)

A massive leak of 11.5 million tax documents has exposed the secret offshore dealings of aides to Russian president Vladimir Putin, world leaders and celebrities including Barcelona forward Lionel Messi.

An investigation into the documents by more than 100 media groups, described as one of the largest such probes in history, revealed the hidden offshore dealings in the assets of around 140 political figures — including 12 current or former heads of states.

According to report in The Indian Express, which was part of a coalition of media outlets investigating the documents, says its eight-month investigation of over 36,000 files has revealed around 500 Indian names on the firm’s list of offshore companies, foundations and trusts. The newspaper says it has checked the authenticity of over 300 addresses.

Indians were not allowed to float overseas entities before 2003. In 2004, for the first time individuals were allowed to remit funds up to a limit. In most of the cases, companies were set up long before the rules were changed in 2013, when individuals were allowed to set up subsidiaries or invest in joint ventures under the Overseas Direct Investment window.

The list includes bollywood actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, DLF’s K P Singh along with nine other members of his family, Gautam Adani’s elder brother Vinod Adani to Indiabulls promoter Sameer Gehlaut and Apollo Tyres promoter.

The report also names two politicians — Shishir Bajoria from West Bengal and Anurag Kejrival, the former chief of the Delhi Loksatta Party.

The Panama Papers leak also reveals cases involving the government as well.

These include cricket franchise deals and, in several cases, linkages to those who have previously been under CBI or Income Tax scrutiny.

The vast stash of records was obtained from an anonymous source by German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and shared with media worldwide by the International Consortium of
Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The investigation yielded 11.5 million documents from around 214,000 offshore entities, the ICIJ said. The leaked documents came from Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm with offices in more than 35 countries.

Though most of the alleged dealings are said by the ICIJ to be legal they are likely to have a serious political impact on many of those named.

Among the main claims of the ICIJ investigations:

— Close associates of Putin, who is not himself named in the documents, “secretly shuffled as much as USD2 billion through banks and shadow companies,” the ICIJ said.

— The files identified offshore companies linked to the family of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has led a tough anti-corruption campaign in his country, the ICIJ said.

— In Iceland, the files allegedly show Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson and his wife secretly owned an offshore firm holding millions of dollars in Icelandic bank bonds during the country’s financial crisis.

— The law firm of a member of FIFA’s ethics committee, Juan Pedro Damiani, had business ties with three men indicted in the FIFA scandal: former FIFA vice president Eugenio Figueredo, as well as Hugo Jinkis and his son Mariano who were accused of paying bribes to win soccer broadcast rights in Latin America.

— Argentine football great Messi and his father owned a Panama company, Mega Star Enterprises Inc., a shell company that had previously not come up in Spanish investigations into the father and son’s tax affairs.

Also in the world of football, Francetvinfo named UEFA president Michel Platini as the beneficiary of a Panama-based tax company, adding however that no illegal activity was
alleged.

Platini’s communications service said in a statement sent to AFP that “all of his accounts and assets are known to the tax authorities in Switzerland, where he has been a tax resident since 2007″.

The revelation of the “Panama Papers” detailing the off-shore structures of many wealthy
clients is a “crime” and an “attack” on Panama, the law firm at the heart of the scandal has said.

“This is a crime, a felony,” Ramon Fonseca, one of the founders of the Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseca, said yesterday.

“This is an attack on Panama because certain countries don’t like it that we are so competitive in attracting companies,” he told AFP.