Russia's Putin: Panama papers are a 'provocation'

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Media reports about offshore accounts in Panama are a “provocation”, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday, blaming U.S. officials and U.S. bank Goldman Sachs for attempts to influence Russian elections.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a live broadcast nationwide call-in in Moscow, Russia, April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Michael Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin

The leak of confidential documents from a Panamanian law firm earlier this month has had political repercussions in many countries, after shining a spotlight on the offshore wealth of politicians and public figures worldwide.

The files, which contained the details of clients around the world, prompted Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, the prime minister of Iceland, to quit, put British Prime Minister David Cameron under pressure over his family’s financial affairs, and sparked calls in Ukraine to investigate President Petro Poroshenko.

The revelations included details of offshore companies belonging to Sergei Roldulgin, a famous Russian cellist who was a childhood friend of Putin and is godfather to his eldest daughter, Maria.

Putin reiterated his defense of Rodulgin, portraying the scandal as a conspiracy orchestrated by U.S. officials and financiers aimed against Putin and his government.

“Who does it, these provocations? We know that there are some staff of official American institutions,” he said at an annual televised phone-in with the Russian public.

Putin said that German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, which he said had been first to publish the Panama documents, belonged to a leading U.S. bank.

“Süddeutsche Zeitung is a media holding company owned by an American financial corporation, Goldman Sachs,” he said. “That is, the ears of the instigators are sticking out everywhere, but they do not even redden.”

“We should not be expecting them to show any kind of a remorse. They will keep on doing it and the closer to the (Russian) elections, there will be more of that stuff.”

In a statement on the newspaper’s website, Stefan Hilscher, managing director of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, said the newspaper “has no relationship under corporate law with Goldman Sachs”, adding the paper’s ownership was publicly available information.

Goldman Sachs referred to Hilscher’s statement and declined further comment.

According to the leaked documents, the companies owned by Rodulgin had handled billions of dollars, including loans from companies linked to the state or other friends of Putin.

Putin has previously defended Roldulgin, saying he was not corrupt and that he was “proud to have such friends”.

Additional reporting by Jack Stubbs, Lidia Kelly, Dmitry Solovyov, Maria Kiselyova, Gleb Stolyarov and Anastasia Lyrchikova,; Writing by Jason Bush