PANAMA CITY: Russian President Vladimir Putin denied any “element of corruption” on Thursday after a massive leak of confidential papers linked a close friend to a hidden $2 billion offshore empire, and he blamed the United States for orchestrating the scandal.

Putin boasted that a year-long international media probe into the leak of 11.5 million offshore financial documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca — the Panama Papers — had failed to find any mention of his name.

“They combed through these offshore accounts. Your humble servant is not there. What is there to talk about?” Putin said, referring to himself, at a televised forum for regional media held in Saint Petersburg.

Instead, the investigating journalists found “some friend of the Russian president” and suggested his activities have “an element of corruption,” Putin said. “What element of corruption? There is none at all,” he insisted.

The probe into financial dealings by world leaders, celebrities and sports stars found that Putin’s associates, notably his cellist friend Sergei Roldugin, “secretly shuffled as much as $2 billion through banks and shadow companies,” according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The ICIJ coordinated the investigation with more than 100 media groups around the world after the mass of leaked data was obtained from an anonymous source by German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

But “WikiLeaks has shown us now the fact that officials and official organs of the United States stand behind this,” Putin said, after the whistleblowing group wrote on Twitter that “US govt funded #PanamaPapers attack story on Putin via USAID.” Putin warmly defended his friend as a “brilliant musician” and philanthropist.

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2016

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