Russia Insists #ParadisePapers Deals Were Legal

Russia on Monday downplayed leaks in the Paradise Papers concerning Russian officials and companies, insisting the deals were legal and not politically motivated. One of the companies mentioned … Continue reading Russia Insists #ParadisePapers Deals Were Legal

The Queen Victoria Memorial statue is pictured in front of Buckingham Palace, the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II, in central London on November 6, 2017. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has business ties to a shipping firm linked to Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, according to a vast leak of financial documents that also revealed Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II’s investments in tax havens. Adrian DENNIS / AFP

Russia on Monday downplayed leaks in the Paradise Papers concerning Russian officials and companies, insisting the deals were legal and not politically motivated.

One of the companies mentioned in the papers, petrochemicals giant Sibur, slammed media reports on the findings, while confirming the facts.

In a statement reported by Russian news agencies, Sibur voiced its “amazement at the politically charged interpretation in some media of ordinary commercial activity.”

The leaks revealed that US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has ties to a shipping firm called Navigator Holdings, which has a contract with Sibur.

Sibur confirmed that it works with Navigator Holdings, making up 2.8 percent of its logistics spending, or $15.9 million, in the first half of 2017.

A billionaire reported to be President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law, Kirill Shamalov, owns a 3.9 percent stake in Sibur, according to Vedomosti business daily.

Gennady Timchenko, Putin’s friend and business partner who is subject to US sanctions, owns 17 percent of Sibur, Vedomosti reported.

Sibur said that it had thoroughly checked whether there were any restrictions on its activities due to a shareholder (Timchenko) being under sanctions, but “did not find any such restrictions.”

– ‘Muddled wording’ –

The head of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian senate, Konstantin Kosachev, charged that the leaks were “stirring emotions and muddled wording,” speaking to RIA Novosti state news agency earlier Monday.

The papers leaked from offshore law firm Appleby reveal that VTB Bank, Russia’s second largest bank and now under US sanctions, funded an investment in Twitter.

In addition, a branch of Gazprom energy giant through an offshore company financed an investment vehicle that owned Facebook shares.

Both deals are linked to Russian billionaire investor Yuri Milner.

“When it is boiled down, what is described here is standard and legal commercial activity,” Kosachev said.

He added that the deals were being “presented as practically a plot against the foundations of Western democracy.”

The findings emerged as part of the Paradise Papers released by the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which was behind the Panama Papers made public last year.

– Political ties –

Russia’s opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta was the only Russian media to take part in analysing the leaked materials. It reported that it looked at 13.4 million documents over the course of a year.

The newspaper said the leaks did not principally concern Russians, saying this was possibly because Appleby, “asked questions about the origins of funds more often” than the company that leaked the Panama Papers, Mossack Fonseca.

“Russia is not even in the top 10 countries whose citizens used Appleby’s services,” it wrote.

Novaya Gazeta found the names of two current lawmakers in the papers: Alexei Yezubov of the ruling party and Vladimir Blotsky of the Communist Party. Yezubov told RIA Novosti he had “heard nothing” of the leaks.

The former wife of powerful Rosneft chief and Putin ally Igor Sechin, Marina Sechina, also figures. She registered a property investment company in 2012, soon after their divorce.

Sechin’s declarations previously showed she had no earnings for several years.

Novaya Gazeta said Appleby was aware of Sechina’s significant political ties.

The files also name the wife of first deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov, Olga Shuvalova, as the beneficiary of a company that owned a Bombardier plane, Novaya Gazeta reported.

The anti-corruption foundation of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in 2016 had accused Shuvalova of using a private plane to fly her corgies to dog shows.

Those named also include Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea football club, who did not respond to the newspaper’s request for comment.