Kremlin rebuffs ‘unsubstantiated claims’ in Pandora Papers

Putin has guarded his private life jealously and once famously told journalists to keep their 'snotty noses' out of his business.

Russia on Monday dismissed leaked revelations in the Pandora Papers as “unsubstantiated claims” after an investigation by a global media consortium shone light on wealth amassed by Kremlin-linked individuals.

The investigation involving some 600 journalists from outlets including The Washington Post, the BBC and The Guardian is based on a leak of some 11.9 million documents from 14 financial services companies around the world.

The files were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and published Sunday.

President Vladimir Putin is not directly named but he is linked via associates to secret assets in Monaco, notably a waterfront home acquired by a Russian woman reported to have had a child with him.

“This is just a set of largely unsubstantiated claims,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the leaks.

“We didn’t see anything on hidden wealth within Putin’s inner circle,” Peskov said, adding it was not clear “how this information can be trusted”.

The leaks reveal that the $4 million Monaco property was purchased through an offshore company towards the end of 2003 for the woman — a native of Putin’s hometown Saint Petersburg — who was previously reported to have had a relationship with him.

Russian investigative outlet Proekt reported in November last year that the woman, Svetlana Krivonogikh, had at one point worked as a cleaner, and was the mother of Putin’s child.

The purchase of the property went ahead shortly after Krivonogikh reportedly gave birth, the leaks showed.

The media consortium said Krivonogikh had not responded to requests for comment.

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– Graft reporters silenced –

Proekt last year described Krivonogikh as an elusive millionaire who lives in Russia’s former imperial capital and is the recipient of expensive gifts from Kremlin-connected individuals. 

It said facial-recognition analysis of photographs obtained by their reporters showed Krivonogikh’s daughter bears a close resemblance to Putin.

The investigative outlet was earlier this year declared an “undesirable organisation” by authorities as part of a broader crackdown on dissenting voices, banning its work in Russia under the threat of jail time.

Putin has guarded his private life jealously and once famously told journalists to keep their “snotty noses” out of his business. He divorced his wife Lyudmila in 2013.

The ICIJ found links between almost 1,000 companies in offshore havens and 336 high-level politicians and public officials, including more than a dozen serving heads of state and government. More than two-thirds of the companies were set up in the British Virgin Islands.

The Kremlin, however, said the leaks were evidence of illicit action in the United States.

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“The only thing that actually catches the eye is the demonstration of which state is the world’s biggest offshore and tax lacuna. And, this is, naturally, the United States,” Peskov said.

The Pandora leaks also revealed that the head of a state-run television network, Konstantin Ernst — who oversaw the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics — was gifted a stake in a billion dollar Moscow property deal.

The Kremlin has grown accustomed to rebuffing claims of corruption among the political elite.

The country’s most prominent opposition figure Alexei Navalny over the last decade has grown a loyal following with detailed investigations that targeted the wealth of the Kremlin’s inner circle, including Putin.

Navalny was jailed this year on old fraud charges, but his probe into a luxurious Black Sea mansion allegedly gifted to Putin and released after he was jailed helped spark protests.

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