Thursday 27 October 2016

German paper says it will not publish all offshore files

Published 07/04/2016 | 13:46

Sueddeutsche Zeitung headquarters are pictured in Munich, Germany, April 5. Reuters/Michaela Rehle
Sueddeutsche Zeitung headquarters are pictured in Munich, Germany, April 5. Reuters/Michaela Rehle

The German newspaper that first obtained the so-called Panama Papers, a vast trove of documents on offshore companies, has said it will not publish all the files, arguing that not all are of public interest.

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Sueddeutsche Zeitung received the documents from an unidentified source more than a year ago and shared at least parts of them with dozens of other media outlets around the world. Since the first reports were published on Sunday, prominent politicians, celebrities and businesspeople have had their offshore business dealings dragged into the spotlight, prompting a flurry of public outrage, official investigations and fierce denials from some of those named.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung said the complete set of 11.5 million documents "won't be made available to the public or to law enforcement agencies. That's because the SZ isn't the extended arm of prosecutors or the tax investigators."

Authorities have legal powers to obtain such documents from those suspected of wrongdoing, and in many cases there is no public interest in revealing companies' or individuals' offshore business dealings, the Munich-based paper said.

The documents relate to Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which helps create shell companies for the world's rich and famous. The firm said it has filed a criminal complaint alleging that the data was stolen in a hacking attack.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung said it did not know how the anonymous source obtained the data, but that he or she had expressed "a very strong moral impulse" and wanted to make "these crimes public".

Panama's government on Wednesday accused wealthy nations of unfairly attacking the Central American country while ignoring their own failings.

President Juan Carlos Varela said an international committee of experts would be created to recommend ways to boost transparency in the Central American country's offshore financial industry. Experts say that while offshore companies can be used for tax evasion and money laundering, there are also legitimate and legal grounds for creating them.

German lawmakers said on Thursday they plan to hold an urgent debate on the offshore leaks next week.

"The revelations in the Panama Papers have triggered a broad discussion among politicians and the public about necessary consequences," said Christine Lambrecht, of the Social Democratic Party that is part of chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition.

Responding to readers' queries about the absence of prominent German or American politicians in the reports, Sueddeutsche Zeitung said such names have not yet been found in the documents.

It said the documents include copies of the passports of 200 Americans, and about 3,500 shareholders in offshore companies listed addresses in the United States.

"One possible reason why comparatively few Americans appear in the documents could be that US citizens have no reason to contact a law firm in Panama," the paper said. "That's because offshore companies can easily be created in US states such as Wyoming, Delaware or Nevada."

Russian president Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has denied having any links to offshore accounts and is describing the Panama Papers document leaks scandal as part of Western efforts to weaken Russia.

Mr Putin, speaking on Thursday at a media forum in St Petersburg, said even though his name did not figure in any of the documents leaked from a Panamanian law firm, Western media pushed the claims of his involvement in offshore businesses.

Mr Putin described the allegations as part of the US-led disinformation campaign waged against Russia in order to weaken its government.

Mr Putin said his long-time friend, cellist Sergei Roldugin, who figured in the Panama Papers as the owner of two billion US dollar (£1.42 billion) in offshore assets, has done nothing wrong. He said he was proud of Roldugin, adding that the musician spent his personal money to advance cultural projects in Russia.

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