Authorities across the globe have opened investigations into the activities of the world’s rich and powerful after a cache of leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm showed possible wrongdoing using offshore company structures.
The “Panama Papers” have cast light on the financial arrangements of high profile politicians and public figures and the companies and financial institutions they use for such activities.
Among those named in the documents are friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin and relatives of the leaders of China, Britain, Iceland and Pakistan, and the president of Ukraine.
Leading figures and financial institutions responded to the massive leak of more than 11.5 million documents with denials of any wrongdoing as prosecutors and regulators began a review of the reports from the investigation by the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other media organisations.
Following the reports, China has moved to limit local access to coverage of the matter with state media denouncing Western reporting on the leak as biased against non-Western leaders.
France, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands are among nations that have commenced investigations, and some other countries including the US said they were looking into the matter.
Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm at the centre of the leaks, has set up more than 240,000 offshore companies for clients around the globe and denies any wrongdoing. It calls itself the victim of a campaign against privacy and claims media reports misrepresent the nature of its business.
Credit Suisse and HSBC, two of the world’s largest wealth managers, on Tuesday dismissed suggestions they were actively using offshore structures to help clients cheat on their taxes.
Both were named among the banks that helped set up complex structures that make it hard for tax collectors and investigators to track the flow of money from one place to another, according to ICIJ.
Credit Suisse chief executive Tidjane Thiam, who is aggressively targeting Asia’s wealthiest for growth, said his bank was only after lawful assets.
Separately, HSBC said the documents pre-dated a thorough reform of its business model.
Both banks have in recent years paid large fines to US authorities over their wealth management or banking operations.
The reports on leaks also pointed to the offshore companies linked to the families of Chinese President Xi Jinping and other powerful current and former Chinese leaders.
China’s government has yet to respond publicly to the allegations.
Searches for the word “Panama” on Chinese search engines bring up stories in Chinese media on the topic, but many of the links have been disabled or only open on to stories about allegations directed at sports stars.
China’s internet regulator did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, suggested in an editorial on Tuesday that Western media backed by Washington used such leaks to attack political targets in non-Western countries while minimising coverage of Western leaders.