A network of secret offshore deals and loans worth $2 billion reportedly leads to Russian president Vladimir Putin, according to an unprecedented leak of documents from a Panamanian law firm.
Eleven million documents from Mossack Fonseca - the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm - are said to reveal how the firm helped clients launder money, avoid sanctions and dodge tax. They also reportedly show links to 72 current or former heads of state, including dictators accused of looting their own countries including Libya's former leader Muammar Gaddafi and Syria's president Bashar al-Assad.
The documents were obtained by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and were shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). BBC Panorama and the Guardian are among 107 media organisations in 78 countries that have had access the documents.
The Guardian on Sunday revealed how the documents lay a trail to Putin and shine a light on the fortunes of his inner circle.
The BBC reported that the documents reveal a suspected billion-dollar money laundering ring that was run by Russian bank, Bank Rossiva, and involve close associates of Putin.
The papers are said to show for the first time how the bank - currently subject to US and EU sanctions following Russia's annexation of Crimea - operated.
Gerard Ryle, director of the ICIJ, has said the leaked documents cover the day-to-day business at Mossack Fonseca over the past 40 years.
"I think the leak will prove to be probably the biggest blow the offshore world has ever taken because of the extent of the documents."
According to reports, Mossack Fonseca has stated that it has operated beyond reproach for 40 years and has never been charged with criminal wrong-doing.
The Guardian said that although Putin's name does not appear in the leaked records, the documents reveal his friends have earned millions from deals that it further suggests could not have gone through without his involvement.
It further claimed that the documents suggest the president's family has benefited from this money – as his friends’ fortunes appeared his to spend.
The newspaper said the offshore trail started in Panama then passed through Russia, Switzerland and Cyprus. A private ski resort where Putin's youngest daughter, Karerina, got married in 2013, was also named, it said.
The leaked documents - labelled the Panama Papers - are said to put Sergei Roldugin, squarely in the spotlight. The concert cellist has known Putin since they were teenagers, and Roldugin is godfather to the president's daughter Maria.
On paper, the BBC reported, Roldugin has made hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from suspicious deals.
His company, documents reveal, state that: "The company is a corporate screen established principally to protect the identity and confidentiality of the ultimate beneficial owner of the company."
The Mossack Fonseca data is also said to show how Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson had an undeclared interest in his country's bailed-out banks.
Gunnlaugsson and his wife, the BBC reported, bought offshore company Wintris in 2007. However, Gunnlaugsson did not declare an interest in the company when he entered parliament two years later in 2009. Eight months later, the broadcaster said, he sold his 50% stake of Wintris to his wife for $1 (70p).
Gunnlaugsson is now facing calls for his resignation, but claims he has not broken any rules.
The offshore company was used to invest millions of dollars of inherited money, according to a document signed by Gunnlaugsson's wife Anna Sigurlaug Pálsdóttir in 2015, the broadcaster reported.
Mossack Fonseca has reportedly said it has always complied with international protocols to ensure the companies they incorporate are not used for tax evasion, money-laundering, terrorist finance or other illicit purposes.
The company says it conducts thorough due diligence and regrets any misuse of its services.
The BBC quotes the law firm as saying: "For 40 years Mossack Fonseca has operated beyond reproach in our home country and in other jurisdictions where we have operations. Our firm has never been accused or charged in connection with criminal wrongdoing.
"If we detect suspicious activity or misconduct, we are quick to report it to the authorities. Similarly, when authorities approach us with evidence of possible misconduct, we always cooperate fully with them."
Suggested For You
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more