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Panama Papers and conspiracy theories

Fiona ClarkApril 15, 2016

While President Vladimir Putin is singing praises about his friend, the world's richest cellist, we haven't heard the last note on the Panama Papers yet. As Fiona Clark reports, conspiracy theories still abound.

Wladimir Putin zu Gast bei der Fernsehsendung Der heiße Draht
Image: Reuters/I. Naymushin

Before you get your hopes up I'll be straight with you: there will be no mention in this piece of the Illuminati or George Soros (except for here), or any of the other more bizarre conspiracy theories concerning who leaked the Panama Papers and their ultimate evil intentions. And as disappointing as that may be, there is a good reason for that - they simply aren't needed. Russia and various US institutions are creating enough of their own to keep everyone well and truly occupied.

Just in case you'd forgotten, among the 11.5 million leaked documents were papers that implicated one of Vladimir Putin's closest friends, Sergei Roldugin, in an intricate web of companies that were involved in some allegedly dodgy looking deals worth around $2 billion (1.7 billion euros).

The papers lead to conclusions by those who analyzed them that Roldugin, a professional cellist, was earning about £6.5 million (8.1 million euros, $9.2 million) a year and had around £19 million in a Swiss bank.

Initially the Kremlin said the leaks were a CIA-backed plot aimed at undermining the Russia and the president in particular, in the lead up to next year's elections.

Practically a saint

What Putin didn't deny was his friend's involvement. In the interests of openness and transparency, Putin said it was true, Roldugin is indeed a rich man - and he does have offshore accounts. But he is not a criminal - far from it - the world's richest cellist is practically a saint. He had been given all his money by wealthy friends and had used it to buy musical instruments for Russia. And apparently he had spent all of it and was now in debt.

"Sergey Pavlovich [Roldugin] has nothing anymore because he spent more funds than he had to purchase these instruments and was left indebted to entities through which he purchased them," Putin said at his annual televised Q&A session where he answered questions from the public. Putin added the musician was in the process of transferring ownership of these instruments to the state.

Before you start calculating how many cellos you can buy for $2 billion, the president explained that one of the instruments was worth $12 million - a rare and unique instrument indeed. But $12 million out of $2 billion would still mean you'd need an awful lot of shipping containers to bring the rest of the instruments to the motherland, and it certainly doesn't explain where they came from or exactly which lucky students will be playing them all.

Philanthropy aside, the president went on to describe who he now believed was 'John Doe' - the missing link or source of the leaks. Goldman Sachs. Yes, not George Soros or the Illuminati, (ooops, I mentioned them again) but the New York-based investment bank. Why? Well that's not important - or at least not given, but his evidence is that Goldman Sachs is a part owner of the media group that owns the Süddeutsche Zeitung - the German newspaper that was first given the leaks. The Kremlin has since issued an apology to Süddeutsche over Putin's erroneous remarks, however the incident once again highlights how conspiracy theories are making the rounds.

newspaper front page (C) DW/B. Kling
The conspiracy theories making the rounds are verging on the ridiculousnessImage: DW/B. Kling

Case closed?

Meanwhile, back in the US, the Brookings Institute has been cooking up its own theories. Clifford G. Gaddy, Senior Fellow at its Center on the United States and Europe, thinks John Doe is none other than the Russian president himself. According to Gaddy, Putin collated the documents via "the Russian Financial Monitoring Service (RFM)." RFM is Putin's personal financial intelligence unit - he created it and it answers only to him. "It is … widely recognized as the most powerful such agency in the world, with a monopoly on information about money laundering, offshore centers, and related issues involving Russia or Russian nationals," Gaddy wrote.

And, while the leaks implicated leaders and businessmen from most parts of the world, they were suspiciously quiet when it came to American offshore interests. Why? Because what's not leaked is more important. It will be used to blackmail Americans and control the country, Gaddy exposes.

"You reveal secrets in order to destroy; conceal in order to control. Putin is not a destroyer. He's a controller," he wrote.

Ingenious indeed. After all it's obviously so much easier to collate 11.5 million documents than it is to use those old fashioned ploys like photo-shopping someone with a prostitute.