ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said a friend of his named in the “Panama Papers” leaks had done nothing wrong and spent the money he earned from business on buying expensive musical instruments which he was donating to public institutions.
Media reports based on the leaked documents from a Panama-based law firm alleged that Sergei Roldugin, a cellist and friend of Putin, had quietly built up a sprawling business empire involved in offshore transactions that might be linked to the Russian leader.
Speaking to supporters in St Petersburg, Putin said the leaks were part of an orchestrated attempt to destabilize Russia by fabricating allegations of corruption.
“Our opponents are above all concerned by the unity and consolidation of the Russian nation. They are attempting to rock us from within, to make us more pliant,” said Putin, in his first public comments on the leaks.
“There is a certain friend of the president of Russia, he did such and such a thing, and there is probably a corruption element there,” Putin said, describing the allegations.
“But there isn’t any (element of corruption).”
Putin said Roldugin was a brilliant musician and a minority shareholder in a Russian company from which he earned some money but not “billions of dollars.”
He said Roldugin had spent almost all the money he had made from the venture on acquiring expensive musical instruments abroad which he was in the process of handing over to state institutions.
“I am proud to have such friends,” said Putin.
The papers, which included more than 11.5 million documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, were leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. They then became part of a broader investigation coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The files, which contained the details of clients around the world, prompted Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, the prime minister of Iceland, to quit, put British Prime Minister David Cameron under pressure over his family’s financial affairs, and sparked calls in Ukraine to investigate President Petro Poroshenko.
But in Russia, where state media closely hews to the Kremlin’s line, the allegations have either been played down or portrayed as part of an attempt to undermine the ruling elite before parliamentary elections later this year.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, has dismissed the allegations as the result of “Putinophobia” and said that the journalistic consortium behind the Panama Papers included “many former state department and CIA employees, as well as those of other intelligence services”.
Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Dmitry Solovyov, and Alexander Winning; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Christian Lowe