#PanamaPapers: Are dictators and US opponents unfairly targeted?

#PanamaPapers: Are dictators and US opponents unfairly targeted?
Critics, dissenters and Russian media allege that Putin and Assad have been unfairly targeted by the Panama leaks.
4 min read
05 Apr, 2016
The leaks reveal Syrian regime figures missed by international sanctions [AFP]
After the Panama papers were leaked online, there was criticism that they focused on enemies of the West.

The reports by an international coalition of media outlets on an investigation with the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists [ICIJ] brought to light details of offshore assets belonging to politicians, businesses and celebrities, based on a cache of 11.5 million records.

Among the countries with past or present political figures named in the reports are Iceland, Ukraine, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Argentina.

Vladimir Putin's spokesman claimed that the Russian president was the "main target" of the investigation, which he suggested was the result of "Putinophobia" and aimed at smearing the country in a parliamentary election year.

Many leftists agreed with the sentiment, including prominent writer Tariq Ali who felt The Guardian focused too strongly on the leaks.

Media Lens, a "media watchdog" criticised the British publication The Independent for highlighting Bashar al-Assad's part in the leaks.

"Al-Quds al-'Arabi...it maintains that the Panama papers involved associates of Mubarak, Qadhdhafi, and Bashshar Al-Asad. No mention of the names of the former Emir of Qatar and the former prime minister," wrote commentator Asad Abu Khalil on his English-Language blog.

For many dissenters, Assad heading a regime that spearheaded a war that has killed 470,000 people isn't enough to justify the media's overt attention on his connection to the leaks.

Additionally, many missed the disclaimer in the leaks that storing money in an off-shore account - no matter how morally dubious - is not actually illegal in itself.

According to an investigation by The New Arab, the US sanctions missed several key figures connected to the Syrian regime who had managed to evade detection through their use of off-shore bank accounts.

Russian state news, RT said that Putin's name was "not on the leaks once" and said that the ICIJ is supported by USAID, a US government agency and backed by billionaire and Putin critic George Soros.

Similar sentiments were seen in Chinese newspapers who suspected that an "organised entity" was behind the leaks.

In France, Newspaper la Monde pointed out that both the left and the far right National Front party criticised the leaks.

Thirerry Mariani, former minister under Francois Fillon and close supporter to Putin tweeted "It's in Panama, and there is no American involved? Strange ... But waiting for the result."

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the co-founder of the Left Party, which recently welcomed the intervention of the Russians in Syria also questioned the credibility of the "politically correct list".

"The activities of this Panamanian company, one of probably hundreds or thousands of others, is not surprising except to those who believed in the myth of happy globalization," said Frédéric Chatillon who is close to Marine Le Pen, the French far right leader.

James Henry, an economist and senior adviser to the Tax Justice Network, told Fusion that Americans "really don't need to go to Panama."

"One reason there may be relatively few Americans named in the documents is that it is fairly easy to form shell companies in the United States," he said.

"Basically, we have an onshore haven industry in the U.S. that is as secretive as anywhere." 

Economist Shima Baradaran Baughman agreed.

"Americans can form shell companies right in Wyoming, Delaware or Nevada. They have no need to go to Panama to form a shell company to use for illicit activities."

The leaks also targeted prominent figures who are not known to be enemies of the US.

Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn demanded an investigation into David Cameron's familys' taxes after the British Prime Minister's father was named in the leaks along with other senior conservative figures. 

Also on Tuesday, the Prime Minister of Iceland Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, resigned after the leaked documents revealed that he and his wife had set up a company in 2007 in the British Virgin Islands through the law firm, Mossack Fonseca.

Twitter users subsequently mocked those who had said the leaks concentrate on "enemies of the West" as Gunnlaugsson was hardly a so-called-anti-imperialist hero.

Corecttion: Agencies contributed to this report