Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied allegations that documents leaked from a Panamanian law firm contain evidence of corruption among his closest associates, saying the so-called Panama Papers are part of a Western campaign to undermine Russia.
Speaking Thursday to a media forum in St. Petersburg, the Russian president said the leaked documents are part of an attempt to make his country "more docile," to create "distrust within society toward the authorities, the state administration bodies, and to set one against the other."
Citing an allegation made by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Putin accused the U.S. government of being behind the Panama Papers. "That behind this stands...officials and official bodies of the United States, WikiLeaks has now shown us."
Putin noted that he himself was not mentioned in the documents. "You went through these offshore [documents]," he told the assembled journalists. "Your humble servant is not there, so there is nothing to talk about. But there is an assignment! [So] what did they do?...They found acquaintances and friends."
According to the journalists who analyzed the Panama Papers, the cellist Sergei Roldugin, a close friend of Putin since the 1970's, is linked in the documents to offshore transactions worth $2 billion.
Putin defended Roldugin Thursday.
"Many creative people in Russia, maybe every second one, is trying to do business, and, as far as I know, Sergei Pavlovich [Roldugin] as well," he said. "But what is his business? He is a minority shareholder in one of our companies and earns some money there, but this is certainly not billions of dollars. Nonsense, there's nothing like that."
Putin said Roldugin had spent his own money to advance Russian culture, and to acquire musical instruments abroad and bring them to Russia.
"I am proud that I have such friends," said the Russian president.