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Russian roulette

Russians were the highest among all nationalities represented in the data.

SNS | New Delhi |

In October this year, the “Pandora Papers” report containing revelations of wrongdoing by powerful public figures across the globe was released. It catalogued nearly 12 million leaked confidential records from firms in the offshore financial services industry and documented how the rich and powerful shield their assets.

In Russia, the land of the October Revolution, as it were, the Pandora Papers created an uproar as prominent personalities allegedly linked to President Vladimir Putin were among those named. But of interest is how the competing narratives of the Russian deep state and the Western intelligentsia are being pushed.

Leading US-based think-tanks, for example, have been underlining that Russian state media has been amplifying some of the report’s most troubling findings ~ including the USA’s emergence as a leading destination for sheltering dark money.

The absence of US officials and public figures from the report despite this fact is certainly being used by proKremlin media to question the origins and intent of the report. It’s being suggested that the names of public figures in the West have been deliberately omitted from the data released and speculation is rife in Russian media that Washington is in large part behind the Pandora Papers disclosures.

The usual suspects including the CIA and George Soros are being blamed. But the key contest between the narratives of either side hinges on the Latin American leaders who have been named in the report; well over 90 of the 330-odd politicians and public figures outed by the Pandora Papers are from South America.

Western experts say it is Moscow’s efforts to use the revelations as a means to discredit democratic governments that has led to simpatico media highlighting details of wrongdoing by Latin American heads of state, including the presidents of Ecuador, Chile, and the Dominican Republic and the vice president of Colombia, among others.

The argument is that it suits the Kremlin to do so because it is a part of the world where Russia has frequently sought to advance its geopolitical interests by all means not excluding the use of concerted information manipulation campaigns.

Western analysts assert this is a red herring designed to divert attention away from the individuals in Russia with possible links to President Putin; researchers behind the Pandora Papers identified nearly 3,700 companies with more than 4,400 beneficiaries who were Russian nationals, among them 46 oligarchs.

Russians were the highest among all nationalities represented in the data. While it is true that Russian media, and not just state-controlled news outlets, gave prominence to claims of innocence from individuals implicated in the report, it would be a bit of an overreach to allege a “Kremlin conspiracy” solely on this ground.

It is, after all, entirely fair to give those named an opportunity to tell their side of the story, especially if the evidence points to citizens being presumed guilty on the basis of conjecture premised on weak evidence. The problem is that the information put out in the data dump, while it may have been put through journalistic rigour, has not been tested for evidentiary value.

It is only the state which can do so, but because it is the very people in charge of the state apparatus who have been named in many instances, it is a Catch-22 situation.