The Russian president Vladimir Putin has conceded that the information in the Panama Papers is accurate. In his annual call-in with Russia’s citizens, Putin stated: “They didn’t publish any false information about offshore companies. The information is accurate.” However, Putin added he had the feeling that lawyers had written the articles, and not journalists. He reached this conclusion based on “the style and the way the facts were presented.”
Putin also claimed that the Süddeutsche Zeitung was working for the United States. According to the Russian news agency Interfax, Putin stated: “Who is involved in these provocations? We know that there are employees of official American agencies there. And the article first appeared in Süddeutsche Zeitung. The newspaper belongs to a media holding company, which in turn is owned by Goldman Sachs, an American company. Ears are sticking out everywhere, but they are not even reddening.” Putin said his statements were based on information his spokesperson Dmitry Peskov had given him.
These claims are false. Goldman Sachs does not own Süddeutsche Zeitung, neither directly nor indirectly. Süddeutsche Zeitung is a 100-percent subsidiary of the Süddeutsche Verlag, 81.25 percent of which belongs to Südwestdeutsche Medienholding (SWMH). A Munich publishing family holds the other 18.75 percent. The American investment bank does not own Südwestdeutsche Medienholding, either. “SWHH has no relationship under corporate law with Goldman Sachs,” said Stefan Hilscher, the managing director of Süddeutsche Zeitung.
In fact, the publishers of several German newspapers are behind Südwestdeutschen Medienholding. In 2008, SWMH acquired a majority shareholding in SZ from four publishing families in Munich. At the time, the Stuttgart publisher Dieter von Holtzbrinck had also bid for shares, and teamed up with Goldman Sachs to this end. However, the publishing families made a conscious decision against Holtzbrinck and Goldman Sachs.
A day later, Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov apologized, stating that he had made an error in preparing the president’s briefing documents. “It was our mistake, actually it was my mistake,” he told Interfax, adding that the material should have been double checked. “We would like to offer the newspaper our apologies,” Peskov said.
Prior to the publication of the Panama Papers, two weeks ago the Kremlin warned of a looming “information attack”.
Putin said that he didn’t expect the journalists researching the Mossack Fonseca law firm’s data to let up. “They are going to continue anyway. The closer we get to the elections, the more stories of this kind there will be.” The Russian parliamentary election is scheduled for September.