Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, has ties to Russia’s Sberbank, which has been implicated in the “Panama Papers” tax-avoidance scandal.
A report parsing through what is currently known to be included in the Mossack Fonseca data leak about Russian corporations found that Podesta’s eponymous Podesta Group lobbying firm took on Sberbank as a client only a month ago. John Podesta’s brother Anthony, who bundles campaign donations for Clinton, is listed as the lobbyist for the Sberbank account.
According to the Washington Free Beacon report, the Podesta Group’s lobbying registration form lists three other entities affiliated with Sberbank: “Cayman Islands-based Troika Dialog Group Limited, Cyprus-based SBGB Cyprus Limited, and Luxembourg-based SB International.”
Both Sberbank and the Troika Dialog Group are linked with companies used by members of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s inner circle to shift government funds into personal offshore accounts, according to allegations leveled by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the group managing the Panama Papers story – for example, leaked documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca that showed Troika Dialog secretly signing away interest in a Russian truck manufacturer to an offshore company called Avto Holdings, owned by close Putin friend Sergei Roldugin.
This, and many similar transactions, are characterized by the Panama Papers journalists as examples of how “offshore companies affiliated with Putin’s friend had privileged rights to control large stakes in strategic Russian enterprises, to receive dividends, and to buy these stakes for laughable sums.”
It is further noted that Sberbank is nominally a private company, even though it has “apparent ties to the interests of Russia’s ruling elite,” which allowed the Podesta Group to avoid the much more detailed paperwork required when lobbying for agencies of a foreign government.
This is the first Panama Papers story to touch an American political figure, leading to some speculation that Clinton and her media allies knew it was coming, and have been trying to hustle the news cycle along to keep it from damaging the Clinton campaign. Both the tax-avoidance angle and the notion of Clinton campaign big shots working for Putin cronies are narratives that could prove useful to her rival Bernie Sanders at this delicate stage of the Democrat primary race.
The dearth of Panama Papers stories with big American names leads some to suspect the agenda of the ICIJ. In response, ICIJ director Gerard Ryle defended his group’s control of the data by saying, “We’re not WikiLeaks. We’re trying to show that journalism can be done responsibly.”
WikiLeaks did not take that comment lying down:
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) April 5, 2016
There is also the matter of whether anything exposed by the Panama leak is illegal. No such allegations have been made so far, although the obscure legal loopholes exploited by some of the political figures involved do not look very good to their constituents, especially when so many of those leaders are socialists and authoritarians who rail incessantly against “tax avoidance” and hidden wealth themselves.
Also, leftists around the world believe that government power has penumbras that reach beyond the law, giving politicians the right to attack private citizens for perfectly legal activities. When ideology calls for an assault on complex legal conduct as vaguely immoral, or politicians need a convenient scapegoat in the private sector, they do not hesitate. Now those same people expect to be indulged when they are caught in the middle of arrangements they would normally excoriate.