Many documents from a private bank in Panama have been published. It is not evident that Panama was used to hide money from the taxman by people in many different countries. Panama used to be known as a tax haven but since the 1980s it was thought to have lost this status. That is because it was associated with the dictator Noriega and the narcotics trade.
Some of Putin’s cronies have been hiding money in Panama. No surprise there. The question is – did this break any law? Probably not. People are entitled to have off shore bank accounts and to keep their financial affairs secret. David Cameron’s father had a trust there. Petro Poroshenko had money there despite his invective against others doing the same. Poroshenko is a Ukrainian politician who is NATO’s darling.
Now the European Union is proposing that all 28 member states will share information on who is the real owner of various properties and businesses. Does this not breach existing law? In English Property Law there is the curtain principle. Certain interests are hidden behind the curtain of a trust. This breach of confidentiality conflicts with a long standing pillar of English Law. The same will hold good in other common law countries such as the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Malta. People have been willing to put their capital into such countries partly because they were guaranteed discretion. It will undermine faith in the rule of law if this core nostrum of common law is jettisoned in the wake of a demagogic furore.
It is notable how credulous much of the Russian public is. In Western countries people are often too sceptical and carping about their politicians. In Russia there is a tradition of blind loyalty. People are accustomed to absolute rulers. Russia is not exactly a dictatorship but neither is it fully democratic. The BBC quoted many ordinary Russians saying these documents were a provocation. Implying that they were hoaxes. Would NATO countries really want to embarrass David Cameron and make Poroshenko look like a crook? President Putin is entitled to be rich so long as his money is honestly earned. People are allowed to gift him things including money but no favours should be returned for it. In free countries such presents must be declared.
I saw the clip of Kim Philby lecturing the Stasi in 1981. His mantra was to never confess. No matter how utterly convincing the evidence just deny guilt. He said even if they show you an incriminating document in your own hand insist it is a forgery. This is more or less the Kremlin;s line. No matter how completely overwhelming the evidence they will claim there is no malfeasance and the evidence is doctored.