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Kremlin apologises to German paper for Putin’s Panama leak claim

April 15, 2016

The Kremlin on Friday apologised to German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung after President Vladimir Putin wrongly claimed it was owned by US bank Goldman Sachs as he sought to discredit leaks from the Panama Papers.

Putin said Thursday that US “masterminds” were behind the leak to the paper, which has shared millions of documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca with international media to shed light on how the rich and powerful hide money offshore, including the Russian president’s inner circle.

“Who is behind these provocations?” Putin asked at his annual call-in session on national television.

“Sueddeutsche Zeitung is part of a media holding owned by US financial corporation Goldman Sachs, which means that the fingerprints of the masterminds are all over it.”

State media in Russia has broadly claimed that the US government is behind the Panama Papers leak, and Putin has said the goal of the reports is to destabilise Russia ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

On Friday however Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was forced to make a rare admission that Putin was wrong about the newspaper’s ownership.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung is a subsidiary of Sueddeutscher Verlag, which is majority-owned by leading German media group Suedwestdeutsche Medienholding.

“It’s more our mistake, my mistake, the mistake of those who prepared the information about this (for Putin),” Peskov told journalists.

“It really contained unconfirmed information, we did not double-check it and handed it to the president… I mean, in terms of the ownership of Sueddeutsche Zeitung,” he said.

“We have offered our apologies, we are offering our apologies to the publication.”

Reports based on the Panama Papers revealed shady offshore dealings of Russian officials and linked Putin’s close friend, cellist Sergei Roldugin, to shell firms that shuffled at least $2 billion and made money out of thin air from questionable deals with Russian state companies.

Putin on Thursday acknowledged that the leaks contained accurate information about offshore companies but backed his friend Roldugin, saying he spends all his money on musical instruments.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.