“Mr Putin was never involved. It’s bullshit,” said Andrey Kostin, chief executive officer of VTB Group, Russia’s second-largest lender. He also rejected allegations that the lender made unsecured loans through a Cyprus-based subsidiary to a close friend of the president.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists said that leaked files from a Panama law firm that creates shell companies show at least €2bn in transactions involved people and companies that the ICIJ alleged had ties to Putin.
Some reports included the allegation that VTB’s Cyprus-based subsidiary Russian Commercial Bank (RCB) gave unsecured credit lines of hundreds of millions of dollars at extremely low interest rates to an offshore company controlled by one of the president’s oldest friends.
“It’s absolutely out of the question that RCB would give a loan unsecured,” said Mr Kostin. RCB is subject to European Central Bank regulation and the accusations against it came from people who “don’t have the information on financial transactions,” he said.
Mr Putin isn’t directly tied to the Panama transactions identified in the ICIJ’s reports. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the consortium last week of preparing an “information attack” on the president and said Russia has “the full arsenal of legal means” to defend his reputation.
“There’s definitely quite a big campaign” against Russia, said Mr Kostin. “I never read anything which relates to Mr Putin directly.”
Russian state media has largely ignored the reports, while independent outlets critical of the Kremlin gave prominent coverage to the allegations.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the reports, saying they aimed to discredit him ahead of upcoming elections.
“This Putinophobia abroad has reached such a point that it is in fact taboo to say something good about Russia, or about any actions by Russia or any Russian achievements. But it’s a must to say bad things, a lot of bad things, and when there’s nothing to say, it must be concocted. This is evident to us.” The publications contained “nothing concrete and nothing new” about Putin, said Mr Peskov.
The reports will not affect Mr Putin’s standing with Russians, said Alexei Chesnakov, a former Kremlin aide.