LONDON — After dodging questions for days, British Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged Thursday evening that he had owned and profited from shares in an offshore trust set up by his late father.
The admission came as the impact from a massive leak of financial data continued to ripple across the globe, with Russian President Vladimir Putin alleging a Western conspiracy and Iceland reckoning with the fall of the country’s prime minister.
Cameron himself faced calls to resign from at least one member of the opposition Labour Party Thursday night. But so far at least, there’s been no evidence that the prime minister did anything illegal or improper.
Still, the admission of a past financial stake in an offshore trust represented an awkward moment for a leader who has spoken out forcefully against international tax avoidance and evasion.
After the fund was linked to Cameron’s stockbroker father earlier this week, Downing Street issued a series of statements – first claiming the issue was “a private matter,” then saying Cameron did not currently own shares in the offshore trust and finally that the prime minister and his family would not benefit from the trust in the future.
But until Thursday night, Britain’s leader had been vague about the past.
Cameron told Britain’s ITV News that he had sold his interest in the trust in 2010, months before he became prime minister, for around 30,000 British pounds – or nearly $50,000. The Panama-based trust did not have to pay British taxes on its profits, though Cameron said he had paid income tax on his dividends and that both he and his father had followed the law.
“I don’t have anything to hide,” he said. “I’m proud of my dad and what he did and the business he established.”
The acknowledgment was part of the continuing fallout from this week’s publication of the Panama Papers, a leak of millions of documents from a Panamanian law firm that for decades has helped some of the world’s most prominent leaders set up offshore accounts, shell companies and other transactions.
The Panama Papers documents carry references to people around the world, including prominent Chinese officials. On Tuesday, Iceland’s prime minister, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, was forced to tender his resignation amid an uproar about a previously undisclosed offshore account held by his wife.
Putin on Thursday condemned a leak of confidential offshore account details, claiming that it was part of a Western plot to weaken Russia.
The comments were Putin’s first public reaction to the Panama Papers. An international consortium of journalists examining the papers found that Putin’s childhood friend, renowned cellist Sergei Roldugin, was connected to a web of transactions totaling more than $2 billion.
Roldugin has denied any wrongdoing. Putin was not personally named in the papers, a fact that the Russian president used to suggest the disclosures were meant to harm him by association.
“Yours truly is not there,” Putin said, referring to himself. “So what did they do then? They produced an information product. They found some acquaintances and friends. They dug up some stuff and glued it together.”
Putin said that Roldugin — who introduced Putin to his wife — was simply involved in a bit of business.
“Many creative professionals in Russia — probably half of them — are trying to do business and, to my knowledge, Sergei Pavlovich has been trying, too,” Putin said, referring to Roldugin by his first two names.
“What is his business? He is a minority shareholder in one of our companies, and he is making some money but definitely not billions of dollars. Nonsense, there is nothing of the sort,” Putin said.
The reports are aimed at dividing Russia from within, Putin claimed, “by infusing some mistrust in society toward government bodies and the government, and by setting people against each other.”
In many cases, the offshore accounts were politically embarrassing but not illegal, highlighting a loophole in the international financial system that has helped generations of the world’s wealthiest people sidestep taxes and guard their money.
The public reaction in Russia to the Panama Papers has been muted, in part because pro-Kremlin outlets have paid little attention to the Russians named in the files. Far more publicity has been given to the offshore accounts of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who has also denied any wrongdoing.
Birnbaum reported from Moscow.