The Pandora Papers do not attribute anything objectionable President Nicos Anastasiades, the Cyprus presidency said on Monday concerning a massive leak of financial documents published by several major news organisations that allegedly tie world leaders to secret stores of wealth.
The written statement came in response to an extensive report in the Guardian which said that the law firm founded by the president had been accused of hiding the assets of a former Russian senator behind fake beneficial owners in a secret report filed with financial regulators in the British Virgin Islands.
In statements to the Guardian featured in the article, the law firm denied any wrongdoing. And Anastasiades told the daily that while he owned shares in the law firm until his election as president in 2013, he had no active role in its affairs after becoming leader of the opposition in 1997.
In a written statement on Monday, the presidency of the Republic said the Pandora Papers concern documents which date to 2015 and include allegations of objectionable actions concerning 35 current and former leaders and 330 public officials.
As regards the president, the news reports clearly state that there is no involvement by the president. “As the investigation clearly records, the president neither participated in the creation nor had any participation in such companies,” it said.
The announcement went further, saying that having located problems as regards checks concerning shell and offshore companies, the government had from 2018 ended the operation of shell companies. Recently, under a government bill, all companies must retain a register of beneficiaries.
“Therefore, any attempt to reproduce unfounded allegations only serve petty party objectives, and these at the expense of the institution of the President and the reputation of the country,” it concluded.
According to the Guardian report, a Panamanian offshore company broker, Alcogal, complained that the Cypriot law firm Nicos Chr. Anastasiades & Partners had claimed to it that four of the offshore companies it was managing were beneficially owned by its staff.
However, in the report it filed to financial regulators in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) on June 8, 2015, it said it had come to believe it had been misled, and it now believed the true owner was the Russian businessman Leonid Lebedev.
Contacted by the Guardian and the BBC, Anastasiades & Partners strongly denied filing false information to the broker.
Anastasiades told the British daily that while he owned shares in the law firm until his election as president in 2013, he had no active role in its affairs after becoming leader of the opposition in 1997.
In a statement to the Guardian, Anastasiades said: “I have no knowledge and it would be impossible for me to know and be in a position to respond to any allegations concerning the handling of the affairs of my ex-law firm.”
There is no suggestion that Anastasiades was involved in the firm’s activities, the Guardian added.
But it said the response raises questions about the president’s wisdom in allowing a legal firm, over which he apparently had neither oversight nor control, to operate under his name while he served as a prominent politician.
The revelation is contained in a massive leak of financial documents published by several major news organisations that allegedly tie world leaders to secret stores of wealth, including King Abdullah of Jordan, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a Washington, D.C.-based network of reporters and media organisations, said the files are linked to about 35 current and former national leaders, and more than 330 politicians and public officials in 91 countries and territories. It did not say how the files were obtained,
Lebedev fled Russia in 2015 after being accused of failing to declare his assets. He denies the allegations and has since become a Hollywood film producer.
The Guardian notes that both the Cypriot law firm and its founder have previously had separate dealings with Lebedev. The law firm is understood to have advised the Russian on procuring Cypriot citizenship via the island’s citizenship by investment scheme, it said.
The Pandora papers leak includes documents dating from 2015, including a suspicious activity report (SAR) sent by Alcogal to the British Virgin Island’s financial regulator, the Guardian said.
The SAR, which was not copied to the law firm, names four companies and stated: “We believe Mr Leonid Lebedev to be the UBO [ultimate beneficial owner] of these companies.”
In 2010, the law firm took over the management of the companies and registered them with Alcogal. According to Alcogal’s SAR, when asked for the identity of their owner the firm cited three beneficiaries.
Two were employees at the legal practice, while a third was an employee of a client of the firm and a legal consultant. Two worked out of Anastasiades’ office in Limassol. The legal consultant worked in the same building, the Guardian added.
However, the Alcogal report said it had come to believe the three individuals named by the president’s law firm were not the “real UBOs” and “strongly” concluded that the offshore shell companies actually belonged to Lebedev. It subsequently resigned as registered agent for the four firms, citing a “higher risk” to its reputation.
Anastasiades & Partners flatly denied wrongdoing and said it had no knowledge of the SAR or the concerns raised in it. It said the staff whose names were cited to Alcogal were never beneficial owners of the offshore companies but were acting as trustees on behalf of the beneficial owner, entirely in accordance with Cypriot law. The legal consultant told the Guardian she had always been the true beneficial owner of one of the companies.
The firm declined to say if it acted for Lebedev, citing client confidentiality, but said it had always kept “proper records” in accordance with Cypriot law, the Guardian added.
It said Anastasiades had stepped back from “professional engagement” after becoming a political party leader in 1997, and described him as a “silent shareholder” in the firm up until 2013. “He was never involved in day-to-day activities of the office or had any conduct with clients and cases,” it said.
Lebedev did not respond to repeated invitations to comment, the Guardian said. He has previously denied wrongdoing.
In a statement to the Guardian, the president described his relationship with Lebedev as “cordial” and official. It was never “lawyer-client”, he stressed. He added: “At no time and on no occasion did I handle the affairs of the firm’s clients, including Mr Lebedev.”
The Guardian also reports that in June 2013, soon after winning the presidency, Anastasiades borrowed Lebedev’s private jet to fly to France for a meeting with the then French president, François Hollande.
Anastasiades said he used the jet “free of charge” because of a French air traffic controllers’ strike, adding the plane was due to fly to Geneva anyway for a service. He travelled home on a regular commercial airline, he said.