The latest leak in the “Panama Papers” ties key backers of Hillary Clinton to the secret financial web enriching members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. A lobbying firm co-founded by Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager and a major Clinton bundler has signed up to represent Russia’s largest bank. That bank was a key player in tax-evasion schemes now revealed in the largest data journalism leak in history.
Earlier this week, an anonymous source gave 11.5 million corporate documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca to a German newspaper. These so-called “Panama Papers” have unveiled the ways world leaders used offshore tax havens to hide their involvement in lucrative business deals, and help their own cronies to avoid the crushing taxes levied on the rest of their citizens.
Russian government-owned Sberbank, the bank which controls 30 percent of Russia’s banking assets and employs over 250,000 people, has been prominent in these revelations. The bank has ties to companies used by members of Putin’s inner circle to funnel state resources into lucrative private investments, as reported by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a group of journalists exploring the Panama Papers leak.
At the end of March, Politico reported that Sberbank hired Clinton bundler Tony Podesta, CEO of the lobbying firm the Podesta Group. It also hired the group’s partners, Stephen Rademaker, a former assistant secretary of state under President George W. Bush, and David S. Adams, former assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs under President Obama.
All three work for the Podesta Group, which was co-founded by Tony’s brother John Podesta, who is the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Before he was “ready for Hillary,” Podesta worked as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, counselor to Obama, and president of the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress.
In an ironic twist of fate, the Podesta Group lobbyists were hired by Sberbank to petition the U.S. government over “the scope of U.S. sanctions against Russia for its role in the Ukraine conflict and whether relief is possible.”
The Ukrainian government has accused Sberbank of perpetrating Russian aggression against its country. In 2014, Ukraine’s Security Service charged Sberbank with “financing terrorism,” alleging that its branches were distributing millions of dollars in illegal aid to Russian-backed separatists fighting in the country.
These allegations are broadly supported by Western intelligence, the Observer’s John Schindler noted. “Sberbank is the Kremlin, they don’t do anything major without Putin’s go-ahead, and they don’t tell him ‘no’ either,” a retired senior U.S. intelligence official with extensive Eastern European experience told Schindler. The majority stockholder in Sberbank is Russia’s Central Bank, making it functionally an arm of the Kremlin, even though it is still legally a private institution.
Also in 2014, Hillary Clinton declared that Russia was behaving “like Nazi Germany” in attempting to annex Ukraine. Given her outspoken opposition to Putin’s power grab, it is truly ironic that the brother and former co-worker of Clinton’s campaign manager, who is also a major Clinton fundraiser himself, would lobby the U.S. government on behalf of a Russian bank which seems to be helping Putin take over Ukraine.
That he would be lobbying specifically over the Ukraine issue staggers belief, and places a heavy question mark over Clinton’s true position on the issue.