By Phil Butler
The so-called "Panama Papers" are a bombshell, but who will die from the bomb fragments? For those of us who have heralded and supported whistle blowing efforts such as those from Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks, news today these "leaked" intrigues may or may not be legit. The so-called "Panama Papers" are hitting mainstream headlines this week. If my suspicions are right though, the crooked chaos game's real villains may soon be revealed, and Vladimir Putin won't be on that list. Better still, our football heroes may still be heroes after all.
Ten days ago my research team notified my presidential press secretary to Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov was about to announce another "hatchet job" by mainstream media on the Russian president's character. At the time my reaction was, "What's new?" If I had only known about these Panama Papers at the same time as The Guardian, Süddeutsche Zeitung, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the German public broadcasters NDR and WDR, and more than 100 international media outlets, then perhaps my suspicious nature would not have arisen. Judging from the well crafted and tailored preparations of some of these media outlets, quite a bit of time, money, and creativity has been paid to "evangelizing" these "revelations". Me and my colleagues, the hundreds of independent journalists who've invested heavily in the dissenting view on western hegemony, we take umbrage here. But this is not the central issue I bring before you today. Questionable storytelling is.
Two stories illustrate the seeming bias, and the continued media reverb of "probably" instead of fact.
Bastian Obermayer is an award winning investigative reports for Süddeutsche Zeitung, as well as a member of the aforementioned ICIJ. Looking at his part in this controversial media bombshell, I was drawn to the author's treatment of several subjects, and especially the vilification of legendary footballer, Lionel Messi. "The small Kaiser", by Mauritius Much and Bastian Obermayer, is indicative for me, indicative for a style, a sort of template for the reporting on these leaks. Let me show you what I mean.
Obemmayer's and Much's tone in this piece on potential tax evasion by the Argentinean legend is hateful, damning, highly speculative, and crafted to forge an opinion for the reader. The writers are skilled, to be sure, but the reader is given little or no absolute proof, of anything. Here's a leading section of the story, that is intended to transform the reader's opinion of the once shy Messi, into one where the rich footballer is the literal "Godfather" of his own tax evasion schemes:
"Lionel Messi, the 28-year-old Argentinian, is widely considered to be the world's greatest footballer. But Messi's on-pitch charisma and his knack for brilliant split-second decisions used to vanish the moment he left the grass of Barcelona's Camp Nou Stadium. He'd suddenly seem like a nervous child. And apparently, he also acted accordingly, leaving the big decisions that need to be made in the course of a career - which often have to do with money - to other people."
Later on in the piece, the writers contend Messi's father's head is being put on the Spanish court inquisitor's chopping block. With only an alleged signature of Lionel Messi as proof for readers, these reporters accuse Messi of not just tax evasion, but of throwing his own father to the wolves as part of a "strategy" the star cooked up. Then, with no linkage to any document whatsoever, the duo of journalists poke at Messi like barking little Chihuahuas with; "Lionel Messi's court appearance will show the extent to which he has matured."
Granted, Süddeutsche Zeitung's superstar, super sleuth investigators may have been given video footage by WikiLeaks of Messi wringing his hands in glee over outfoxing Spain officials, but there's no proof of this as I type. I wonder if anybody in Munich has bets down on the UEFA Quarter Final matches going down today in between Bayern and Benfica, and Messe's Barcelona vs. Atlético? How's this story release for a game upsetting prerogative? I guess Süddeutsche Zeitung's would accuse itself of "probably" trying to fix a match? If Lionel Messi is "probably" guilty of God know's what, somebody at a Munich news source is also "probably" betting on Bayern.
The Guardian hook reads "How to hide $2 billion dollars". The most provocative, and most valuable media frenzy wise story of these Panama papers is all about Russian President Vladimir Putin, of course. Before I call Juliette Garside, Luke Harding, Holly Watt, David Pegg, Helena Bengtsson, Simon Bowers, Owen Gibson and Nick Hopkins onto the carpet for their guilt at "tilting", let me get something out of the way. Just so Anonymous won't have to hack into my PC, I am a fan of the man. The Russian president, standing in a swamp of crooked international bankster liars, is the only credible leadership west of the Altai. Now that this is said, let me introduce the reader to more "probably" assertions, and The Guardian playing the home team game.
Once again readers are asked to take a news source at its word, without even so much as one WikiLeaks cable revealed in full. Russia's president is supposed to have tucked billions away, yet Britain's supposed choir boys of truth revelations set the stage with this:
"Though the president's name does not appear in any of the records, the data reveals a pattern - his friends have earned millions from deals that seemingly could not have been secured without his patronage."
If you are a real moron, The Guardian has prepared an easy to follow media presentation" How to hide a billion dollars - video explainer, which you can watch after an ad sells you some sponsor's wares. With some gripping jungle music going on in the background, the reader/watcher is carried through how Vladimir Putin, the richest and most powerful man on Earth, pulled off the money laundering/tax crime of the century by using his friends. Compelling it is, for those of you who grew up watching Dallas or Dynasty on TV. Putin is the bad guy in this evening soap opera too. The friends of Mr. Putin are framed by the story, then his daughter is brought in because of a wedding, then at the end The Guardian brags on herself for having brought you the Panama leaks! It's perfect, if you are a moron like I said.
According to our Sherlock Holmes wannabe investigative reporters at The Guardian, all this commodities and loan dealing Putin is supposed to have orchestrated, his spending of these monies, it's galvanized by his daughter having a big wedding at a private ski resort outside St. Petersburg! BILLIONS! The Guardian has been trailing Putin's lost horde for years now. The last time this media speculated about Putin's daughter Katerina, those billions were hidden somewhere on Earth, somewhere she and her husband Kirill Shamalov, were aware of back in November of last year. Vladimir Putin can never been seen as the benevolent leader who holds big weddings to help struggling ski resorts stay solvent (rumors have it, the resort may sell anyhow). The fact is, Katerina's wedding at the Igora ski resort was just that, a benevolent gesture, Putin could have leased everything in Vail Colorado if his speculated net worth of $200 billion were true. Where would world media presume a Russian president take his family for an event? Putin as the selfless guardian of all that is Russia is easier to believe than an ongoing western media witch hunt. Igora is all but abandoned as I type this. Of course it is April, but even in peak season, the disaster of the ruble's fall hurt every destination in Russia.
For those unaware, Katerina's husband is the son of another Putin friend, Nikolai Shamalov. Shamalov is of course a Bank Rossiya shareholder. As for the meat of the "Panama Papers" on these alleged financial dealings, I am still searching to find one cable or official document revealed. Anyone who knows options trading or business at all knows, $2 billion dollars in that realm is like candy bar money. The numbers are escalated and stroked in these reports, so that readers get what they want to hear, Big, Bad, Putin, all over again. It's ridiculous, a waste of our time, and worse still, misleading and mean. Once again media is ruining credibility, wholesale. Then, at the end of my cursory study of the initial Panama Papers releases it SMACKED me! This ICIJ story about the Putin revelations linked to none other than Vladimir Putin's worst enemy, and "probable" ousted Russian mob linchpin, Mikhail Khodorkovsky via his Institute for Modern Russia (IMR). This article by ICIJ's Jake Bernstein, Petra Blum, Oliver Zihlmann, David Thompson, Frederik Obermaier and Bastian Obermayer sources a proven propaganda snake pit imbued with the worst sort of Putin haters and ruined oligarch trolls on this planet. As my Dutch colleague always ends his incontrovertible arguments - "end of story". No one even loosely associated with Khodorkovsky bears even a cursory nod from a truth seeker. I was literally gob smacked ANY journalistic organization could be so linked. Here is what this "source" contended to the droves of readers sent there by WikiLeaks' Tweets and The Guardian article. Their story is supposed to contain:
§ According to analysis, as much as $2 billion has been secretly shuffled through banks and shadow companies linked to Putin's associates
§ Bank Rossiya, identified by the U.S. as Putin's personal cashbox, has been instrumental in building a network of offshore companies
§ Dozens of loans, some worth hundreds of millions of dollars, sold between offshore companies for as little as $1 or less
When Vladimir Putin and Sergey Roldugin became friends long ago, neither one could imagine where that friendship my lead. Today the western media, and even a supposed guardian of media truth has condemned them both as arch villains among arch villains. The musician Roldugin, he has been found guilty of having the most powerful man on Earth as a best friend, nothing more. While these "Panama Papers" do sound provocative enough (by design) buddies trusting one another are not a wholly Russian trait. Maybe there is more to these "hidden files" nobody but a few have seen? Somehow I have my doubts as to their validity, depth, and bearing on the events we see taking shape today as a result of their "eventual" release.
Certainly there are villains mentioned among the names and institutions these news outlets are bashing today. But one revelation I know you will find impactful, is the role a known financial oligarch has played in these reports. Looking beneath the façade of ICIJ, and particularly of their partners in this, the Center for Public Integrity, George Soros' donations arm is another slap in the face of truth. That's right, Open Society Foundations is a direct contributor. Hell, I did not even have to go to Panama to find this out. CPI also receives funding from the the Sunlight Foundation, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Omidyar Network, and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The board of directors and the advisors to this non-profit bear intense scrutiny a well, if unbiased truth is the mission that is. Why am I surprised?
I am surprised that WikiLeaks has not already investigated what I am finding. I am in awe, in fact, that whistleblower Edward Snowden has only causally commented on these revelations. And I am frightful that so many supposed investigators have bitten into this hook-line-and-sinker before really doing the research. For now it feels like a put up job, or like Dmitry Peskov said, a hatchet job on Vladimir Putin. What's more, if real research reveals George Soros business enemies, or those of ousted Russian oligarch Khodorkovsky are the targets of these "leaks", then the world may soon know the truth of who is behind our despair.
Stay tuned. I'll bet some real investigating of who is behind these leaks ensues.