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Opinion
Leonid Bershidsky

Why Putin’s Money Eludes Offshore Investigators

The Pandora Papers’ findings suggest that Russian kleptocrats are relying less on the West as a financial haven. 

Putin isn’t losing any sleep.

Putin isn’t losing any sleep.

Photographer: Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images

You would expect the biggest leak of offshore data in history to contain lots of damaging information about Russian President Vladimir Putin, or at least his close circle of friends. But the Russia-related portion of the Pandora Papers, an almost-3-terabyte cache of information about offshore companies and their end beneficiaries that took 600 journalists more than a year to research, appears to be disappointing. The findings are dated, relatively insignificant or both.

Although the Pandora Papers are far from a complete or even statistically representative reflection of the global shell company industry, the relative thinness of these findings suggests that Putin and his people have drawn conclusions from previous revelations, such as the Panama Papers, which lent international prominence to Putin’s cellist friend Sergei Roldugin and his remarkably active offshore companies. It also indicates that the widespread narrative of the Russian kleptocracy’s dependence on the West as a safe haven for its capital may well be inaccurate in 2021 — or indeed, may have missed the point for years.