Paris: World leaders and celebrities exposed in a massive leak of their secret offshore financial dealings are hitting back, saying they have done nothing wrong despite a growing international furore.
Some of the biggest names in the scandal said they were being unfairly targeted even as the scandal mushroomed and a series of countries vowed to open tax evasion investigations following the leak of 11.5 million confidential documents -- the so-called Panama Papers.
The vast stash of records from Panamanian legal firm Mossack Fonseca was obtained from an anonymous source by German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and shared with more than 100 media groups by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which published their first findings Sunday after a year-long probe.
Among those named by the ICIJ and fellow media groups for their offshore dealings are relatives of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, and Barcelona striker Lionel Messi.
Offshore financial dealings are not illegal in themselves but may be used to hide assets from tax authorities, launder the proceeds of criminal activities or conceal misappropriated or politically inconvenient wealth.
In Beijing, there was no official reaction to ICIJ allegations that eight current or former members of the ruling party's most powerful body concealed their fortunes through offshore havens, as well as relatives of Xi Jinping, who has overseen a much-publicised anti-corruption drive.
Asked whether China would investigate those named in the reports, however, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: "For such groundless accusations, I have no comment."
The Kremlin suggested a US plot after the leaks put a close friend of Putin's at the top of an offshore empire worth more than USD 2 billion.
"Putin, Russia, our country, our stability and the upcoming elections are the main target, specifically to destabilise the situation," said a Kremlin spokesman, claiming many of the journalists were former officers from the US state department, the CIA and special services.
Iceland's prime minister, former journalist Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, resisted mounting pressure to step down after the leaked documents purportedly showed that he and his wife bought a company in the British Virgin Islands in 2007.
Huge crowds gathered outside parliament late yesterday demanding he quit and the opposition is set to table a motion of no-confidence over the allegations. But the prime minister insisted he had never hidden money abroad.