The law firm founded by the President of Cyprus Nikos Anastasiades, Anastasiades and Partners, has been drawn into the Pandora Papers expose released yesterday which revealed that it provided fake owners for a number of offshore companies that were really owned by a former Russian politician accused of embezzlement.
Unlike many countries whose leading citizens were implicated in murky financial dealings by the worldwide release of the papers, the issue received major coverage by the Cyprus media.
“Philenews” reported that President Anastasiades told the British “Guardian” newspaper that he had no knowledge of the firm’s alleged dealings.
“I have no knowledge and it would be impossible for me to know and be able to respond to any accusation concerning the handling of the affairs of my former company,” the Cyprus president was reported as saying in a statement to the Guardian which was one of the news organisations worldwide the exposed the contents of the papers to the world.
The Pandora Papers consisting of millions of documents on the dealings of 30 national leaders, 100 billionaire businessmen and 300 government officials, were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The “Guardian” reported that the law firm that had been founded by the Cypriot president was accused of falsely stating the details of the owner of four offshore companies to protect the identity of the actual owner.
It reported that in 2015, a Panamanian offshore management company, Alcogal, had complained in a Serious Activity Report (SAR) to financial regulators on the British Virgin Islands that the Cypriot law firm had provided them with misleading information relating to the ownership of the four companies.
Alcogal claimed that members of the law firm were declared to be the owners of the four companies and that the real owner was Russian businessman and former senator, Leonid Lebedev who had left Russia in 2015 following accusations that he had concealed assets.
Mr Lebedev is now a film producer in Hollywood, USA.
According to the Pandora Papers, “Philenews” said the law firm had also advised Mr Lebedev to take Cypriot citizenship in 2011.
The Cypriot president denied knowledge of the law firm’s activities in a statement to the “Guardian”. He said and that he had no active role in the company’s affairs once he became leader of opposition in 1997. He added that he owned shares in the firm until 2013 when he was elected as president of the island nation.
In a comment piece, the Guardian said that there was no suspicion that Mr Anastasiades was involved in the law firm ‘s activities but added that the use of his name by the firm was not a wise choice.
The “Cyprus Mail”, which also reported on the findings of the papers, said that the law firm Anastasiades and Partners strongly denied filing false information to the broker.
The firm told the “Guardian” that the staff members cited by Algocal were never beneficial owners of the offshore companies, but that they had acted as trustees on behalf of the beneficial owner entirely in accordance with Cypriot law and that it had also kept proper records.
It would not be drawn into declaring whether the beneficial owner was Mr Lebedev and cited client confidentiality.
The “Cyprus Mail” said that according to the “Guardian” report, soon after he won the election to the presidency, Mr Anastasiades flew on Mr Lebedev’s private jet to France to meet the then president Francois Hollande.
Mr Anastasiades told the newspaper that the he had used the aircraft at no charge because of a French air traffic strike and that the plane was scheduled to fly to Geneva to be serviced before he flew on it. He returned to Cyprus on a commercial airline.