Just in case anyone had forgotten, the spar between to arch-rivals ensued after the 11.5m leaked so-called Panama Papers documents that implicated one of Vladimir Putin’s closest friends, Sergei Roldugin, in an intricate web of companies that were involved in some allegedly dodgy looking deals worth around $2bn.
The papers lead to conclusions by those who analysed them that Roldugin, a professional cellist, was earning about $9.2m a year and had around $27m in a Swiss bank.
Initially the Kremlin said the leaks were a CIA-backed plot aimed at undermining the Russia and the president in particular, in the lead up to next year’s elections.
Practically a saint
What Putin didn’t deny was his friend’s involvement. In the interests of openness and transparency, Putin said it was true, Roldugin is indeed a rich man - and he does have offshore accounts. But he is not a criminal - far from it - the world’s richest cellist is practically a saint. He had been given all his money by wealthy friends and had used it to buy musical instruments for Russia. And apparently he had spent all of it and was now in debt.
“Sergey Pavlovich (Roldugin) has nothing anymore because he spent more funds than he had to purchase these instruments and was left indebted to entities through which he purchased them,” Putin said at his annual televised Q&A session where he answered questions from the public.
Putin added the musician was in the process of transferring ownership of these instruments to the state.
In an effort to raise everyone’s eyebrow, the Russian president even explained that one of the instruments was worth $12m - a rare and unique instrument indeed. But $12m out of $2bn would still mean he’d need an awful lot of shipping containers to bring the rest of the instruments to the motherland Russia, and it certainly doesn’t explain where they came from or exactly which lucky students will be playing them all.
Philanthropy aside, the president went on to describe who he now believed was ‘John Doe’ - the missing link or source of the leaks. Goldman Sachs, the New York-based investment bank. Why? Well that’s not important - or at least not given, but his evidence is that Goldman Sachs is a part owner of the media group that owns the Süddeutsche Zeitung - the German newspaper that was first given the leaks.
The Kremlin has since issued an apology to Süddeutsche over Putin’s erroneous remarks, however the incident once again highlights how conspiracy theories are making the rounds.
Meanwhile, back in the US, the Brookings Institute has been cooking up its own theories. Clifford G Gaddy, Senior Fellow at its Centre on the United States and Europe, thinks the John Doe is none other than the Russian president himself. According to Gaddy, Putin collated the documents via “the Russian Financial Monitoring Service (RFM).” RFM is Putin’s personal financial intelligence unit - he created it and it answers only to him. “It is … widely recognised as the most powerful such agency in the world, with a monopoly on information about money laundering, offshore centers, and related issues involving Russia or Russian nationals,” Gaddy wrote.
And, while the leaks implicated leaders and businessmen from most parts of the world, they were suspiciously quiet when it came to American offshore interests. Why? Because what’s not leaked is more important. It will be used to blackmail Americans and control the country, Gaddy exposes.
“You reveal secrets in order to destroy; conceal in order to control. Putin is not a destroyer. He’s a controller,” he wrote.
Ingenious indeed. After all it’s obviously so much easier to collate 11.5m documents than it is to use those old fashioned ploys like photo-shopping someone with a prostitute.