(Recasts, adds Chinese government reaction)
BEIJING, April 5 (Reuters) - China on Tuesday denounced accusations arising from a massive leak from a Panamanian law firm as “groundless” and moved to limit coverage of documents that may have exposed financial wrongdoing by some of the world’s rich and powerful.
The “Panama Papers” revealed financial arrangements of politicians and public figures including friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, relatives of the prime ministers of Britain, Iceland and Pakistan, and the president of Ukraine.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which has published some of the information from the documents, said the files also revealed offshore companies linked to the families of Chinese President Xi Jinping and other powerful current and former Chinese leaders.
While holding money in offshore companies is not illegal, journalists who received the leaked documents said they could provide evidence of wealth hidden for tax evasion, money laundering, sanctions busting, drug deals or other crimes.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, asked whether Beijing would investigate any of the offshore tax affairs of the relatives of top leaders mentioned in the papers, told a daily news briefing: “We won’t comment on these groundless accusations.”
State media have largely avoided any reporting of the “Panama Papers”.
Searches for the word “Panama” on Chinese search engines bring up stories in Chinese media on the topic, but many of the links have been disabled or only open onto stories about allegations directed at sports stars.
Searches for “Panama Papers” in Chinese bring up a warning that the results “may not accord with relevant laws and rules so can’t be shown”.
China’s Internet regulator did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But the Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, suggested in an editorial on Tuesday that Western media backed by Washington used such leaks to attack political targets in non-Western countries.
“The Western media has taken control of the interpretation each time there has been such a document dump, and Washington has demonstrated particular influence in it,” the paper said.
“Information that is negative to the U.S. can always be minimised, while exposure of non-Western leaders, such as Putin, can get extra spin,” it added.
The editorial, in both its English and Chinese editions, made no mention of the China connections in the Panama Papers.
China is in the midst of a massive crackdown on corruption overseen by Xi, but the government has repeatedly had to swat away criticism the move is more about an internal power play than actually tackling graft.
Calls to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Communist Party’s graft watchdog leading the crackdown, went unanswered.
Last week, a top party magazine lashed out at critics of the anti-corruption campaign, saying foreign media and individuals from home and abroad were intentionally trying to discredit the effort as a political “power struggle”. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Martin Howell)