April 4, 2016 / 11:56 AM / 3 years ago

Ukrainian MPs call for investigation into Poroshenko after Panama leaks

KIEV, April 4 (Reuters) - Ukrainian lawmakers said on Monday parliament should investigate allegations that President Petro Poroshenko used an offshore firm to avoid tax, following a global leak of documents from a Panama-based law firm over the weekend.

According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Poroshenko set up an offshore company to move his confectionery business, Roshen, to the British Virgin Islands in August 2014 during a peak in fighting between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists.

Poroshenko has not commented publicly. His office said a law firm representing companies named in the leaks would make a statement later on Monday. A senior official in the General Prosecutor’s office said the leaked documents did not show Poroshenko committing any crime.

The ICIJ on its website published a response from an unnamed spokesman of Poroshenko. The spokesman said the company, Prime Asset Partners Limited, of which Poroshenko became the sole shareholder, was part of a corporate restructuring to help sell the Roshen group in line with prevailing market practices.

“It is the height of cynicism to open offshore companies at a time when hundreds of our soldiers are dying,” leader of the populist Radical Party, Oleh Lyashko, said on Facebook, adding any investigation could lead to Poroshenko’s impeachment.

The support of the Radical Party may be crucial in Poroshenko’s efforts to cobble together a new government and avoid a snap election.

The president has made several attempts to oust Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk’s government, saying it has lost the trust of the people, but he will likely need the support of smaller parties to hold a parliamentary majority.

The IMF, the United States and the European Union are becoming frustrated with Ukraine’s patchy performance in tackling graft, and the Fund has threatened to halt aid until matters improve.

“I think it will have an impact in terms of further erosion of confidence in Poroshenko,” Serhiy Leshchenko, a lawmaker in Poroshenko’s faction, told Reuters.

Leshchenko and a fellow reformist lawmaker - Mustafa Nayyem - said Ukraine’s parliament, the Rada, should launch a special investigation into the allegations.

“The only way out of this situation is with complete openness and transparency at all stages of the unravelling of this scandal,” Nayyem said on Facebook.

Under Ukrainian legislation, only parliament can initiate an investigation into a sitting president.

Poroshenko, who came to power after protests in 2014, has already faced criticism over Roshen for not selling it despite promising to do so. Last year Poroshenko had said unfavourable market conditions made selling Roshen difficult.

Austria’s financial watchdog announced on Monday it was investigating whether lenders Raiffeisen Bank International and Hypo Landesbank Vorarlberg followed rules against money laundering, following the leak, which prompted renewed scrutiny of tax affairs around the world.

Two Austrian media outlets that were among the more than 100 news organisations that jointly investigated the documents’ contents reported a connection between Raiffeisen and Roshen. Raiffeisen said it had complied with legal provisions, Hypo Landesbank Vorarlberg had no immediate comment.

The leak has details of hundreds of thousands of clients in more than 11.5 million documents from the files of law firm Mossack Fonseca, based in the tax haven of Panama. The head of Mossack Fonseca has denied any wrongdoing. (Writing by Matthias Williams; Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets; Editing by Alison Williams)

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