SYDNEY — Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is named in the Panama Papers, it emerged Thursday, causing an unwanted headache for the multi-millionaire former banker in the middle of an election campaign.
He is listed as a former director of a British Virgin Islands company, Star Technology Services Limited, set up by Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca in the 1990s.
The link was uncovered by the Australian Financial Review, days after details on more than 200,000 secret offshore companies associated with the tax haven company were published.
The use of shell companies, foundations or trusts in offshore jurisdictions is often legal and Turnbull rejected any wrongdoing.
"Can I just say to you that as the article acknowledged, there is no suggestion of any impropriety whatsoever," he told reporters on the campaign trail in Melbourne ahead of national polls on July 2, which are shaping up as a close race.
"There is nothing new there. The company concerned was a wholly-owned subsidiary of a public-listed Australian company."
While not incriminating, the revelation piled pressure on Turnbull as he seeks to win the July poll against Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten on a platform of boosting jobs and economic growth.
Turnbull said the company had been listed on the Australian Securities Exchange, Australia’s principal stock exchange, adding that "Neville Wran (former state premier of New South Wales) and I were both directors for about two years."
The newspaper said Turnbull and Wran joined the board of the company in October 1993, hoping to develop a Siberian gold mine called Sukhoi Log. They both resigned two years later and the company went bust in 1998.
Asked if the company paid any tax in Australia, Turnbull said it would have done if profitable.
"Had it made any profits, which it did not, regrettably, it certainly would have paid tax in Australia," he said.
Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek said: "We’ve got a PM who now seems to have some very sharp questions to answer when it comes to his own involvement in companies set up in the Virgin Islands."
Turnbull is not the first political leader linked to Mossack Fonseca.
Reports in April based on the explosive dossier linked some of the world’s most powerful leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister David Cameron and others to unreported offshore companies.
The data forced the resignations of Iceland’s prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, and Spain’s industry minister Jose Manuel Soria. — AFP