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Who Leaked the Paradise Papers?

Is the consortium of journalists fronting for an intelligence agency?

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross at the Confederation of British Industry's annual conference in London, Nov. 6.

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

With the latest leak of international financial records comes evidence of one unambiguous crime that won’t be investigated—the theft of the papers themselves from Appleby, a global law firm based in Bermuda.

Rather, the trope the press strains to enact is that the clients whose documents were stolen are themselves guilty of shady doings. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who ran a private-equity firm, owns a stake in a shipping firm that has a Russian customer. Yuri Milner, a Russian fund manager who controls stakes in Facebook and Twitter, has his own investors, among which is a state-owned Russian bank.

The so-called Paradise Papers are the latest electronic document dump received by the so-called International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The previous dump, known as the Panama Papers, in unminced words was described by Vladimir Putin’s personal spokesman as a direct attack on Mr. Putin.

This is not to rule out a sincere whistleblower or the proverbial 400-pound teenager, but when so much hacking for commercial or political purpose these days is attributed to national actors, the question does leap to mind: Which nation’s intelligence agency might be responsible for the leak? And what is the motive? Are the many whose financial privacy has been invaded merely collateral damage in an attempt to hit a single target?

Divulged by the consortium is only that the Paradise Papers, like the Panama Papers, were bestowed upon a German newspaper, the Süddeutsche Zeitung. How the papers came to be stolen and deposited in the hands of the media is one subject that does not stir the investigative juices of the world’s media. The press’s job apparently is to follow where the documents lead, not where they come from. Is this not a blind spot? Is there not something strangely blinkered, if not actively disingenuous about a consortium (virtually a monopoly) of investigative journalists that seems to exist to do the bidding of its undisclosed sources?

Go back to Mr. Ross: The news reports based on the documents do not allege his shipping stake was illegal. They do not allege his foreign-registered holding company was illegal. They do not allege he failed in any disclosure duty.

So what exactly is going on here? Does the media stand ready to publish stolen bank records of anybody and everybody it finds interesting?

Such massive document thefts don’t just happen; they are motivated. The press stories all come with a manufactured ambience of whistleblowing unsupported by any claimed fact. The leaker’s motivation is not even intimated to exist as a question.

All this comes as Americans are encouraged to presume that it’s shocking if any American actually knows a Russian. To have done business is beyond the pale.

Such ninnyism is of extraordinarily recent vintage. Two years ago, while detailing the seamy role of the Clinton Foundation in a Russian nuclear deal, the New York Times also correctly noted not once but three times that promoting business ties with Russia, at the time, was the avowed and consistent policy of the U.S. government right up until Mr. Putin’s Crimea grab in 2014.

When Paul Manafort was cavorting with Putin-backed Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych in 2013, the latter said “we have to move towards European integration” at an event attended by Bill Clinton and hosted by Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch and Yanukovych supporter who gave at least $10 million to the Clinton Foundation.

We could go further back. At least one big company was happy with Jimmy Carter’s election: Georgia-based Coca-Cola , which saw a chance to catch up with Pepsi, which had ridden into Brezhnev’s Russia on Nixon’s coattails.

Anything is possible that is not precluded by the laws of physics, including a criminal conspiracy of Mr. Putin and Donald Trump. If anybody did or said anything truly damning, our guess is Mike Flynn, in some context or other, suggesting to a Russian contact that Mr. Trump’s promise of better relations would not come about if he were not elected.

But a charge of conspiracy requires proof, not just a general dislike of Mr. Trump. Not for the first time we suggest the useful parallel is not Watergate but the Pentagon Papers. The moment begs for a coming clean on how so much U.S. government-sponsored trade, investment, political lend-lease (Manafort, the Podestas) and, yes, openness to Russian kleptocrats buying Fifth Avenue apartments and Miami condos, didn’t succeed in making Mr. Putin a friend.

Which brings us back to the Paradise Papers, which may—may—be a down payment on such an air-clearing. Like the Panama Papers before them, they are particularly suggestive of how Mr. Putin may have used Mr. Milner, or in the case of the Panama Papers, cellist Sergei Roldugin, to hide his own often-alleged offshore wealth.

If the press bothered to care who leaked the papers, we might be able to make more intelligent inferences about their significance.

Appeared in the November 8, 2017, print edition.

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