Thanks to the investigation of data from the "Panama Archive" - a huge database of documents leaked from offshore registrars Mossack Fonseca, the world once learned about one of "Putin's wallets" - cellist Sergei Roldugin. He was the beneficiary of a number of offshore companies, which received money of dubious origin from Russia. Until now, this knowledge was based only on leaked documents.
Recently, a criminal trial against four managers of the Swiss Gazprombank ended in Switzerland. The accusations against Roldugin acquired legal "flesh" and were confirmed by official documents from the Swiss prosecutor's office. Managers of Gazprombank were accused of lack of due diligence when making transactions. They were found guilty and sentenced to various fines. In addition to many previously known offshore companies, Rogus International Investments Ltd, a firm associated with Roldugin, was mentioned in the case. As The Insider found out, through a chain of subsidiaries, she stood behind the contractor for the construction of the infamous highway through the Khimki forest near Moscow. Thus, not only Arkady Rotenberg, but also Roldugin could receive money from the state and banks for the construction of the highway.
What were the Swiss bankers accused of?
In 2014, four firms - the Panamanian International Media Overseas SA and its Cypriot subsidiary Med Media Network Ltd, as well as the Cypriot Namiral Trading Ltd and Norma Group Ltd, registered in the British Virgin Islands - opened accounts in the Swiss Gazprombank. The bankers knew that the godfather of Vladimir Putin's daughter Sergei Roldugin appeared in the documents as the beneficiary of the first two companies. Oleg Gordin had the right to sign on these accounts (in a couple of years, the name of this businessman from St. Petersburg will come up in investigations into the leak of offshore documents from the Panama Archive). However, the great friendship between Roldugin and Putin was already known when they opened bank accounts - for example, from the biographical book about the President of Russia "From the First Person".
The owner of the third company was then Norma Group, and then personally another St. Petersburg businessman and person involved in the "Panama Archive" Alexander Plekhov.
According to prosecutor Jan Hoffmann, who signed the indictment, even then a “bell” should have been heard in the heads of the management of the Swiss Gazprombank. Roldugin's lifestyle, profession and biography did not hint at the fact that he could earn on an asset that brings such profits. According to the Cypriot financial statements, in 2014 Med Media Network reported a profit of 534 million rubles, in 2015 - 458 million rubles, in 2016 - 1.1 billion rubles. Basically, its income came from dividends in ZAO GK Video International. Video International, known to the market as Vi, has been selling most TV advertising in the Russian market since the 1990s, and was closed in 2020. In 2015, its net profit was more than 3 billion rubles.
The significant money flowing into Roldugin's accounts from Russia raised no questions from the Swiss bank. Only a printout from the Mariinsky Theatre's website was placed in the client's ID verification folder. Didn't Gazprombank know how to google? They knew how to google there: earlier, International Media Overseas already had an account with the Swiss Gazprombank. And in the folder with information were printouts of an article in Kommersant - both about the fact that Roldugin is in Putin's "inner circle" and about the fact that he is the godfather of the president's daughter. In addition, the accounts were opened with the mediation of the Rossiya bank (and here again the employees of the Swiss Gazprombank did not ring in their heads), serving a narrow circle of people close to the top of the Russian government. By the end of 2015, Gazprombank was well aware of all of the above - judging by the report that was compiled to decide whether to continue maintaining Roldugin's account. In particular, the bankers were well aware that the point of maintaining an IMO account in the Swiss Gazprombank was to withdraw money personally to Roldugin. Despite this, no one asked Roldugin where the money came from.
Significant money coming into Roldugin's accounts from Russia raised no questions from the Swiss bank
The Cypriot company Namiral Trading is another shareholder in Vi. According to the disclosure, she entered the capital of the Russian advertising corporation in 2012. In 2013, Namiral Trading's receivables amounted to 7.5 billion rubles, accounts payable - 8.6 billion rubles, dividends for 2013 were paid to beneficial owners 277 million rubles. The structure of the balance sheet indicates that the firm had the character of a "pipeline" through which money was pumped. According to our calculations, at least $200 million was pumped through Namiral Trading in this way, based on its financial statements.
Vi money and cutting down the Khimki forest
The Zurich prosecutor studied the agreements between Namiral Trading and Med Media Network and found another "pipeline" - the Panamanian-Cypriot company Rogus International Investments Ltd. The offshore companies of Roldugin and Plekhov, on one summer day in 2014, provided her with interest-free loans of 350 million rubles for ten years. The purpose of the money transfer was not specified. The owner of the company at that moment was a company from the British Virgin Islands - one of the most closed jurisdictions for doing business, and before that - Alexander Plekhov (in 2009-2012) and Sergey Roldugin (in 2007-2009).
That is, a businessman who has a successful medical business in St. Petersburg, and at the same time the owner of Rossiya Bank Yuri Kovalchuk as a friend, and the musician of the Mariinsky Theater simply transferred money from one company under their control to another.
Over the history of Rogus International Investments, more than $300 million has been pumped through it - we can judge this by the volume of accounts payable and receivable.
We don't know much about Rogus International Investments. However, the editorial office has at its disposal documents of a legal complaint against the French company Vinci, which was one of the beneficiaries of the construction of the road through the Khimki forest. Khimki forest activists and the human rights organization Bankwatch Network discovered that Rogus International Investments, through a chain of companies, owned 15% of Vinci Concessions Russie (a division of Vinci) to build a road through the Khimki forest. The rest of the shares, according to the investigation, are owned by another friend of Putin, Arkady Rotenberg, and offshore companies. Knowing that the construction of the route is illegal, the money is “cut up” and taken abroad, activists, including Yevgeny Chirikov, filed a complaint in 2013 with the prosecutor’s office of the French Nanterre. According to Chirikova, after that the case stalled, as further interrogation of the Russian side was to follow:
“We have accepted a complaint, which is very important, since in France this is a serious matter, not all complaints are accepted. After that, I was summoned for interrogation, and as a result, the prosecutor said that now he needs to turn to the Russian security forces and the Ministry of Transport to confirm the information about these violations. I say: “Do you understand that you just ask the mafia, will you, is it really their fault?” They answered that such rules.
As a result, no state investigation into the activities of Vinci in Russia and the offshore companies behind it was carried out.
The builder and operator of the road is the "daughter" of Vinci Concessions Russie - LLC "North-Western Concession Company". The company's net profit annually amounts to more than a billion rubles, it pays several hundred million rubles in dividends a year - the recipient was, among other things, Rogus International Investments, backed by Plekhov and Roldugin.
Thus, it turned out that not only Arkady Rotenberg was behind the construction of the route through the Khimki forest, as was previously known, but also Sergei Roldugin. True, the Swiss prosecutor's office believes that he and his offshore colleague Alexander Plekhov were only "nominals".
Roldugin turned out to be "nominal"
Sometimes people don't want anyone to know that they run a company or even own it. Or they want to avoid legal liability if the supervisory authorities have questions about the company - as a rule, if the company is engaged in tax evasion, the director and accountant are primarily responsible. Therefore, such people hire "nominals" - nominee directors. People who are not related to the company are paid a certain amount to register the company for themselves. Often this is not an isolated case - such people are registered as directors in several dozen, and sometimes hundreds of companies. It may be illegal in different countries to use nominee directors, but in real life they are rarely punished for impersonating the real owners or managers of the company.
The nominal beneficiary is a rarer phenomenon, because the beneficiary receives money from the company's dividends. This requires that there is absolute trust between the real and the nominal beneficiary, and the nominal owner does not appropriate all the company's money for himself.
From the indictment of the Swiss prosecutor's office, in fact, it follows that neither Roldugin nor Alexander Plekhov are real beneficiaries, but act in the interests of third parties. In fact, this means that the prosecutors called them the nominal beneficiaries of the Cypriot companies that received money from Vi. Who was the real beneficiary of the companies, they do not indicate, but transparently allude to Putin himself. For the first time since the publication of the Panama Papers, a court in some country found that Roldugin did not act in his own interests.
For the first time since the publication of the Panama Papers, a court of some country found that Roldugin did not act in his own interests
Only after the "kick" of the Swiss Financial Supervisory Service (FinMA) in April 2016, the bankers asked Roldugin for an explanation. They received no explanation, and in September of the same year, Roldugin's accounts were closed. According to the Zurich prosecutor, the bankers knew about the need to obtain explanations from Roldugin at least since the end of 2015.
What this money was spent on, we know from the OCCRP investigation. Roldugin offshore companies paid for a plot of land under the Igora ski resort, where the wedding of Putin's daughter took place, a yacht club on the banks of Ladoga, and Winter's dacha on Ladoga, which is called one of Putin's palaces.
The significance of this lawsuit is that Switzerland seems to cease to be a cozy haven for oligarchs and Putin's cronies. For the first time, a journalistic investigation into the history of dirty Russian money was followed by an investigation by the prosecutor's office that went to court, ending in a guilty verdict.
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