Monday 5 December 2016

Putin's ally controls billions to benefit premier's cronies

Vast leak of Panama firm's papers show leaders' wealth

Roland Oliphant

Published 04/04/2016 | 02:30

Russian premier Vladimir Putin. Photo: Reuters
Russian premier Vladimir Putin. Photo: Reuters
Cellist Sergei Roldugin has been revealed as the lynchpin in an elaborate financial empire that manages billions of dollars

A St Petersburg concert cellist has been revealed as the linchpin in an elaborate financial empire that manages billions of dollars apparently connected to Vladimir Putin, papers published yesterday show.

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Sergei Roldugin, a director of the St Petersburg Conservatory and guest conductor at the Mariinsky Theatre, met Mr Putin in the 1970s and is considered one of the Russian president's closest friends.

But papers leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca suggest the musician also holds vast assets apparently used to benefit close associates of the Russian president.

Mr Putin is one of dozens of world leaders, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, who have been indirectly or directly linked via friends and family members to offshore companies, in the vast leak published by dozens of international media outlets last night.

While Mr Putin himself is not named in any of the documents, Mr Roldugin is one of several individuals close to the Russian president who appear to manage massive flows of money via shell companies.

Mr Roldugin owned three offshore companies: Sonnette Overseas, International Media Overseas and Raytar Limited. The firms have acquired lucrative assets including a 12.5pc stake in Video International, Russia's largest advertising firm, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, one of the groups that received the leaked documents, said in a summary published yesterday.

Sonnette Overseas and International Media Overseas were created by Bank of Russia, a privately owned St Petersburg-based bank, which the United States sanctioned following the annexation of Crimea because of its close links to Mr Putin's inner circle.

The papers reveal that Mr Roldugin holds a 3.2pc stake in the bank, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Other prominent Russian names in the papers include Arkady and Boris Rotenburg, judo-sparring partners of Mr Putin who have amassed fortunes during his 15 years in power and who were also sanctioned by the United States as close associates of Putin.

The newly published documents show the billionaire brothers control seven companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, which they have used for a number of purposes including investing in pipeline construction and buying equipment for building an Italian villa for Igor Rotenburg, Arkady's son.

The Kremlin had not commented on the revelations last night.

However, in an apparent reference to the leak last week, Mr Putin's press secretary said western media and secret services were preparing an "information attack" against the Russian president ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

"Here we see no intent to conduct objective investigations, we see just an intention to publish a hatchet job," he said.

Mossack Fonseca did not serve only the Russian elite.

Mr Putin's arch enemy, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, also appears to have made use of the Panamanian law firm.

Mr Poroshenko, a chocolate tycoon who promised to sell most of his assets during his campaign for the presidency, appears to have become sole shareholder of a British Virgin Islands company called Prime Asset Partners Limited in August 2014, as Russian troops swarmed into Eastern Ukraine.

Mr Poroshenko's spokesman said that the move was unrelated to political or military developments and said its establishment was part of a move to prepare Roshen, Mr Poroshenko's company, for sale.

Also named is the president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, who was director and vice president of a Bahamas company managed by Mossack Fonseca when he was a businessman and the mayor of Buenos Aires. A spokesman for Mr Macri said the president never personally owned shares in the firm, part of his family's business.

The children of Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister, set up four offshore companies, which owned at least six upmarket properties overlooking London's Hyde Park, the law firm's records show. Mr Sharif denies any link to the properties. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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