Bankers guilty of moving millions for Putin’s BFF

Bankers guilty of moving millions for Putin’s BFF

Thu, Mar 30th 2023

A Swiss court this week found four bankers guilty of opening bank accounts for Putin’s best friend –a sanctioned oligarch who has been known to move money for the Russian president.
Russian President Vladmir Putin awards Sergei Roldugin a medal (Keystone SDA).

Four bankers who moved millions of francs through Swiss bank accounts under Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “best friend’s” name have been convicted of criminal negligence.

More on Putin’s BFF

A Swiss court on Thursday found the former head of privately-owned Russian bank Gazprombank’s Swiss subsidiary, Roman Abdulin, and three of his colleagues guilty of allowing Swiss accounts to be opened by Putin’s best friend, Sergei Roldugin.

Roldugin is a Russian cellist and conductor, godfather to Putin’s daughter, and has often been described as “Putin’s wallet.” In 2016, Roldugin was revealed to be the “secret caretaker” of Putin’s offshore accounts in the “Panama Papers” scandal. Through that investigation, it was exposed that Roldugin worked directly with Swiss lawyers to covertly funnel Putin’s wealth to shell business accounts registered in the British Virgin Islands and Panama.

“It is notorious that Russian President Putin officially has an income of just over CHF100,000 and is not wealthy, but in fact has enormous assets managed by people close to him,” the indictment says. “The declared assets were in general in no way plausible as Roldugin’s own assets. Roldugin… [is] a straw man.”

After the Panama Papers revelations, Swiss financial regulator FINMA opened an investigation into Gazprombank Schweiz AG and concluded that it was “in serious breach of its anti-money laundering” efforts and was prohibited from accepting new private clients. In October 2022, the bank announced it had decided to cease operations in Switzerland.

Gazprombank Schweiz’s former headquarters in Zurich (Keystone SDA).
More on the case

The men were found guilty in a Zurich district court of opening two bank accounts at Gazprombank Schweiz AG without conducting sufficient research into the owner of the accounts. Roldugin has previously stated that he is not a businessman and does not have millions to his name. He is also on the list of sanctioned Russian oligarchs.

Even after Switzerland imposed strict sanctions on Russia and froze accounts of “politically exposed persons” (PEP), the bankers “continued the business relationship inadmissibly, although they themselves had serious doubts about the correctness of the information about the beneficial owner,” according to the 18-page Swiss indictment.

The bankers opened accounts with at least 50 million Swiss francs under Roldugin’s name, as well as signing off on plans to funnel another CHF10 million through a complex spiderweb of shell companies and other accounts related to Roldugin, prosecutors say. (Read more: Swiss banks may have helped Russian move money, DOJ says)

In the bank’s due diligence file on Roldugin, there was only a single page printout from the Mariinsky theatre website where Roldugin is a conductor, as well as a negative search result on the database Worldcheck. And many of the companies set up under Roldugin’s name, were verified by employees at Bank Rossiya via anonymous email addresses, according to the indictment.

“Bank Rossiya is the bank of Russia’s leading politicians and its majority shareholder and chair of the board [Yuri Kovalchuk] is considered Putin’s treasurer,” the indictment reads.

Although the men cannot be identified under Swiss journalism regulations, it is known that one is Swiss and three are Russian.

Sergei Roldugin, Vladmir Putin and another unnamed man in an old photo (Keystone SDA).
A sign of ‘Putinphobia’

The defense team argued that Roldugin confirmed in writing in 2022 that he was indeed the owner of the accounts and that it was “plausible” he had become rich as a friend of Putin’s.

“Sergey Roldugin is not just any cellist and conductor, but also a Kremlin favorite who obviously had access to special financing possibilities that allows him to accumulate substantial wealth,” the defense said.

The Kremlin has previously called any suggestion linking Roldugin’s funds with President Putin’s as part of western “Putinphobia.” The Kremlin states that the President’s finances are on public record for Russian voters. (Read more: Sanctions are the final nail in the coffin of Swiss neutrality).

“All the evidence runs contrary to Sergey Roldugin being the real owner of the assets,” the public prosecutor told SWI Swissinfo. “The bankers have not followed the rules and should therefore be punished.”

The four bankers are facing steep fines that have not yet been determined.

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