An investigative report conducted by Russian-Latvian newsgroup Meduza and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) unveiled a network of companies and non-profit organizations worth over $4.5 billion in luxury assets that are potentially linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin consciously tries to cultivate an image of self-denying patriotism among the Russian public. However, such an image could not have been further from the truth. For years, journalists and anti-corruption watchdogs have tried to piece together evidence and leaks that point to the Russian dictator’s enormous wealth.
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The Russian president has been linked to several luxury properties across Russia, including a supposed billion-dollar palace estate along the Black Sea, acres of surrounding vineyards, the Igora Ski Resort, and Villa Sellgren located north of St. Petersburg. However, time and again, Putin avoided direct relation to the properties.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny claimed a palace worth $1 billion was built for Putin’s personal use. However, during the investigation of the estate on the Black Sea, Putin’s billionaire friend and former judo sparring partner, Arkady Rotenberg, claimed ownership of the property.
Vineyards surrounding the estate, which Navalny claimed resulted from an excessive hobby of the Russian president, were split between two other associates: a son of one of his childhood buddies and Russian oligarch Gennady Timchenko.
Another property, the villa in St. Petersburg, known to the locals as “Putin’s Dacha,” was claimed by Sergey Rudnov, whose late father, Oleg Rudnov, was a former close associate of Putin.
Each time a luxury asset has been linked to Putin, be it an estate or a superyacht, the Russian president picks one from his long list of associates to step up and claim them. This strategy has proven effective as most attempts to confirm Putin’s vast wealth have been futile, at least before this report.
The Multi-billion Dollar Wealth
The investigation conducted by Meduza and the OCCRP revealed a network of 86 independent companies of unrelated industries, communicating and coordinating in a secured email domain “LLCInvest.ru.”
Sobesednik, a Russian weekly newspaper, was the first to trace this email domain’s links to a group of non-profit organizations found by Putin’s associates. Since then, the report done by Meduza and OCCRP has identified dozens of business and non-profit entities whose employees and senior executives are communicating with the domain. Notably, the combined holdings of the organizations identified in the domain are worth more than $4.5 billion, including mansions, private jets, yachts, and bank accounts containing large amounts of cash.
The domain LLCInvest.ru is hosted by the telecommunications company Moskomsvyaz, which is closely associated with Bank Rossiya. Based in St. Petersburg, the bank has been under fire from western sanctions. The United States Treasury has branded it as Putin’s “personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation.”
Many companies in the network have the same corporate directors, service providers, and registered addresses. Some are even directly owned by Rossiya, with dozens belonging to Yuri Kovalchuk and Svetlana Krivonogikh. Kovalchuk is a billionaire banker who is a longtime friend of Putin, while Krivonogikh was the Russian president’s alleged mistress.
“The only explanation I see is that a common management system unites these companies,” an expert on corrupt practices in Russia said after studying the findings. The expert, who was not identified for security reasons, noted that several owners of LLCInvest entities grew their relations with Putin in the 1990s when he was still an official in the St. Petersburg mayor’s office.
The discovery of the email domain was made possible by analyzing leaked files from the Moskomsvyaz servers. The information contained the name of the LLCInvest.ru email senders and their recipients, as well as the subject and time of the message.
Analysis of the Moskomsvyaz data, matched with other leaked sources, reveals a peculiar scenario wherein companies of entirely different operations and industries are coordinating as if they were under one entity.
“[LLCInvest] looks most of all like a cooperative, or an association, in which its members can exchange benefits and property,” the expert added.
Journalists from Meduza and the OCCRP sent inquiries to over 100 email addresses in the LLCInvest domain. According to them, dozens were opened, but no one responded. They tried to reach the companies by phone and were able to get a man who was listed as the director of four different companies. He claimed that he was not aware of his companies’ ownership.
“I’m a humble employee and mind my own business. I only sign papers,” the man said, whose identity was not revealed for safety purposes. “You know how sometimes homeless people are registered as directors of a company? I’m not homeless but I sign the papers, like they do, without going into the details.”
When asked for comments regarding the report’s findings, the Kremlin gave a brief response saying, “The President of the Russian Federation is not linked or affiliated in any way with the assets and organizations you mentioned.”
Though Kremlin tries to avoid and redirect the media, it’s getting more and more challenging for them to deny the direct relationship of these assets to Putin.