An investigation published on Monday June 20 by a group of journalists managed for the first time to establish the relationship between Vladimir Putin and a secret cooperative of 86 companies that owns luxury real estate, yachts and multiple bank accounts.
From the outside, he is a president who has kept it simple with a salary of about $11,000 a month and an estate limited to land, an apartment in St. Petersburg, luxury watches and three cars. But behind closed doors, Vladimir Putin would actually be one of the richest men in the world, owner of yachts, private jets and multiple real estate properties.
But unlike Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, the Russian president does not personally own these assets. The official owners of it are millionaire oligarchs, suspected of being figureheads to hide the fortune of the Kremlin strongman. When in 2021 the anti-corruption militant Alexeï Navalny revealed the existence of the ‘Putin’s palace’ on the shores of the Black Sea, the billionaire Arkadi Rotenberg, long-time friend and judo partner of the Russian president, claimed to be the owner of that sumptuous complex of 17,000 square meters, valued at 1 million dollars.
But in an investigation published on Monday, June 20, the network of investigative journalists ‘Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project’ (OCCRP) and the independent Russian outlet Meduza for the first time they managed to establish the link between President Putin and a secret cooperative of 86 companies and foundations that owns 4.5 billion dollars in luxury real estate and financial assets.
“All I do is sign papers”
A data leak hosted by Moskomsvyaz, a Russian IT company, tipped investigators to Putin’s billions. The journalists analyzed the metadata of emails sent between the entities of that cooperative, which, a priori, operate in different sectors and have nothing to do with each other. First surprise: they all use the same private messaging domain: LLCInvest.ru.
Another disturbing detail: the directors, executives and employees of these companies regularly communicate with each other through this messaging system and talk about common businesses, as if they were all part of the same group. The OCCRP cites as an example the Volna company, which is owned by Sergueï Rudnov, the son of Oleg Rudnov, a friend of Vladimir Putin who died in 2015. In published emails, the co-founder of a company belonging to that secret entity discusses Volna’s finances with another man, though neither has public ties to Rudnov’s company.
contacted by phone [por los autores de la investigación], the director of several cooperative enterprises confirmed to journalists that he uses the LLCInvest.ru courier service. “I’m just a humble employee minding your business. All I do is sign papers. You know, sometimes a homeless person is registered as a director of a company. I am not homeless, but I sign the papers without being interested in the details”, he confessed.
Finally, a good part of those 86 companies and foundations manage assets long attributed to Vladimir Putin. This is the case of vineyards whose owners are the oligarch Guennadi Timtchenko and the son of a childhood friend of Putin, or the Igora ski resort, near Saint Petersburg, linked to Svetlana Krivonoguikh, the alleged mistress of the Russian president.
This network of companies also owns a number of luxury yachts, the largest of which is the ‘Shellest’, a 46-meter long ship worth 23 million dollars that travels regularly between Gelendzhik, where the ‘ Black Sea Palace’, and the port of Sochi. This giant of the seas belongs to the Revival of Marine Traditions, a foundation related to Vladimir Putin, according to the US Treasury.
A nebula at the service of the Putin clan
As if that were not enough, the ‘LLCInvest’ group has close ties to the Rossia bank, called the ‘bank of Vladimir Putin’s friends’ and implicated in the Panama Papers. “The only explanation I see is that these companies have a common management system,” a Russian expert on corruption told OCCRP on condition of anonymity. “LLCInvest acts as a cooperative or an association within which members can trade profits and assets.”
This informal but perfected corruption scheme is reminiscent of the system described by Sergueï Kolesnikov in 2010. At that time, the businessman fled Russia after claiming that he had designed an opaque financial scheme that allowed a group of oligarchs to raise billions of rubles in an ‘investment fund’ in favor of Vladimir Putin.
According to Sergueï Kolesnikov, this money was diverted from a charity project intended to buy medical equipment and was transferred to the Rosinvest company. The latter was supposed to invest in Russian companies, but Vladimir Putin would have finally decided to use the funds to build his palace on the Black Sea. Following Kolesnikov’s revelations, Rosinvest was dissolved.
According to the anti-corruption expert interviewed by the OCCRP, LLCInvest has common ground with Rosinvest, but is less centralized, therefore less vulnerable to whistleblowers. “[Ese sistema] it reduces the possibilities of revelations of a new Kolesnikov”, analyzes the Russian specialist. To journalists’ questions, the Kremlin replied that “the president of the Russian Federation is not linked or related to the aforementioned organizations.”
Although Vladimir Putin’s fortune remains an enigma, some experts estimate it to be in the tens — even hundreds — of billions of dollars, according to Forbes magazine. In 2015, Anglo-American businessman Bill Browder – the most important Western investor in Russia in the late 1990s – claimed in his book Red Notice that Vladimir Putin had given himself half the wealth of all the oligarchs. According to his calculations, the Russian president would have a fortune of about 200 billion dollars.
This article was adapted from its French original