World Europe 05 Apr 2016 The Panama cabal

The Panama cabal

Published Apr 5, 2016, 1:53 am IST
Updated Apr 5, 2016, 2:39 am IST
Offshore empire of Vladmir Putin’s cellist friend throws light on Kremlin wealth.
Russian president Vladimir Putin. (Photo: AFP)
 Russian president Vladimir Putin. (Photo: AFP)

Moscow: A virtuoso concert cellist who calls President Vladimir Putin a “brother”, Sergei Roldugin has flown under the radar while other close friends of the Russian leader openly amassed vast fortunes.

But now the “Panama Papers” leaks have put the godfather to Putin’s eldest daughter at the head of an offshore empire worth more than $2 billion and sparked fresh speculation on the Russian leader’s personal wealth.


Documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, analysed by Russian journalists, offer a glimpse into a web of obscure deals between Russian state companies and offshore firms owned by Roldugin that made “tens of millions of rubles per day” over the decade between 2006 and 2015.

The firms, just one of which, Sandalwood Continental, funnelled a total of $2 billion, were managed by individuals linked with Bank Rossiya, according to Novaya Gazeta, whose reporters are part of an international group of journalists poring through the 11.5 million leaked documents.


The companies clinched cheap loans and appeared to make money out of thin air by signing deals with state firms and pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation when the deals were broken off. Among the investments made by the firms linked to Roldugin were into yachts and resorts in Russia. One ski resort was reported as the location of the wedding of Putin's youngest daughter Yekaterina.

‘Like a brother’: The secretive web of Roldugin’s assets appears to be just the latest evidence of how an elite close to Putin has amassed huge fortunes through favourable deals during his time in power.


From his former judo sparring partners to ex-KGB comrades, close associates of the strongman leader have become billionaires by winning state contracts in key energy and infrastructure sectors. Beyond his official salary, the extent of Putin’s personal wealth has never been revealed, but allegations are rife that he essentially controls the money his friends have amassed.

The United States and European Union have slapped sanctions over Ukraine against close Putin associates, including Bank Rossiya, which the US Treasury identified in March 2014 as a “personal bank” for the Kremlin elite.


Up until now, Roldugin, 64, has appeared nowhere on these lists, although he is a close confidant of the Russian leader. In the book First Person, a collection of interviews published in March 2000, when most of the world had little idea of who Putin was, Roldugin takes centre stage as the Russian president’s intimate friend.

A native of Putin's hometown Leningrad — now Saint Petersburg — he met the future Russian leader in 1977 and is the godfather of his oldest daughter Maria. “We were not apart after that,” the musician said in one of the interviews for the book.


Icelandic PM says won’t quit
Iceland’s prime minister refused on Monday to resign despite calls to do so after leaked “Panama Papers” tax documents showed he and his wife used an offshore firm to allegedly hide million-dollar investments.

“I have not considered quitting because of this matter nor am I going to quit because of this matter,” Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson said.

According to the documents, Gunnlaugsson and his wife Anna Sigurlaug Palsdottir purchased the offshore company Wintris Inc. in the British Virgin Islands in December 2007. He transferred his 50-percent stake to her in 2009 for the symbolic sum of one dollar. He says he never hid any money abroad, and says his wife, who inherited a fortune from her father, has paid all taxes in Iceland.