Straw man for Putin’s millions: trial in Zurich
Sergej Roldugin was not sitting in Room 4 of the Zurich District Court on Wednesday. And yet the trial that took place in that unadorned room revolved around this Russian musician – and his connection to his old friend Wladimir Putin. The revelations of the so-called Panama Papers by a collective of journalists in 2016 revealed that Roldugin was apparently acting as a straw man for covert financial transactions on behalf of the Russian President, whom he has known since they were teenagers in St. Petersburg. The cellist and conductor is even the godfather of Putin’s eldest daughter.
The network of Roldugin’s shareholdings and offshore accounts also included a business relationship with the Swiss subsidiary of the Russian Gazprombank in Zurich. According to the findings of the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (Finma), this institute seriously violated the provisions of the Money Laundering Act between 2006 and 2016. The Zurich public prosecutor’s office brought charges against four mostly high-ranking employees of the bank, including the Russian CEO. Three of the four accused bankers are still working for Gazprombank (Switzerland) Ltd., although it ceased operations in October 2022 and has been in liquidation since then.
The accusation of the public prosecutor’s office is: lack of due diligence in financial transactions. The defendants, three Russians and one Swiss, failed to question whether Roldugin is actually the beneficial owner of two accounts that he was allowed to open at Gazprombank in Zurich in 2014 and keep until 2016. It was about assets of almost 30 million francs.
Putin’s enormous assets
At the court hearing in Zurich, prosecutor Jan Hoffmann quoted from a 2014 report in the New York Times. In it, Roldugin said he was certainly not a businessman and owned “no millions”. Nevertheless, he was said to be the beneficial owner of two offshore companies with assets in the millions. “How does that fit together?” asked Hoffmann. At the time the account was opened, it had long been public knowledge that the cellist was a friend of Putin’s. It was also common knowledge that, according to official Russian accounts, the Russian President only had an income of just over 100,000 francs, but in fact had enormous assets that he had people close to him manage. For this reason alone, the bank employees should have had a considerable and far-reaching need for clarification, argues the public prosecutor’s office.
The accounts opened by Gazprombank included dividends in the millions from a Russian media group in which the musician was involved. According to the investigations of the public prosecutor’s office, the Rossiya bank pulled the strings in the background. The Americans put this bank on their sanctions list back in 2014 because it has very close ties to the Russian ruling elite. According to the indictment, the majority shareholder and chairman of the board of directors of Rossiya is considered Putin’s treasurer. The constructed constructions and dividend flows via letterbox companies had only served as a disguise and indicated that Roldugin had been used as a straw man. However, the Gazprombank employees did not follow up on these tips. According to the public prosecutor’s office, they should be sentenced to seven months’ imprisonment on probation for these violations of the duty of care.
The accused protested their innocence in court. One of her lawyers argued that Roldugin’s proximity to the inner Russian power circle made it plausible that the musician was the beneficial owner of the accounts. Kremlin minions have much better access to wealth than ordinary citizens.