Former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has reportedly been linked to a multi-million trail that leads to two Russian oligarchs known as Vladimir Putin’s “wallets”.
The 55-year-old has been sanctioned by the UK Government as well as the EU in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He has previously denied being connected to the Russian president.
But a BBC investigation has now found leaked documents from Cyprus that reportedly link the Russian oligarch to a secret £26 million deal 13 years ago. The Beeb says the secret deal saw shares of Video International – a Russian advertising company – transferred for less than they were worth.
It says the transactions were believed to be made by companies that were owned by Abramovich and two members of Putin’s inner circle. They returned millions of dollars of dividends from the deal.
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The BBC investigation says a complex web of companies based in Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands, along with a trust, were concealing Ambrovich’s allged involvement. However the broadcaster says documents show the tycoon had a relationship with two companies that held 25% in Video International, reports The Sun.
The two companies – Finoto Holdings and Grosora Holdings – were created in early 2003. Through a number of shell firms, they were owned by the Sara Settlement Trust, of which Ambramovich is a beneficiary, the BBC says.
Each company bought a 12.5% stake in Video International in September 2003 for about £80,000 each. The firms were said to have then been sold to Med Media Network and Namiral Trading.
Vladimir Milov, a former energy minister in Putin’s first term and now a vocal opposition leader, said the price paid was “ridiculous”. “That stake was clearly worth much more, by many orders of magnitude,” he told the BBC.
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Abramovich did not respond to a comment when approached by the BBC. He has also previously downplayed his relationship with Putin.
He has previously questioned reports suggesting there is a close financial tie between the pair. Or that he has acted on behalf of Putin.
One of the so-called “wallets” involved in the Cyrpus deal was close friends Sergei Roldugin, the investigation claimed. Roldugin is a cellist and the artistic director of the St Petersburg Music House, who has known Vladimir Putin since they were young.
The BBC says Roldugin introduced the president to ex-wife Lyudmila Shkrebneva. He is also a godfather to Putin’s first daughter Maria.
The financial link between Putin and Roldugin were uncovered in 2016 during the Panama Papers leak. It say millions of confidentual documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca made public.
The New York Times says Roldugin was not a businessman at the time and did not “have million”. But on paper he appeared to have an offshore fortune of around £61 million
The BBC says the second man said to be involved in the Cyprus deal was biochemist-turned-businessman Alexander Plekhov, a close from of Putin. The broadcaster says they both held money and assets for the Russian president, hence “wallets”.
It said Med Media Network, was a company nominally owned by Roldugin and Namiral Trading Ltd is a company later linked to Aleksandr Plekhov. The BBC reports Swiss prosecutors had earlier say they were “straw men” and not the real owners of the assets links to bank accounts connected to the Video International deal.
It however did not identify the true owner of the accounts. Plekhov was sanctioned in the UK, while Roldugin was also sanctioned in the EU and US.
The BBC investigation claims Putin’s stated salary in 2021 was just over £72,700 yet his fortune is rumoured to be worth anywhere between £102 billion and £164 billion. It claims his fortune could be hidden away in a series of shell companies and the accounts of his friends.
BBC Newsnight, BBC Verify and Panorama partnered with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to discover the revelations of part of a global investigstion called Cyrpus Confidential. It is led by reporters at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and Paper Trail Media.
The Cyprus Confidential investigation is based on 3.6 million confidential corporate records from companies providing offshore services in the country. It was designed to examine Cyprus’ close financial ties with Russia and its oligarchs, many of whom used the island to manage offshore holdings.
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