Wednesday, June 7

Russian emails appear to show ‘network’ holding $4.5bn assets linked to Putin | Russia

Palaces, yachts and vineyards reportedly provided to Vladimir Putin by friends and oligarchs can now be linked to what appears to be an informal network holding assets worth more than $4.5bn (£3.7bn).

A digital paper trail appears to suggest that an array of holiday homes and other assets reportedly used by the Russian president, which according to available records belong to or have been owned by separate individuals, companies and charities, are linked through a common email domain name,

Putin diagram

A snapshot of leaked email exchanges from last September further suggests directors and administrators associated with some of the separate entities that hold and manage these assets have discussed day-to-day business problems as if they were part of a single organisation.

An anti-corruption expert in Russia, who requested anonymity given the political situation in Moscow, said the findings raised questions as to whether there was a level of “common management”.

“LLCInvest looks most of all like a cooperative, or an association, in which its members can exchange benefits and property,” they suggested.

For nearly two decades, Putin has been accused of secretly accumulating vast wealth through proxies, fuelled by a series of disclosures in leaks such as the Pandora papers about the fortunes of those closest to him.

Sergey Kolesnikov, a businessman, claimed 10 years ago that he had been behind a scheme that allowed a group of Russia’s top oligarchs to pool billions of rubles into a type of “investment fund” for the benefit of Putin, who was then serving as prime minister. The claims were denied and Kolesnikov fled from Russia.

Last month the UK government contrasted Putin’s “lavish lifestyle” with official Russian records which listed “modest assets” including a small flat in St Petersburg, two Soviet-era cars from the 1950s, a trailer and a small garage.

House in Gelendzhik on the Black Sea
Alexei Navalny has claimed this £1bn palace was built for Putin’s personal use in Gelendzhik on the Black Sea. Photograph: AP

After a year-long investigation, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Russian-language news site Meduza have identified 86 companies and not-for-profit organisations whose representatives appear to use the common LLCinvest domain name, often alongside corporate email accounts.

Claims of a secret presidential fortune are denied and a chain of ownership leading to Putin has not been identified. A Kremlin spokesperson said: “The president of the Russian Federation is in no way connected or affiliated with the objects and organisations you named.”

Villa Sellgren
Villa Sellgren is owned by Sergey Rudnov, the son of a childhood friend of Putin. Photograph:

According to OCCRP and Meduza, assets linked to organisations or the corporate structures around them in which the email domain appears to have been in use, include:

  • A £1bn palace which Alexei Navalny has claimed was built for Putin’s personal use in Gelendzhik on the Black Sea. The billionaire oligarch Arkady Rotenberg, who is under EU and US sanctions, has claimed ownership of the property. Corporate records held by the Spark database in Russia stated as of June that the property belongs to a firm called Kompleks whose parent company is Binom. The company director at Binom until July last year appears to have a registered email domain. The address remains cited on Spark, Russia’s largest company database, as a contact.

  • Acres of vineyards around the Gelendzhik palace. Navalny has claimed the wineries were a Putin “hobby” that had got out of control. Vineyards surrounding the palace belong to a not-for-profit founded by two Putin associates, Gennady Timchenko and Vladimir Kolbin, both of whom are also under western sanctions. Kolbin and others associated with the vineyards appear to have email accounts.

  • The Igora ski resort in the Leningrad oblast where the wedding of Putin’s daughter took place in 2013. According to land records, it is owned by Ozon, a company in which Putin’s friend, Bank Rossiya’s chairman and largest shareholder Yuri Kovalchuk, who is under western sanctions, has had a large stake. The email account is a contact on the Spark records of Ozon’s parent company, Relax. Ozon is not related in any way to the Nasdaq listed e-commerce giant of the same name.

  • A villa north of St Petersburg, known by locals as “Putin’s Dacha”. The Villa Sellgren was owned by Oleg Rudnov, a childhood friend of Putin’s, and inherited by his son Sergey Rudnov, through a company called North. Rudnov appears to use email addresses, according to the Spark records.

  • A wood-clad building north of St Petersburg known as the Fisherman’s Hut. Emails leaked from a construction firm suggest that three different companies using the domain name owned different parcels of land around the complex, while a fourth LLCInvest entity – a nonprofit organisation named Revival of Maritime Traditions – managed the construction. That same foundation, recently placed under western sanctions, owns two yachts, Shellest and Nega, said by the US Treasury to be linked to Putin.

Russia assets map

The $4.5bn in assets held by LLCInvest entities includes large cash deposits. Two not-for-profit foundations, co-founded by Timchenko and Kolbin, which according to Spark corporate records appear to use the domain name, have significant funds at their disposal.

The Development of Agrarian Initiatives had 17bn rubles (£248m) in its deposit account at the end of 2020 while the Development of an Effective Investment Market held more than 20bn rubles (£292m) in long-term deposits and almost 5bn rubles (£73m) in short-term deposits at the end of 2020, according to publicly available accounts.

Shellest Yacht
The yacht Shellest is owned by the nonprofit organisation Revival of Maritime Traditions.

LLCinvest is not a standard email provider open to the public such as Yahoo but a domain on a server owned by Moskomsvyaz, a telecoms company which has close links to Bank Rossiya. The St Petersburg bank is under western sanctions and described by the US Treasury as “the personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation”.

Rossiya has also been described as ‘Putin’s bank’ for its role in allegedly carrying out the Russian leader’s bidding. The Kremlin has denied any such links or influence.

The discovery of the common email domain was made through analysis of leaked metadata from Moskomsvyaz servers, which appears to show the names of senders and recipients of emails, the subject matter and time of correspondence. This was cross checked with open source records and a separate leak of the content of some full messages.

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Moskomsvyaz and all but one of the individuals who appear to have used email addresses, did not reply to requests for comment. It is unclear as to the purpose of the common email service, or the motivation for the apparent cooperation on staffing and logistical issues.

There is no suggestion that all the users of the are involved in managing assets that have been linked in reports to Putin. Only one man who uses a email account in his role as a director of multiple companies, spoke on the phone when called. He claimed ignorance of the nature of his work.

“I’m a humble employee and mind my own business,” he said when questioned. “I only sign papers. 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.”

“If my company was part of a big holding, I wouldn’t know,” he added. The man’s identity is being withheld for his own safety.

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