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THE PANAMA PAPERS DOCUMENT PUTIN'S PILLAGING OF RUSSIA


The dump of millions of documents leaked from Panama offshore accounts implicates Vladimir Putin's inner circle in billions of dollars of looting of the Russian economy. We already knew that Putin and his Kremlin kleptocrats were robbing Russia of its assets for personal gain, but the Panama Papers provide a proof in black and white, which Putin's propaganda team cannot refute.



According to the documents, people close to Putin masked payments, created back-door documents and in this way gained hidden influence in the media business and automobile branch of Russia.



On February 10, 2011, the secretive company, Sandalwood Continental, registered in the British Virgin Islands, loaned $200 million to a shadowy Horwich Trading registered in Cyprus, which sold on the next day the right to receive the interest and principal to Ove Financial for $1. On the same day, Ove sold for $1 these rights to the Panama-registered International Overseas Media. In one day the exchange of rights to the principal and interest passed through three banks and four countries."

Sandalwood was created by Bank Rossii, whose main shareholder is Yuri Kovalchuk (reputed to be Putin’s personal banker). International Media Overseas is controlled by Sergei Roldugin, one of Putin’s oldest friends and godfather of his elder daughter.

The Panama Papers leaks cover some $2 billion in Russian offshore assets, but the Panama firm is only one of hundreds specializing in offshore accounts. The Kremlin inner circle would have diversified its exposure by using a number of intermediaries. The $2 billion would likely represent a small fraction of offshore assets of the Kremlin elite.

The transactions include apparently fake share deals, with shares “traded” retrospectively; multimillion-dollar charges for vague “consultancy” services; and repeated payments of large sums in “compensation” for allegedly cancelled share deals. In 2011 a Roldugin company buys the rights to a $200m loan for $1. “This is not business, this is creating the appearance of business in order to continually move and hide assets,” Andrew Mitchell QC, a leading authority on money-laundering, told BBC Panorama.



Speculation over the size of Putin’s personal fortune has gone on for almost a decade, following reports in 2007 that he was worth at least $40bn, based on leaks from inside his own presidential administration.

In 2010, US diplomatic cables suggested Putin held his wealth via proxies. The president formally owned nothing, they added, but was able to draw on the wealth of his friends, who now control practically all of Russia’s oil and gas production and industrial resources.

In 2014, after Russia seized Crimea, the White House imposed sanctions on leading members of Putin’s circle, including Kovalchuk, citing their close ties to “a senior official of the Russian Federation” – a euphemism for Putin himself. The Panama Papers reveal that the Putin group appeared to have become nervous for unclear reasons after October 2012. Sandalwood was closed down and its operations switched to another offshore entity registered in the BVI, called Ove Financial Corp.



One of the companies linked to Ove Financial Corp belonged to Mikhail Lesin, Putin’s media tsar and former press minister. Lesin founded the Kremlin’s propaganda TV channel Russia Today but later fell out of favour. He was mysteriously found dead last November in a Washington hotel room with blunt force injuries to the head.

The Putin circle’s use of offshore companies contrasts with the president’s call for “deoffshoreisation”, urging Russians to bring cash hidden abroad home. Others who make use of offshore companies include oil trader Gennady Timchenko, Putin’s friend of 30 years. The US imposed sanctions on him in 2014. Others in the data are Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, Putin’s childhood friends and former judo partners. They are now billionaire construction tycoons. The Arsenal FC shareholder Alisher Usmanov also appears. He has at least six companies registered in the Isle of Man.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) worked more than a year on its Panama Papers project, characterized by leaker Edward Snowden as “the biggest leak in the history of data journalism.” The ICIJ investigators cooperated with hundreds of news services to discover offshore assets of world leaders and others. ICIJ gathered more than 11 million documents on 214,488 offshore companies covering a forty year period. These leaked documents show how juridical firms and large banks the world over conceal the financial secrets of politicians, billionaires, narcotics traffickers and sports figures.

In addition to Putin’s inner circle, a number of other heads of state, such as from Iceland, Pakistan, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, and close relatives of the heads of state of Syria, and Azerbaijan. Included in this category is the deceased father of Britain’s David Cameron. A number of the offshore firms are on the U.S. Treasury’s blacklist and include companies from Iran and North Korea.



Unlike Crimea, Donbass, MH17, and Syria, Putin’s propaganda machine cannot use its shopworn U.S. –NATO conspiracy story. It cannot photoshop Ukrainian jets or publish false Google maps. As the Russian economy sinks deeper into something approaching depression, ordinary Russians should become interested and enraged by the soap-opera shenanigans of Putin and his inner circle.