Roman Abramovich’s £26m deal with Putin’s ‘wallets’: Money trail links ex Chelsea FC owner to two oligarchs accused of secretly holding assets for the Russian leader
- The report, based on leaked documents, states that the $40million deal in 2010 is the ‘clearest paper trail yet’ linking Abramovich to Putin
Billionaire and former owner of Chelsea Football Club Roman Abramovich transferred a secret stake in a Russian media giant to two of Vladimir Putin’s close friends, according to leaked documents seen by investigative journalists.
The report, based on leaked documents, states that the $40million deal in 2010 (£26m at the time) is the ‘clearest paper trail yet’ linking Abramovich, 57, and the Russian president financially.
Close ties between the pair have long been reported. Abramovich is understood to be the one who recommended Putin to Boris Yeltsin as the man to succeed him, which he did in 1999. They are said to have been allies since.
But the Russian oligarch, who made much of his $9 billion fortune from formerly state-owned assets in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, has – through his London-based lawyers – long denied any financial relationship with Putin and his Kremlin regime in Moscow.
With the outbreak of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Abramovich was sanctioned by the EU, UK and the US. In response, he brought legal proceedings against the UK, claiming he was being targeted for his fame and not links to Moscow.
Now, however, the documents obtained as part of a global collaborative journalism project called Cyprus Confidential have cast doubts over Abramovich’s claim.
Billionaire and former owner of Chelsea Football Club Roman Abramovich (pictured in 2021) transferred a secret stake in a Russian media giant to two of Vladimir Putin ‘s close friends, according to leaked documents seen by a group of investigative journalists
According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) and BBC Newsnight, the leaked documents demonstrate a financial link between Abramovic and Putin through two of Putin’s close allies: Sergei Roldugin and Alexander Plekhov.
Roldugin is a cellist and the artistic director of the St Petersburg Music House. The pair knew each other as young men in St Petersburg, and Roldugin, 71, is said to have introduced Putin to his first wife, and is the godfather to their first daughter Maria.
The US treasury described Roldugin in 2022 as ‘Putin’s middleman’ who has acted as ‘part of a system that manages President Putin’s offshore wealth’.
Plekhov, also from St Petersburg, is another close associate of Putin’s.
He is a biochemist-turned-businessman who, according to the UK government, ‘has benefited from his relationship with Putin and his company Vital Development Corporation has benefited from significant state patronage.’
Both Roldugin and Plekhov have been accused of being ‘wallets’ for the Russian president (holding money and assets on his behalf), and both have been sanctioned by the UK government, as well as other western nations, since Putin’s invasion.
The investigators say the leaked documents show a paper trail spanning seven years that connects Abramovich to these two men.
They allege a secret deal in which shares of a highly profitable Russian advertising company – Video International – were transferred for less than they were worth.
These shares were moved through a complex web of offshore payments involving Video International and four companies in Cyprus, beginning in 2003.
That year (the same year in which Abramovich bought Chelsea FC), the oligarch purchased a 25 percent stake in Video International for around $260,000.
The sum has been called ‘ridiculous’ by Vladimir Milov, a former Russian minister-turned opposition and critic of Vladimir Putin, who spoke to the investigators.
At the time, press reports said Video International held a near-monopoly over advertising on Russian TV, and at one point was said to have a turnover of $2billion.
‘That stake was clearly worth much more by many orders of magnitude,’ Milov said, according to the BIJ and BBC.
Close ties between Putin and Abramovich (seen together in 2016) have been long been reported. Abramovich is understood to be the man who recommended to Boris Yeltsin that Putin succeed him as president, which he did in 1999, and are said to have been allies since
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) and the BBC, the leaked documents demonstrate a financial link between Abramovic and Putin through two of Putin’s close allies: Sergei Roldugin (pictured in 2016) and Alexander Plekhov
Sergei Roldugin (seen in 2016) is a cellist and the artistic director of the St Petersburg Music House. The pair knew each other as young men in St Petersburg, and Roldugin, 71, is said to have introduced Putin to his first wife, and is the godfather to their first daughter Maria
Abramovich made the purchase of the 25 percent stake through two Cypriot companies called Grosora Holdings Ltd and Finoto Holdings Ltd., the investigators say in their report, which makes the following claims.
READ MORE: Chelsea faces more questions after leaked documents reveal ‘a string of payments during Abramovich’s tenure that may have breached rules’
The two companies were owned by an entity called the Sara Trust, which the BIJ says Abramovich was ultimately the beneficiary of.
In the year that followed the purchase, Grosora and Finoto are reported to have earned nearly $2million in dividends, and by 2010 – seven years after the purchase – the report says they had raked in more than $30m in dividend payments.
Then in 2010, Grosora and Finoto sold their shares in Video International for a total of $40million to two other entities – on the same day.
The entities the shares were sold to were another pair of Cypriot companies called Med Media Network Ltd and Namiral Trading.
Med Media Network was at the time owned by Roldugin, while Namiral Trading is linked in court documents to Plekhov, the BIJ reports.
The investigative body says that the 2010 sale took place shortly after a wider takeover of Video International by other entities linked to Rossiya Bank.
The private investment bank, which is owned by several oligarchs with strong ties to the Putin regime, was sanctioned by the US government in 2014. The US branded it a ‘crony bank’ chaired by Putin’s ‘personal banker.’
Roldugin and Plekhov were branded ‘strawmen’ for the bank by a Swiss court.
The BIJ investigation states that ‘although the $30m in dividends and $40m sale was a huge return on Abramovich’s initial investment, the sale price again appears low’ on account of Video International’s reportedly ‘vast’ turnover.
Eclipse, a superyacht linked to Roman Abramovich, is seen docked in Marmaris, Turkey March 22, 2022. He was sanctioned by several western governments in March 2022
Court records and financial accounts demonstrate Roldugin and Plekhov made millions of dollars in dividends from their stakes in Video International after the deal, according to the BIJ investigators.
Milov told the Bureau that the revelations reported in the joint investigation demonstrate ‘very significant’ evidence to suggest a link between Abramovich and Putin, one which was meant to be concealed by the complex web of payments.
He believes the attempt to hide the payments was deliberate because the Russian President ‘needed such people on the international stage who nominally have no connection with him on the surface, but are also very loyal,’ he told the BIJ.
Such people, he said, could help in advancing Putin’s international interests.
What’s more, he says that a link between Abramovich and Putin is likely due to the fact that the oligarch’s businesses would never ‘have been allowed to operate and earn rich profits without being greenlit from Putin’s administration.’
Following the report’s release, Alicia Kearns MP, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, said: ‘For a long time, Abramovich tried to claim that there was no link between him and the Russian regime or particularly President Putin.’
‘But that confirmation is really important because it’s almost like peeling back layers of an onion … [This] gives us the clearest indicator we have yet that everything the government has done is absolutely legally sound, that there is a link,’ she added.
MailOnline has reached out to representatives of Mr Abramovic for comment.
The UK government sanctioned Abramovich on March 10, 2022 over his alleged ties to Putin. His assets were frozen, a travel ban was imposed, and he was forced in to selling Chelsea FC
The leaked documents were obtained as part of a wider investigation christened Cyprus Confidential – an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and 68 other media partners.
In its own words, it is working to expose the ‘sprawling financial industry that has powered the Putin regime.’
In its investigations, it has found that many wealthy Russians use Cyprus as part of a vast network of offshore investments, despite it being an EU member state.
Through these economic relations, Fergus Shiel of the ICIJ told the BBC that Russia is ‘worth tens of billions of dollars to the Cyprus economy each year’.
A long-standing treaty between Russia and Cyprus – which guaranteed a favourable tax regime for Russian companies in the country – was cancelled in August 2023.
As for Abramovich, the UK government sanctioned him on March 10, 2022 over his alleged ties to Putin. His assets were frozen, a travel ban was imposed, and he was forced in to selling Chelsea FC.
Britain said the companies he controls could be producing steel that was being used in tanks deployed by Russia on the battlefield in Ukraine.
On March 3 and 4 2022, Abramovic took part in peace talk on the Ukraine-Belarus border, where he, a Ukrainian politician and another negotiator fell ill. He was later seen in turkey (pictured) during another stage of talks on March 29
Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich is seen in a VIP lounge at Ben Gurion international airport in Israel during the early stages of the war in Ukraine, after he was sanctioned
The leaked documents were obtained as part of a wider investigation christened Cyprus Confidential – an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and 68 other media partners. In its own words, it is working to expose the ‘sprawling financial industry that has powered the Putin regime’
Several other countries – including Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand – as well as the European Union followed Britain in imposing sanctions on him.
Recent reports suggest that he now spends his time between the Russias resort of Sochi, Tel Aviv in Israel and Istanbul in Turkey. In addition to his Russian passport, he also has Israeli and Portuguese passports.
On March 3 and 4 2022, Abramovic took part in peace talk on the Ukraine-Belarus border, where he, a Ukrainian politician and another negotiator fell ill.
The symptoms were consistent with a likely poisoning with a low dosage, likely to serve as a warning. The source of the poisoning has never been confirmed.
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