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Meet the Russians in the ‘Paradise Papers’

Meduza
Bay of Georgetown, the capital of the Cayman Islands
Bay of Georgetown, the capital of the Cayman Islands
Dennis Cox / Alamy / Vida Press

On November 5, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published its second major project on offshore companies. Titled “Paradise Papers: Secrets of the Global Elite,” the new report contains data pulled from state registries on dozens of exotic islands. Meduza summarizes what we learned about Russians from the ICIJ’s new work.

About the “Paradise Papers”

As with the “Panama Papers,” this new offshore data was received by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which refuses to reveal any details about its source. It’s also unknown when the documents were handed over, and how long the newspaper spent reviewing the information. In total, journalists were given access to 13.4 million documents from two companies: the Bermuda-based firm Appleby and the Singapore-based company Asiacity Trust. The archives go back more than 65 years, with records as old as 1950 and nothing newer than 2016. In addition to these companies’ internal information, the Paradise Papers also contain corporate registry data from 19 different states.

The Paradise Papers involved the work of 381 journalists from 96 different publications in 67 different countries. It’s still unknown if the archive itself will be made available to the public, as the Panama Papers were.

Data about Russians

A year ago, Russian companies and Russian individuals played a starring role in the Panama Papers. Of all the countries mentioned in the ICIJ’s new report, however, Russia doesn’t even make the top ten. According to the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which contributed to the Paradise Papers, this is because Appleby has relatively stricter procedures for verifying the origin of its clients’ money. Several prominent Russians nevertheless do appear in the new archive.

Marina Sechina, the ex-wife of Rosneft head Igor Sechin. Before the divorce in 2011, according to her husband’s assets declaration, Marina Sechina had almost no income. But then she acquired shares in several Russian companies, and in 2012 her name was used in the Cayman Islands to register the company “S Holdings Ltd,” which was needed to implement several development projects by Julius Meinl, the owner of an eponymous Austrian coffee chain. Marina Sechina’s company was supposed to become a “select investor” in a chain of offshore firms for implementing different projects in Russia. When Appleby found out that Sechina is a “politically significant person” in Russia, her firm in the Meinl corporate chain was replaced.

Roman Abramovich appears in Appleby’s documents in the context of inconsistent registration forms for the purchase of a stake in a Bermuda-based company called “Russia Forest Products.” In this paperwork, Abramovich denied that he’d ever been named in an official investigation, but open-source information confirms that he was a person named in a criminal case involving the theft of diesel fuel in 1992. When Bermuda officials blocked Abramovich’s purchase attempt, Appleby simply reattempted the deal in the British Virgin Islands, where the same answers on the registration forms raised no questions.

Alexey Ezubov, a State Duma deputy from the ruling political party United Russia, signed documents in 2013 as the director of an offshore company registered in Bermuda. At the time, he’d already served six years in the Duma, where it’s illegal for deputies to participate in the management of commercial enterprises. Violating these rules is grounds for being ejected from the parliament. The owner of the company in question is oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

Alisher Usmanov and Yuri Milner bought shares in Facebook and Twitter with the help of funds from state companies. Based on data from Appleby, when Usmanov headed Gazprom Investholding, he approved a $920-million loan to the company “Kanton Services,” which then invested in Milner’s foundation for the purchase of Facebook shares. It’s known that Usmanov and Milner acquired up to 10 percent of Facebook in 2009 and later sold their shares for roughly $1.6 billion. For an investment in Twitter, Milner relied on funds from the state-owned VTB Bank. Milner says he didn’t know about Gazprom’s involvement in the Facebook deal, and he denies the possibility that VTB has any leverage over Twitter as an investor.

In addition, Russian citizens often turned to Appleby to register private planes, to avoid paying taxes when importing them to the European Union. This little trick was employed by oligarchs like the Rotenberg brothers, Oleg Deripaska, and Oleg Tinkov. Also appearing in the Paradise Papers is Olga Shuvalova, the wife of Russia’s first deputy prime minister. The company Altitude X3 Ltd is registered in her name, and it owns a plane that’s been mentioned in an investigative report by Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Russian text by Mikhail Zelensky, translation by Kevin Rothrock