On Monday, OCCRP published its latest investigation into Russia's offshore money schemes. Here's what happened next.
On March 4, Meduza published an investigative report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) about an offshore empire that belongs to Ruben Vardianian, the former director of the investment bank Troika Dialog. Based on the same research, other major news outlets including The Guardian and Suddeutsche Zeitung published similar reports on Monday. The next day, across Europe, figures and institutions named in OCCRP’s materials found themselves under scrutiny. Meduza summarizes the immediate fallout from the “Troika Laundromat” investigation.
“It is estimated that $4.6 billion was sent to Europe and the U.S. from a Russian-operated network of 70 offshore companies with accounts in Lithuania,” says The Guardian, explaining how money from different sources (many of which were not directly tied to criminal enterprises) was funneled through Troika Dialog to various recipients.
Some of the money from this mixed pot of riches found its way to nonprofits operated by Prince Charles. Between 2009 and 2011, for example, the British Virgin Islands shell company Quantus transferred more than $200,000 to the Lithuanian bank account of the Prince’s Charities Foundation. According to the BBC, the money was donated for the restoration of a historical estate in southern Scotland.
The Austrian bank
OCCRP’s investigation identifies dozens of offshore ownership structures created by Troika Dialog. According to banking records, these enterprises funneled money from firms that are implicated in criminal cases involving billions of rubles allegedly laundered, cashed out, or otherwise unlawfully removed from Russia. According to OCCRP, some of the funds that passed through Troika Dialog’s offshore empire were the illegal tax refunds identified by Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergey Magnitsky, who died in jail in 2009 after police responded to his discovery by charging him with tax evasion.
In Austria, Hermitage Fund subsequently accused Raiffeisen Bank International’s predecessor of “ignoring suspicions” that should have led it to alert the authorities to money laundering, prompting a 15-percent decline in Raiffeisen’s stocks. According to Bloomberg, a probe by Austrian financial regulators in 2010 found no evidence that Raiffeisen was involved in money laundering, but Bill Browder says Hermitage Fund’s filing contains new information.
Much of the money that flowed through Troika Dialog’s offshore network reached influential figures in Russia, including several state corporation executives, governors’ relatives, and the cellist Sergey Roldulgin, one of Vladimir Putin’s close personal friends. Between 2007 and 2010, companies with ties to Roldugin received $69 million from Troika Dialog’s offshores.
On March 5, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that the allegations against Roldugin are a matter for financial regulators, not the president. “Financial agencies have all the necessary authority to evaluate the credibility or inaccuracy of such reports,” Peskov said.
The Russian bank
In 2011, Troika Dialog was sold to Sberbank, the biggest financial institution in Russia, half of which belongs to the Russian government. Sberbank’s securities are traded on the London Stock Exchange. After the publication of OCCRP’s latest research, Transparency International asked British regulators to review the conditions surrounding Sberbank’s absorption of Troika Dialog.
Spokespeople for Sberbank say the company has no connection to the information contained in the “Troika Laundromat” materials. “The facts stated in the article had no connection and have no connection to Sberbank,” a representative told the magazine RBC. “The mentioned transactions were carried out from the accounts of companies that never entered the scope of Sberbank’s acquisition of Troika Dialog. Sberbank institutions did not participate in those transactions.”
Translation by Kevin Rothrock