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Mysterious Group of Companies Tied to Bank Rossiya Unites Billions of Dollars in Assets Connected to Vladimir Putin

Mysterious Group of Companies Tied to Bank Rossiya Unites Billions of Dollars in Assets Connected to Vladimir Putin

An email domain not visible to the public — LLCInvest.ru — helped reporters uncover a group of interconnected companies that hold palaces, resorts, yachts, jets, and bank accounts full of cash.

Key Findings

  • Reporters found dozens of interconnected companies and nonprofits that are tied to Bank Rossiya and use the LLCInvest.ru domain.
  • They hold assets worth at least $4.5 billion. Many of these, including an enormous palace on the Black Sea, have been connected to Putin in previous reporting. But they have not been known to be connected to each other.
  • Though the companies operate in very different spheres, leaked emails show their employees discussing common business, as if they were part of a single system.
  • These companies have a variety of owners, including wealthy bankers and oligarchs — but also the children of Putin’s friends and even his alleged mistress.
  • “[The group] looks most of all like a cooperative, or an association, in which its members can exchange benefits and property,” an expert on corruption in Russia says.

Journalists have struggled for years to establish what Vladimir Putin owns.

The Russian president, who cultivates a public image of abstemious patriotism, has been linked to a number of luxurious properties, including a vast palace on the Black Sea, acres of surrounding vineyards, a ski resort, and a villa north of St. Petersburg.

But tying the ownership of these assets directly to Putin through a paper trail has always been impossible. Instead, his friends have often stepped forward to claim them as their own.

The Black Sea palace has been claimed by an old friend and former judo sparring partner of Putin’s, Arkady Rotenberg. The surrounding vineyards are split between two other Putin associates: the son of one of his childhood friends and a well-known oligarch, Gennady Timchenko. The villa north of St. Petersburg belongs to Sergei Rudnov, the son of another old friend who died in 2015.

But all these assets, seemingly held by many different people, have something in common: They are owned through companies and nonprofits that are connected to each other by an underlying technical infrastructure visible through an email domain: LLCInvest.ru.

Every major asset that has been publicly attributed to Putin shares this connection.

The “LLCInvest” companies also hold dozens of other valuable properties and businesses. Some are associated with
Bank Rossiya
, a lender widely known as “Putin’s bank,” while others ultimately belong to members of his inner circle.

Reporters first noticed LLCInvest.ru after a 2017 investigation in the weekly Russian newspaper Sobesednik pointed out that it was used by a network of nonprofits founded by Putin’s friends. Following this clue, OCCRP and Meduza found dozens of other companies and nonprofits whose staff and owners use email addresses on this domain, and which appear to be interconnected.

The LLCInvest.ru domain turns out to be hosted by an IT company called Moskomsvyaz that is closely linked to Bank Rossiya. A large cache of Moskomsvyaz email metadata was leaked to reporters by a source last year, revealing that the managers, owners, and employees of these outwardly unrelated LLCInvest companies frequently communicated among themselves in ways you would only expect from people working together.

For example, Rudnov, the son of Putin’s old friend, is the owner of a company called Volna that uses the LLCInvest.ru domain. Leaked emails show the co-founder of a completely different LLCInvest company discussing Volna’s financials with another man using an LLCInvest.ru address. Neither of them have any public connection to Volna. (Rudnov did not respond to requests for comment.)

🔗More Leaked LLCInvest Discussions

“Coordination of passage of water conduit”

FROM: [email protected]
TO: [email protected], [email protected], Kondratieva Olesya Alexandrovna
SUBJECT: RE: KBG/1810-21 from 29.07.2021 “On coordination of passage of water conduit route” – reply from 23.08.21
DATE: 08.09.2021 12:16

A woman with the last name Kirshina, employed by an LLCInvest organization called Revival of Marine Traditions, sends an email that refers to the construction of plumbing infrastructure. Among the recipients are two people with llcinvest.ru addresses, including Alexander Samosyuk, the co-owner of an organization called Traditions of Russian Aviation. Other than the superficially similar names, the two organizations have no apparent connection — except for LLCInvest.

FROM: [email protected]
TO: [email protected]
SUBJECT: Expenses for corporation employees
DATE: 09.09.2021 17:35

An employee of Agrotriumph, an LLCInvest company that manages an agricultural enterprise, discusses employee expenses with an unknown person who uses an llcinvest.ru address.

FROM: [email protected]
TO: [email protected]
SUBJECT: For signature, additional agreements of Inkerman Winery with patent attorneys
DATE: 31.08.2021 12:59

An employee of Inkerman, a wine producer in Crimea, discusses patent agreements with a person who uses an llcinvest.ru address.

FROM: [email protected]
TO: [email protected]
SUBJECT: Bonus for A. M. Klimova
DATE: 09.09.2021 2:13

FROM: [email protected]
TO: Alekseeva A.A.; [email protected]; Bezgacheva Anna Evgenieva
SUBJECT: [Southern Citadel] Report on remainders on accounts 06.09.21
DATE: 05.09.2021 21:39
In these two emails, an employee of Yuzhnaya Tsitadel’ (“Southern Citadel”), an LLCInvest company that is registered as a mussel farm (but has never sold any mussels) discusses financial and HR issues with several people who use llcinvest.ru addresses.

A separate leak provides additional evidence that the LLCInvest companies work together.

Emails from a construction company that built a villa northwest of Saint Petersburg known locally as “Putin’s dacha” show that three different LLCInvest companies own different parcels of land around the complex, while a fourth LLCInvest entity — a nonprofit ostensibly dedicated to the “revival of marine traditions” — managed the construction.

“The only explanation I see is that these companies are united by a common management system,” said an expert on corruption in Russia who reviewed OCCRP’s findings. (He is not identified because engaging with OCCRP, deemed “undesirable” by Russian authorities, can now mean severe legal sanction, including jail time.)

Many owners of LLCInvest companies come from a group of friends and associates that coalesced around Putin when he was a senior St. Petersburg official in the 1990s, he noted.

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

In total, journalists were able to identify 86 companies and nonprofits that appear to be part of this loose network. Together, they hold assets worth at least $4.5 billion, including mansions, business jets, yachts, and bank accounts filled with cash. All of them are interconnected, sharing the same corporate directors, registration addresses, and service providers such as auditors and registrars.

A handful are owned directly by Bank Rossiya, while several dozen more belong to the bank’s board members or shareholders, including billionaire businessman Yuri Kovalchuk and Putin’s rumored mistress Svetlana Krivonogikh. About 18 of the companies seem to have no connection to the bank at first glance, but in fact belong to lower-level bank employees. Most of the others are owned by Putin’s friends and associates, like Rotenberg and Rudnov.

In an attempt to understand more about the LLCInvest setup, reporters emailed over 100 LLCInvest email addresses discovered during the course of this investigation, including company directors and shareholders. An email tracker showed that dozens were opened, and some sent automatic “out of office” replies, but not a single person responded to questions.

“I’m a humble employee and mind my own business. 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.”

– Director of multiple LLCInvest companies

Reporters also reached out by phone to five representatives of LLCInvest companies. Four hung up without providing comment. A man listed as director of four different companies confirmed he uses an LLCinvest.ru address assigned to him after he was hired, but said he didn’t know who owned the companies. “I’m a humble employee and mind my own business. I only sign papers,” he said. “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.”

Moskomsvyaz, the company that hosts the LLCInvest domain, did not respond to requests for comment. When a reporter called, posing as a potential client, to see if it was possible for anyone to use Moskomsvyaz’s IT services, she was directed to a technical support staffer who asked for further requests to be sent by email and said that the company’s “policy” was not to take on “private clients.” Repeated emails went unanswered.

Asked to respond to a detailed description of reporters’ findings, the Kremlin answered only: “The President of the Russian Federation is not linked or affiliated in any way with the assets and organizations you mentioned.”

Bank Rossiya did not respond to a request for comment.

Much is still unknown about the LLCInvest companies, including whether they represent a kind of informal holding structure or are simply sharing technical infrastructure. Even the full scope of the LLCInvest universe is unknown, with 86 companies and nonprofits representing a conservative estimate. But taken together, these findings offer an intriguing picture of how Bank Rossiya connects billions in assets, sourced from Putin’s inner circle, in a way that appears to benefit the president himself.

🔗The ‘LLCInvest’ Universe

Official email addresses from public records (24 companies)

Using public records, reporters found 24 companies that, between them, used 20 LLCInvest email addresses for business purposes.

Upon examining the technical infrastructure behind the LLCInvest.ru domain, reporters found another set of LLCInvest companies. The domain, located on the address 80.79.78.112, belongs to an IT company called Moskomsvyaz that is closely affiliated with Bank Rossiya, enjoying representation on its board.
Moskomsvyaz appears to be a kind of in-house provider of technology services for the Bank Rossiya universe. On examining the full range of IP addresses that includes LLCInvest.ru — between 80.79.78.0 and 80.79.78.255 — reporters found dozens of other email domains representing other companies. Of these, at least 19 had shareholders or directors with LLCInvest.ru mailboxes.

Many of the companies identified as belonging to the LLCInvest network have parent companies, subsidiaries, or both. All fully-owned subsidiaries, as well as any subsidiaries or parent companies that had their own independent links to the LLCInvest network — 34 in total — have been added to the list. In some cases their directors or shareholders used llcinvest.ru email addresses; in others their domain was also hosted by Moskomsvyaz.

Some of the people with llcinvest.ru email addresses are also connected to other companies, either as shareholders or directors. In 9 cases, which have also been added to the total, both the director and shareholder of a company used an llcinvest.ru address.

At least 14 other companies appear to be connected to LLCInvest — not through the LLCInvest.ru domain, but through Moskomsvyaz-hosted IT infrastructure, financial flows, or joint management of assets. These companies hold assets worth more than $12 billion, including large stakes in Russian national resource giants. Their assets are not included in the $4.5 billion total, but some are discussed below.

Villas, Yachts, and Cash

In northwestern Russia, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, lies a handsome brick mansion known as Villa Sellgren. Designed by a celebrated Finnish architect before the Russian revolution, it was used to film a beloved Soviet film about Sherlock Holmes.

In 2017, the house became famous for a second time. Citing sources within the local administration and local residents, the independent TV channel Dozhd reported that the villa had turned into a vacation destination for Putin. Dozhd also found that the villa was owned by Rudnov, the son of Putin’s old friend.

Rudnov uses an LLCInvest email address, and so does the director of the company he owns it through, called Sever. The property is managed by someone with no outward connection to Sever, a man named Pavel Zaitsev who also owns several other LLCInvest companies, leaked emails show.

And it’s not just Villa Sellgren. Almost every other property that previous journalistic investigations have associated with Putin, including the infamous Black Sea palace, is owned by a company in the LLCInvest universe. They include the Igora Ski Resort, where his daughter celebrated her wedding; multiple vacation homes allegedly used by Putin; and a house in a ritzy area near Moscow that once belonged to Putin’s daughter and her husband.

Made with Flourish

Companies in the network also own several luxurious yachts, two of which have been spotted traveling between different properties linked to Putin. A third is owned by his alleged mistress, Krivonogikh.

🔗The Yachts

This 46-meter, 1.5-billion-ruble ($23,145,000) yacht with five decks and 10 bedrooms was built in 2015 by Sanlorenzo, an Italian luxury shipbuilder. According to the vessel tracking site MarineTraffic, the Shellest often travels between Gelendzhik, the resort town near Putin’s Black Sea palace, and the port of Sochi. It is owned by a non-profit organization called Revival of Marine Traditions and has been identified by the U.S. Treasury as being linked to Putin.

A 32-meter, 364-million-ruble (about $10 million) yacht built by Princess Yachts, a luxury British manufacturer, in 2013. This is the same model as the Fotiniya, a yacht that, according to an investigation by Navalny, was used by former president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev. According to vessel tracking site MarineTraffic, the Nega sails in northern waters, taking to the rivers and seas near multiple residences owned by LLCInvest companies, including the “Fisherman’s Hut” on Lake Ladoga and Villa Sellgren on Vyborg Bay. A previous investigation by the Russian publication Poligon linked the Nega to Putin, and the U.S. Treasury targeted it as part of a broader sanctions package.

A 37-meter-long pleasure yacht, worth 287 million rubles (about $9 million), was built by the Italian company Euroyacht in 2009. It is owned by a company called Pulse, which belongs to Svetlana Krivonogikh, a minority shareholder of Bank Rossiya — and reportedly the mother of a daughter by Putin.

A 14-meter-long aluminum yacht costing 1.2 million euros. The vessel is actually a so-called “tender,” a type of boat that can be launched from a larger yacht so that passengers can get to port while leaving it at sea. It is unknown which larger yacht the Brizo 46 belongs to.

At least one of these vessels appears to be jointly managed by multiple LLCInvest companies.

A 14-meter-long aluminum yacht tender called the Brizo 46, was purchased by a company called Unison for 1.2 million euros in 2015. Unison’s sole shareholder and former director, Vladimir Avramenko, uses an LLCInvest.ru email address.

But leaked emails show that managers associated with an entirely different LLCInvest entity — a non-profit organization meant to promote “Russian aviation traditions” — organized the yacht’s import into Russia.

These managers, Larisa Isaeva and Alexander Samosyuk

Samosyuk is also the director of several other LLCInvest companies. In addition, he represented the formal owner of the Black Sea palace at its holding company’s board meetings.



, have no connection to Unison on paper, but they strategized together on how to lower the tax payments for the yacht when it was imported.

According to customs records, the yachts that belong to LLCInvest companies often spend the winter in a yacht storage facility near the Finnish city of Kotka, not far from St. Petersburg. This is the same facility where former president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev’s alleged yacht Fotinia was recently discovered by Finnish journalists.

And the facility, too, has a connection to Putin’s friends: Dmitry Gorelov, a former Bank Rossiya shareholder who allegedly helped finance the construction of Putin’s palace on the Black Sea, provided an interest-free loan to the company that owns it.

It’s not just yachts and vacation homes — the latest available records show LLCInvest entities holding over half a billion dollars’ worth of cash in their accounts, reporters found.

🔗LLCInvest Nonprofits and Vast Cash Holdings

There are a handful of non-profit organizations using the LLCInvest domain, dedicated to causes including “revival of marine traditions,” “development of agricultural initiatives,” and “development of Russian aviation traditions.” But none appear to spend more than a nominal amount of money on projects in these fields, and reporters found no public record of their work. Their financial reports show they largely spent money on their own administrative costs — even as several of them have held huge amounts of cash:

  • Development of Agrarian Initiatives, a non-profit co-founded by multi-billionaire Gennady Timchenko and Vladimir Kolbin, the son of a childhood friend of Putin, had 17 billion rubles ($222 million) in its deposit accounts at the end of 2020. This is equivalent to half the annual budget of Kazan, one of Russia’s largest cities. Neither Timchenko nor Kolbin responded to requests for comment.
  • Another non-profit founded by Timchenko and Kolbin, which goes by the unwieldy name Development of an Effective Investment Market, held over 20 billion rubles ($262 million) in long-term deposits and almost 5 billion rubles ($65 million) in short-term deposits at the end of 2020.
  • Although not a non-profit, another LLCInvest organization, Venture Investment Company, co-owned by Bank Rossiya and a Bank Rossiya manager, also fits the pattern of having a seemingly inexplicable amount of cash on its books. It took a 7.8 billion ruble ($102 million) loan from an unknown source and put the money into its deposit accounts. The interest the company pays on its loan is less than the interest it earns on its deposits. This is the only “venture capital investment” the company undertakes.

‘Flight Area — Entire World’

The LLCInvest companies are mostly private firms that maintain a minimal public presence. Russair is an exception. Although it uses the same technical infrastructure as the others, it also has a working website that advertises a range of aircraft-related services.

Describing itself as a “dynamically developing carrier,” Russair claims to offer charter flights that it can organize anytime, day or night. “Flight area: Entire world!” the website proclaims.

Screenshot of Russair's website

Russair’s website touts round-the-clock charter flight services, but a reporter who tried to book a flight never received an answer.

But when an OCCRP reporter called the company to book a charter flight, the woman who answered did not seem eager to seal the deal. She refused to answer questions about Russair’s services and asked for an inquiry to be sent by email. It never received a response.

In fact, records maintained by Russia’s civil aviation agency show that Russair would have trouble carrying customers. It has no airplanes, and just two helicopters, registered for commercial transport. Another four helicopters and two Falcon 7X business jets are registered for its own use, but can’t carry commercial clients.

A number of clues suggest that Russair may be tied to Putin.

According to flight tracking site FlightRadar, the company’s planes fly routes between St. Petersburg, Crimea, and the Black Sea resort town of Gelendzhik. These areas host some of the most significant Putin-connected assets held by LLCInvest companies.

The most expensive aircraft in Russair’s fleet, valued at 3 billion rubles (almost $40 million), is a newer Falcon 7X that flies under the tail number RA-09009. The same number was once used by a different Falcon 7X that once belonged to the presidential administration.

Using data from FlightRadar, OCCRP was able to corroborate the claims of several industry sources that Russair carries high-profile passengers protected by the Federal Security Service: On several occasions, some as recently as last July, its Falcon 7X flew under the flight number RSD09009.

According to the international system of airline codes, the letters RSD refer to the Special Flight Detachment, a state airline that carries the president and other top officials. According to industry sources, this designation indicates that the flight carried specially protected passengers. Only Putin and seven other top officials are entitled to such protection, though the president can choose to grant it to others at his discretion.

Given these findings, it’s noteworthy that a Russian blogger previously tied the plane to Alina Kabaeva, an Olympic champion in rhythmic gymnastics who is reportedly Putin’s mistress. The author provided no documentary evidence that she was on board, but pointed to public sources showing that the aircraft was present in cities she is known to have visited.

Despite coordinating all these flights, Russair’s accounting records show that it does not actually own any of the aircraft it operates. Instead, they are all leased from an insurance company called Sogaz, which was owned by state gas giant Gazprom until it was sold in 2004 as part of a restructuring.

To the surprise of many market players, it was acquired by structures affiliated with Bank Rossiya, which was little known at the time.

From Ski Resorts to Southern Shores

Though LLCInvest companies own palaces, residences, and yachts that appear to be private assets, many of them seem to function more like investment vehicles, maintaining large stakes in functioning businesses.

Some of these enterprises have long been known to be linked to Bank Rossiya. Others belong to a seemingly disparate group of owners who, until now, had no obvious connection to the bank or to each other.

🔗Business Interests Held by LLCInvest Companies

Since the mid-2000s, Bank Rossiya has become a business empire, with investments in media, telecommunications, real estate, and tourism along with more traditional financial interests.
Some of these investments — including the Igora Ski Resort, the Leningrad Center performing arts venue, and a boutique hotel chain called Tochka Na Karte — are advertised by Bank Rossiya as being part of the “Bank Rossiya Group.”
Other assets sometimes mentioned by bank officials as being part of Bank Rossiya Group include a major stake in the insurance company Sogaz, which in turn, owns a big stake in major Russian media companies including National Media Group and Channel One.
In fact, none of these assets belong to Bank Rossiya directly. Instead they are owned personally by the bank’s shareholders and senior managers, who exercise their ownership through long chains of LLCInvest companies and nonprofits.

The LLCinvest universe also includes investments actually owned by Bank Rossiya. In 2014, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the bank began investing in businesses there that had been taken over by the Russian government, including two of the peninsula’s largest wineries and an unfinished Soviet seaside hotel. Since it was already sanctioned by the United States, it was one of the few investors able to do so without facing serious penalties. The bank bought the wineries and hotel through a company called Yuzhny Proekt (“Southern Project”) — which, it turns out, is an LLCInvest company.

Inkerman, a prominent winery in Crimea’s largest city, Sevastopol, has been operating since the 1960s. Despite the Russian occupation, it continued to be owned by a Swedish company until 2019.
When its owners finally decided to sell, the buyer was an unknown company called Optima.
Behind Optima is Valery Zakharyin, a retired Soviet army colonel. Though he had been engaged in winemaking in Crimea since the 2000s, his new acquisition had a turnover ten times larger than all of his other enterprises combined.
As it turns out, Optima had always been an LLCInvest company: Its domain name, optima-ao.ru, is registered with the Bank Rossiya-affiliated IT company Moskomsvyaz, and its director, Anastasia Yuldasheva, has an llcinvest.ru email address. A year after Zakharyin’s acquisition it emerged that his plant is managed by the same company — which is within the LLCInvest network — that manages Bank Rossiya’s other wineries.

Agronova grows organic beets, radishes, barley, garlic, and other produce in Labinsk, a town in southern Russia not far from Sochi. The company belongs to Taimuraz Bolloev, a businessman known for heading the company that built the Olympic infrastructure in Sochi and for being the former CEO of the Baltika brewery. He has known Putin since his early career in St Petersburg, and he said in an interview that Putin was helpful in the establishment of his business.
Agronova is tied to LLCInvest in several ways: Its official email domain, @agro-nova.com, is hosted by the Bank Rossiya-affiliated IT company Moskomsvyaz. It also uses the services of TsUR, a registrar connected to Bank Rossiya, and is frequently mentioned in emails sent and received by users of the LLCInvest.ru domain.
Agronova also appears to be co-managed by Agrotriumf, an LLCInvest company that is co-owned by Bank Rossiya and its managers.

Another LLCInvest asset is a resort in Gelendzhik, not far from Putin’s palace, called Golubaya Volna. The resort once belonged to the world’s largest diamond company, Alrosa, but was sold to an undisclosed buyer in 2019.
The leaked Moskomsvyaz email archive shows its reconstruction being actively discussed by employees of “Revival of Marine Traditions,” a nonprofit that is part of the LLCInvest holding. The resort’s new owners also changed their company’s registrar to TsUR, a company associated with Bank Rossiya.

One of the most striking investments is held by an LLCInvest company called Altituda.

In 2019 Altituda was given a 51-percent share of a company called Rusgazdobycha with assets worth 25 billion rubles ($380 million).

The valuable stake appears to have been transferred by Putin’s old friend Arkady Rotenberg, who had previously held Rusgazdobycha through opaque corporate structures based in Russia and Cyprus. The other 49-percent stake was moved into two private equity funds whose owners are unknown. It’s unclear why Rotenberg might have done this, especially considering that he uses his own management structures for his other assets.

Аnother close ally of Putin, Gennady Timchenko, also moved valuable investments into two obscure companies with a shared director who appears to have ties to the LLCInvest universe.

In 2017, Timchenko transferred his 17-percent share in petrochemical giant Sibur to a company associated with LLCInvest called Delta. The following year, he transferred 19 percent of Russian natural gas producer Novatek to another associated company, Ena-Invest.

While the precise value of these stakes is difficult to calculate, Sibur and Novatek are two of the biggest companies in Russia.

As a result, Delta and Ena-Invest have assets worth a staggering 881 billion rubles (almost $12 billion) according to their latest available financial reports — more than twice as much as all other assets held by the LLCInvest companies combined. However, Delta and Ena-Invest are not as clearly associated with the group, so reporters did not include this figure in the total asset count.

Neither Rotenberg nor Timchenko responded to requests for comment.

🔗LLCInvest Connections

Reporters did not count Delta or Ena-Invest as LLCInvest companies because reporters did not find their directors using LLCInvest.ru addresses. However, they do have visible connections to LLCInvest companies.

Both are headed by Leonty Ivanov, who previously managed the construction of a convention center in St. Petersburg next to Putin’s official residence in the city. According to media reports, the convention center was financed by Bank Rossiya.

Journalists were unable to find an LLCIinvest.ru email address used by Ivanov, but leaked email records show him using an email address associated with an LLCInvest company called Malakhit.

The records show that he communicates with people who do use the LLCInvest.ru domain, and that he is involved in LLCInvest business projects. For example, he received regular emails about the Igora Hotel and a boutique hotel chain owned by an LLCInvest company. Both assets are part of Bank Rossiya Group and are held by LLCInvest structures.

Old Patterns and New Red Flags

In some ways, LLCInvest looks like a more secretive and less formal version of a vision described 10 years ago by Sergey Kolesnikov, a businessman who fled Russia after he blew the whistle — on himself.

In an explosive open letter, he outlined a corrupt scheme he had devised that allowed a group of Russia’s top oligarchs to pool billions of rubles into a kind of “investment fund” for the benefit of Putin, who was then serving as prime minister.

The money, Kolesnikov said, had been siphoned out of a charitable project to buy medical equipment for Russian hospitals. It was then channeled into a company called Rosinvest that was supposed to invest it in Russian businesses under Putin’s supervision.

But Putin soon instructed the group to cancel the business projects and direct the money to the construction of a luxurious palace on the Black Sea, evidently for his use. A frustrated Kolesnikov fled Russia and told all.

Rosinvest was dissolved after Kolesnikov’s revelations, and since then little more has been heard about how Putin and his friends structure their assets.

The anti-corruption expert who spoke with reporters said that the LLCInvest set-up had some key similarities to Rosinvest, but was less centralized — so not as vulnerable to another whistleblower.

“It reduces the chance of a ‘new Kolesnikov’ revealing it, since there is no front office, no uniting point for all these businesses,” he said.

This is borne out by the LLCInvest company director interviewed by OCCRP. He said he was not aware — or even interested — in what LLCInvest meant, or whether there were other companies linked to his.

“If my company was part of a big holding, I wouldn’t know,” he said.

“It reduces the chance of a ‘new Kolesnikov’ revealing it, since there is no front office, no uniting point for all these businesses.”

– Expert on corruption in Russia

Another expert, a Russian financial consultant, said that even setting aside the question of who ultimately owns the assets held by the LLCInvest companies, it might be unlawful to obscure Bank Rossiya’s connection to many of them.

Registering assets under low-profile employees or other proxies are techniques Russian banks have used to get around restrictions on giving loans to affiliated parties, he explained.

“Dozens of banks who have had problems with the Central Bank have been punished for such practices, with their licenses revoked by the Central Bank,” he said.

In the case of Bank Rossiya, hiding the true owners of its assets may be serving the interests of some of the country’s most powerful people.

Reporters spoke with a former U.S. Treasury official who worked for OFAC, the office that enforces financial sanctions. After reviewing their findings, he described the LLCInvest setup as “extremely suspicious.”

“It’s hard to come up with an innocent explanation for the things you’ve described,” he said. “Given that Bank Rossiya is publicly said to be where Putin and his cronies hold their assets, this raises a lot of legal questions.

He noted that many oligarchs connected to LLCInvest companies, as well as Bank Rossiya itself, had been sanctioned by the U.S. and EU.

“I wouldn’t speculate about who the end beneficiary owner is, but there are clear indicators of a sanctions evasion scheme,” he said.

The Russian corruption expert added that the opacity of some of the LLCInvest holdings alone should be cause for greater scrutiny. To fight money laundering, banks are supposed to know the true beneficiary of the assets they deal with.

“[Such] opaque ways of holding assets, connected to politically influential people, indicate a heightened risk of corruption and money laundering,” he said. “Establishing the real beneficiary owner [of an asset] is a key part of anti-money-laundering practices.”

Research on this story was provided by OCCRP ID.

Fact-checking was provided by the OCCRP Fact-Checking Desk.

Source: OCCRP.

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