Palaces, yachts and vineyards reportedly made available to Vladimir Putin by friends and oligarchs can now be connected to what appears to be an informal network that holds more than $4.5bn (£3.7bn) in assets ) owns.
A digital paper trail appears to indicate that a number of vacation homes and other assets reportedly used by the Russian President, which available records say belong to or have belonged to various individuals, companies and charities, share a common email domain name with one another are connected , LLCInvest.ru.
A snapshot of the leaked email exchange last September further suggests that directors and administrators associated with some of the separate entities that hold and manage those assets discussed day-to-day business issues as if they were part of a single organization would be.
An anti-corruption expert in Russia, who asked not to be identified given the political situation in Moscow, said the findings raise questions about whether there is a degree of “joint management”.
“LLCInvest looks mostly like a cooperative or an association where its members can exchange benefits and property,” they suggested.
For nearly two decades, Putin has been accused of secretly amassing vast fortunes through proxies, fueled by a series of revelations in leaks such as the Pandora papers about the fortunes of those closest to him.
Sergey Kolesnikov, a businessman, claimed 10 years ago that he was behind a plan that allowed a group of Russia’s top oligarchs to pool billions of rubles into a sort of “investment fund” in favor of Putin, who was then serving as prime minister Minister. The claims were denied and Kolesnikov fled Russia.
Last month, the British government contrasted Putin’s “lavish lifestyle” with official Russian records, which listed “modest assets” including a small apartment in St. Petersburg, two 1950s Soviet-era cars, a caravan and a small garage.
After a year-long investigation, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Russian-language news site Meduza have identified 86 companies and nonprofits whose representatives appear to be using the shared LLCinvest domain name, often alongside corporate email accounts.
Claims to a secret presidential fortune are denied, and a chain of ownership leading to Putin has not been identified. A Kremlin spokesman said: “The President of the Russian Federation is in no way associated or affiliated with the objects and organizations you have mentioned.”
According to OCCRP and Meduza, assets associated with organizations or the corporate structures surrounding them where the LLCinvest.ru email domain appears to have been used include the following:
A £1 billion palace that Alexei Navalny claims was built for Putin’s personal use in Gelendzhik on the Black Sea. Billionaire oligarch Arkady Rotenberg, who is under EU and US sanctions, has claimed ownership of the property. Company records in the Spark database in Russia in June indicated that the property was owned by a company called Kompleks, whose parent company is Binom. The company director at Binom appears to have had a registered LLCInvest.ru email domain until July last year. LLCinvest.ru address is still listed as a contact in Spark, Russia’s largest database of companies.
Hectares of vineyards around the Gelendzhik Palace. Navalny has claimed the wineries are a Putin “hobby” that is out of control. Vineyards surrounding the palace are owned by a nonprofit founded by two Putin associates, Gennady Timchenko and Vladimir Kolbin, both of whom are also under Western sanctions. Kolbin and others associated with the vineyards appear to have LLCInvest.ru email accounts.
The ski resort of Igora in Leningrad Oblast, where the wedding of Putin’s daughter took place in 2013. According to land registers, it is owned by Ozon, a company in which Putin’s friend, chairman and largest shareholder of Bank Rossiya, Yuri Kovalchuk, who is subject to sanctions, had a large stake. The LLCInvest.ru email account is a contact in the Spark records of Ozon’s parent company, Relax. Ozone is in no way related to the Nasdaq-listed e-commerce giant of the same name.
A mansion north of St. Petersburg, known to locals as “Putin’s Dacha”. Villa Sellgren belonged to Oleg Rudnov, a childhood friend of Putin, and was inherited by his son Sergey Rudnov through a company called North. According to Spark’s records, Rudnov appears to be using LLCinvest.ru email addresses.
A wood-paneled building north of St. Petersburg known as the Fisherman’s Hut. Emails leaked by a construction company suggest that three different companies using the domain name owned different plots of land around the complex, while a fourth LLCInvest entity – a non-profit organization called Revival of Maritime Traditions – managed the construction. The same foundation, recently placed under Western sanctions, owns two yachts, Shellest and Nega, which the US Treasury Department says are linked to Putin.
The $4.5 billion in assets held by LLCInvest entities includes large cash deposits. Two charitable foundations co-founded by Timchenko and Kolbin that appear to be using the domain name, according to Spark company records, have significant funds.
The development of agricultural initiatives had 17 billion rubles (248 million pounds) in its deposit account at the end of 2020, while the development of an effective investment market held more than 20 billion rubles (292 million pounds) in long-term deposits and almost 5 billion rubles (73 million pounds) in short-term deposits at the end of 2020 according to publicly available accounts.
LLCinvest is not a standard publicly available email provider like Yahoo, but a domain on a server of Moskomsvyaz, a telecommunications company that has close ties to Bank Rossiya. St. Petersburg Bank is under Western sanctions and is described by the US Treasury Department as “the private bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation”.
Rossiya has also been dubbed “Putin’s bank” for allegedly carrying out the Russian leader’s orders. The Kremlin has denied any such links or influence.
The discovery of the common email domain was made by analyzing leaked metadata from Moskomsvyaz servers, which apparently shows the names of senders and recipients of LLCinvest.ru emails, the subject and time of correspondence. This has been cross-checked with open-source records and a separate leak of the content of some full messages.
Moskomsvyaz and all but one of the people who appear to have used LLCInvest.ru email addresses did not respond to requests for comment. The purpose of the shared e-mail service or the motivation for the apparent cooperation on personnel and logistical issues is unclear.
There is no indication that all LLCInvest.ru users are involved in the management of assets linked in reports to Putin. Only one man, using an LLCinvest.ru email account in his role as director of several companies, was speaking on the phone when called. He claimed not to know the nature of his work.
“I’m a humble employee and mind my own business,” he said when questioned. “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.”
“If my company was part of a big holding company, I wouldn’t know that,” he added. The man’s identity is being kept secret for his own safety.