Leaked documents have uncovered a multi-million pound trace connection Oligarch Roman Abramovich to two men described as Vladimir Putin’s “purses”.a BBC investigation has claimed.
The former Chelsea FC owner, 55, has been sanctioned by the UK and EU but has previously denied any financial relationship with the Russian president.
The BBC investigation claims to have found leaked documents from Cyprus that reveal new evidence linking the Russian oligarch to a secret £26 million ($40 million) deal in 2010.
The alleged undercover deal involved transferring shares in Video International, a highly profitable Russian advertising company, for less than what they appeared to be worth.
The transactions were allegedly carried out by companies ultimately owned by a trust linked to Mr. Abramovich to two members of Putin’s inner circle, who in return received millions of dollars in dividends.
A complex web of companies in Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands – as well as a trust – allegedly concealed the football tycoon’s involvement in the transaction, the BBC investigation says.
Leaked documents reveal the former Chelsea boss’s relationship with two companies that together acquired a 25% stake in Video International in 2003.
The two companies – Finoto Holdings and Grosora Holdings – were founded in early 2003.
Through a series of shell companies, they eventually came into possession of the Sara Trust Settlement – a trust whose ultimate beneficiary was Mr Abramovich, the BBC reports.
Each company bought a 12.5% stake in Video International in September 2003 for around £80,000 each.
These were then sold to Med Media Network and Namiral Trading.
Vladimir Milov, a former energy minister in Putin’s first term and now a vocal opposition leader, said the price paid was “ridiculous.”
“This stake was clearly worth orders of magnitude more,” he told the BBC.
Mr Abramovich did not respond to BBC requests for comment.
The oligarch, who has been accused of supplying steel for Russian tanks, has also downplayed his relationship with Putin.
He has denied claims of a close financial relationship or that he acted on behalf of the Russian president.
One of the men allegedly involved was Sergei Roldugin, a close friend of Putin, the investigation says.
Mr. Roldugin is a cellist and artistic director of the St. Petersburg Music House who has known Vladimir Putin since they were young men in St. Petersburg.
He reportedly introduced future president Lyudmila Shkrebneva, whom he married in 1983 and then divorced, according to the BBC.
Mr. Roldugin is the godfather of Putin’s first daughter, Maria.
Financial ties between President Putin and Mr. Roldugin were exposed in 2016 as part of the Panama Papers, in which millions of confidential documents from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca were leaked.
Mr. Roldugin The New York Times at the time that he was not a businessman and did not have “millions”. However, at least on paper, he appeared to have offshore assets worth over £61 million.
The second man involved in the secret deal and also a close confidant of Putin is said to be the biochemist and later businessman Alexander Plekhov, the investigation says.
Both Mr. Roldugin and Mr. Plekhov have been accused of being “wallets” of the Russian president because they allegedly secretly held money and assets in his name.
The investigation revealed that Med Media Network is a company nominally owned by Sergei Roldugin and that Namiral Trading Ltd is a company that was later linked to Aleksandr Plekhov.
But earlier this year, Swiss prosecutors claimed they were “stooges” and not the true owners of assets in bank accounts set up in connection with the Video International deal, the BBC reported.
The court did not identify anyone as the true ultimate beneficial owner of the accounts.
Mr Plekhov was sanctioned by the UK government, as was Mr Roldugin, who was also sanctioned by the EU and US.
The BBC investigation further reports that Putin’s reported salary in 2021 was just over £72,700, although his fortune is rumored to be worth somewhere between £102 billion and £164 billion.
The Russian president’s assets may be hidden in a network of shell companies and the accounts of friends, the investigation says.
BBC Newsnight, BBC Verify and Panorama worked with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to uncover the revelations as part of Cyprus Confidential – a global investigation led by reporters from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and Paper Trail Media.
The Cyprus Confidential investigation is based on 3.6 million confidential corporate documents from companies offering offshore services in the country.
It focused on Cyprus’ close financial ties to Russia and its now-sanctioned oligarchs, many of whom have used the island to manage their covert offshore holdings.
“Cyprus Confidential” contains documents from business services provider MeritServus, which also reportedly worked with Mr. Abramovich’s companies in Cyprus, according to the BBC.
The oligarch’s fortune is more than £7.3 billion and he has made numerous public investments in luxury real estate and sports, such as the purchase of Chelsea FC in 2003.