Tyler Kustra, an expert on corruption at Nottingham University, has stated that Sergei Roldugin, the cellist who looks after Putin’s fortune, is one of the very few people whom Putin truly trusts.
A Swiss court this week convicted four Russian bankers for allowing Sergei Roldugin to deposit tens of millions of euros in bank accounts – colossal sums for a man who is, officially, a professional cellist. But it has long been suspected that Roldugin is tasked with looking after the enormous wealth of his close friend, President Vladimir Putin.
On the face of it, the court case looks rather tame for this era: a Zurich court found four Russian bankers guilty on March 30 of failing to carry out the necessary checks on the origin of deposits into two bank accounts by Russian cellist Sergei Roldugin in 2014 and 2016.
The sentences imposed were light: no jail time and fines that only come into effect if the bankers break the law again over the next two years.
However, the Roldugin case was ultimately about a much bigger question: whether Switzerland deserves its reputation as a “sanctuary for the Russian elite’s dirty money”, as German paper Suddeutsche Zeitung put it.
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‘One of very few people Putin trusts’
Roldugin – who deposited more than €45 million in the two accounts – has long been referred to as “Putin’s cellist” or even “Putin’s best friend”.
“Roldugin’s closeness to Putin was just a kind of anecdote until 2016,” said Stephen Hall, an expert on Russian politics at Bath University. But that year the Panama Papers’ revelations about the vast tax evasion engineered by Panama-based law firms showed just how significant a figure Roldugin is. At that moment it became clear that Roldugin is a key figure in the operation to hide Putin’s fortune.
“Roldugin has quite a particular role because he’s one of very few people Putin really trusts,” said Tyler Kustra, an expert on corruption at Nottingham University.
This trust stems from a relationship fostered more than four decades ago, with what Roldugin himself called an “episode bordering on illegality” in an interview with a local Russian paper in Tatarstan province.
The current deputy chairman of the security council, Dmitry Medvedev, stated that the Kremlin will attack any country that tries to arrest Putin.
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