Sanctioned Russian oligarch used shell companies to move hundreds of millions of dollars, papers allege

Tycoon is believed to be the 130th richest person globally with a net worth of $14.3bn (£11bn)

Tom Batchelor
Tuesday 12 April 2022 09:52 BST
Russian sanctions 'will bite' but take time to 'feed through the financial system', says minister

A sanctioned Russian oligarch with links to Vladimir Putin has been able to secretly transfer hundreds of millions of dollars between shell companies, leaked documents allegedly show.

Suleiman Kerimov and his business associates are reported to have links to several opaque companies based around the world - including in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands - behind the transfer of $700 million (£538 million), according to an investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ),

Mr Kerimov is believed to be the 130th richest person in the world, worth $14.3 billion, with a custom-built Boeing 737 and super-yacht said to be in his private collection.

Leaked documents from the Pandora Papers Russia project, which aims to shed light on covert transactions linked to Russian oligarchs and those close to Mr Putin following the war in Ukraine, were shared with the ICIJ, the BBC, NBC and others.

The papers allegedly reveal how Mr Kerimov and his associates have obscured their wealth, including $300m in wire transfers from a holding company registered under the name of a Swiss tattoo artist to companies linked to the billionaire and his family.

NBC said the documents showed that bank officials had raised concerns about hundreds of millions of dollars in wire transfers between companies, and by cross-referencing the business names with previously leaked documents, the news outlet was able to link some of those involved in the flagged transactions with Mr Kerimov or his business associates.

The documents also reportedly show that a Swiss accountant was listed as the owner of expensive properties in London and France that were owned by Mr Kerimov instead.

Russian billionaire Suleiman Kerimov shown here in April 2021

The transfer of money detailed in the reports date back as far as 2010, and cast doubt on the ability of western governments to sanction Russia’s richest citizens with links to the Kremlin, experts said.

Tom Keatinge, director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies at The Royal United Services Institute - a think tank - told the BBC: "That just shows you how big a challenge we are going to have in genuinely enforcing the sanctions against oligarchs - beyond just seizing their yachts and houses in Belgravia."

In February this year, as Russian forces launched their war, the 56-year-old oligarch appeared alongside Mr Putin. Mr Kerimov was then sanctioned by the UK and EU.

Mr Kerimov, whose wealth is drawn from big stakes in Russian banks purchased after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was sanctioned in 2018 by US authorities for “being an official of the government of the Russian Federation”.

The previous year, he was detained in France and held for two days, having allegedly brought hundreds of millions of euros into France without reporting the money to French tax authorities, including “20 million euros at a time in suitcases”.

Local residents stand atop of a Russian tank damaged during fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces in the outskirts of Kyiv

The US Treasury said Mr Kerimov was accused of laundering the funds through the purchase of villas, and was also accused of failing to pay 400 million euros in taxes related to villas.

Mr Kerimov strongly denied any wrongdoing at the time. A lawyer for the tycoon told NBC: “After several years of investigation, no incrimination has been brought against our client.”

The Independent attempted to reach Mr Kerimov for comment but had not heard back at the time of publication.

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