© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with artistic director of St. Petersburg House of Music Sergei Roldugin after awarding him during a ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ivan Sekretarev/Pool/F
By John Revill and Oliver Hirt
ZURICH (Reuters) – Four bankers who helped a close friend of Vladimir Putin move millions of francs through Swiss bank accounts have been convicted of failing to perform due diligence in financial transactions.
The four were found guilty on Thursday of helping Sergey Roldugin, a concert cellist who has been dubbed “Putin’s wallet” by the Swiss government.
The executives – three Russians and one Swiss – helped Roldugin, who is godfather to Putin’s eldest daughter Maria, deposit millions of francs in Swiss bank accounts between 2014 and 2016.
The men, who cannot be identified under Swiss reporting restrictions, were found guilty at a hearing at Zurich District Court and were given fines totaling 741,000 Swiss francs ($809,040.29), suspended for two years.
In Switzerland, banks are obliged to reject or terminate business relationships if there are doubts about the identity of the contracting party.
A spokesman for Gazprombank, where the four executives worked, described the decision as a “black day,” adding the bankers would all appeal.
The four executives helped Roldugin operate two bank accounts at Gazprombank in Zurich, through which millions of francs flowed, without conducting sufficient checks, the court heard.
Judge Sebastian Aeppli said it was not possible to establish the real owner of the funds, but the bankers had failed in their duty to conduct due diligence and check.
“It has been proven without doubt that Roldugin cannot be the beneficial owner,” Aeppli said.
Gazprombank had asked Roldugin about the origins of the money in spring 2016, but did not receive an answer, the judge said. The bank eventually closed the accounts in September 2016.
It was only in February 2022 that Roldugin said he was the owner, but still did not provide the documents requested in 2016.
Further investigations should have been conducted because of the amount of assets involved, which was more than 10 million Swiss francs, the judge said.
The bankers should have asked if information provided about the origin of the assets was plausible, he added.
Other red flags such as the political situation in Russia, the use of intermediaries, offshore and intermediary accounts were ignored, the judge said.
“It must be taken into consideration that millions in funds was going into the accounts,” Judge Aeppli said. “This was at a time when the U.S. had already announced measures against Russia.”
The case highlights how people like Roldugin were used as “strawmen”, the indictment seen by Reuters said, a way to hide the true owners of money.
Prosecutor Jan Hoffmann said he welcomed the court’s decision.
“It is an important sign that diligence of the law against money laundering has to be respected,” he said on Thursday.
Sums of around 30 million Swiss francs ($31.84 million) were involved in the case, Hoffmann told an earlier hearing.
This happened even though the musician, who appears on Switzerland’s list of sanctioned Russians, had no listed activity as a businessman.
Roldugin was among members of Putin’s inner circle sanctioned by the West, including Switzerland, after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.
Putin has in the past described Roldugin as a friend, a brilliant musician and benefactor, who has honestly earned some money from a minority stake in a Russian company.
The Kremlin has previously dismissed any suggestion that Roldugin’s funds are linked to the Russian leader as anti-Russian “Putinophobia”, saying Putin’s finances were a matter of public record.
The defence had argued there was no reason to doubt that Roldugin was the real owner of the accounts, and it was “plausible” that Roldugin was rich because he was a friend of Putin.
“Sergey Roldugin is not just any cellist and conductor, but also a Kremlin favourite who obviously had access to special financing possibilities that allows him to accumulate substantial wealth,” the defence said, according to a pre-trial briefing.
($1 = 0.9159 Swiss francs)