On 8 March 2023, a case was brought against the boss and three employees of the Zurich office of Gazprombank in a Zurich court. The four face charges of alleged money laundering that may be linked to Russian president Vladimir Putin, reported RTS.
The case has garnered international interest as it may provide insights into how Putin hides the huge fortune it is claimed he has.
The public prosecutor in Zurich alleges that between 2014 and 2016 four bankers, three Russian and one Swiss, were involved in allowing CHF 30 million of dividends to flow into two accounts at the Zurich subsidiary of Russian state-owned Gazprombank.
The bankers are accused of maintaining a relationship with the man at the centre of the allegations, cellist Sergei Roldugin, known as “Putin’s wallet”. Roldugin is reportedly a close confidant of the Russian president and the godfather of one of his daughters. The bankers are accused of failing to check the true beneficial ownership and source of funds connected to the cellist. The prosecutor alleges that the bankers knew, or should have known, that it was impossible to believe Roldugin was the true beneficial owner of the two bank accounts. Under Swiss banking rules checks must be done to establish the ultimate source and ownership of any money handled by banks.
Gazprombank Zurich has been under investigation for some time. In 2016, Swiss banking regulator FINMA started looking at the bank after links with offshore companies were revealed in the “Panama Papers”. Sergei Roldugin and the bank were mentioned in the revealed documents. In 2018, FINMA ended its investigation concluding there were serious shortcomings in the application of anti-money laundering procedures at the bank. In October 2022, Gazprombank Zurich announced it would close.
All four of the accused have pleaded not guilty. Their lawyers argue that the prosecution cannot prove the money did not belong to the cellist. They also claim that the fact he was known to be a close friend of Putin is a good reason for not asking him about the source of the money as such wealth would not be a surprise for someone with such connections.
For some the case is as a test of how rigorously Switzerland enforces its now strict money laundering laws. A guilty verdict may also send a clear signal to bankers and administrators across the world that the Russian president’s money is not easily hidden.