Four senior bankers have been found guilty by a Swiss court of helping to launder tens of millions of francs linked personally to president Vladimir Putin through the country’s banking system.
The four — three Russians and one Swiss national — were employees of Gazprombank’s Swiss subsidiary, and include its chief executive.
A Zurich district court ruled on Thursday that they were guilty of financial negligence in failing to perform due diligence on highly suspicious transactions run through the bank.
Conditional criminal fines of between SFr540,000 and SFr48,000 were imposed, which do not have to be paid if parole conditions are kept over the next two years. Prosecutors had sought custodial sentences.
In their case, prosecutors detailed how accounts had been opened at Gazprombank on behalf of Sergei Roldugin, a cellist and the godfather to Putin’s daughter, without questions being raised about how a musician had amassed vast wealth.
Roldugin deposited SFr50mn in Gazprombank’s Swiss accounts, and promised to funnel at least SFr10mn more annually into them through a complex web of shell companies and offshore trusts.
Judge Sebastian Aeppli said it was “beyond doubt” that the money did not belong to Roldugin.
The funds originally flowed from Bank Rossiya, which Swiss prosecutors said was known to be the house bank of the Russian kleptocracy.
“The chair of the board [Yuri Kovalchuk] is considered Putin’s treasurer,” their indictment noted.
The Gazprombank bankers declared that Roldugin was not a “politically exposed person” — a designation that would have triggered additional internal and regulatory scrutiny — and performed a nugatory investigation to back up such assertions, the prosecution said.
The official internal due diligence file on Roldugin contained only a printout of the website for the Mariinsky theatre in St Petersburg — where Roldugin was a conductor — and a single negative search result on Worldcheck, a compliance database.
“It is notorious that Russian President Putin officially has an income of just over SFr100,000 and is not wealthy, but in fact has enormous assets managed by people close to him,” prosectors wrote in their indictment. “Roldugin . . . [was] a straw man.”
The four bankers may opt to appeal against the verdict to the cantonal appellate court. A further appeal would then be possible on the federal level.
The case was triggered as a result of the Panama Papers leak in 2016, in which a huge cache of documents was disclosed to international media organisations from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, the world’s fourth-largest offshore services provider.
Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine and the UK’s Guardian newspaper homed on on accounts they found in the documents under Roldugin’s name.
Shortly afterwards, the Swiss market regulator Finma began an investigation of its own into Gazprombank’s role in the Swiss part of the Roldugin network.
In 2018 the regulator concluded that the bank was “in serious breach of its anti-money laundering due diligence requirements in the period from 2006 to 2016”, and imposed strict penalties.
It also lodged a complaint with cantonal prosecutors in Zurich, triggering the formal criminal investigation.