Why Tracking Putin’s Wealth Is So Difficult - The New York Times - by Mike McIntire - 06.04.22
Updated: Apr 8, 2022
Amid speculation that oligarchs are holding cash and luxury assets for the Russian president, many of his extravagances can be traced elsewhere: the Russian state.
Buried in a 421-page legal filing in an obscure court case is a single sentence, offered almost as an afterthought, about a meeting at a Geneva restaurant where two businessmen chatted about “a yacht which had been presented to Mr. Putin.”
The passing reference, cited in a 2010 judge’s decision in London on a financial dispute involving a shipping company, is the rare bit of public evidence directly linking President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to any of the luxury boats, planes or villas associated with him over the years. It has taken on new significance as U.S. and European authorities pursue the hidden wealth of Mr. Putin and people close to him in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But the British court document also holds a clue to why it has been so hard to clearly connect the Russian president to his rumored riches. The yacht, called the Olympia, was managed by a company in Cyprus, where corporation filings show that the true owner was not Mr. Putin — it was the Russian government.
The Olympia was “presented to Mr. Putin,” according to a conversation recounted in court documents. Its owner was the Russian government, records show.
Indeed, it is one of many extravagant assets long speculated to be Mr. Putin’s that actually are owned or controlled by the state, showing how much the private interests of the president and his inner circle have merged with those of the government he has dominated for two decades. Others include a sprawling resort, a fleet of expensive automobiles, fancy planes and still more yachts.
The United States and its allies have created a multinational task force to track and seize assets of at least 50 wealthy Russians, including Mr. Putin, and announced rewards for information that helps in the effort. On Wednesday, officials announced sanctions against Mr. Putin’s two adult daughters.
But some analysts question whether such actions will have much impact on the Russian president, who has never been found to personally own much worth confiscating.
While there has been much media and public discussion that oligarchs and old Putin friends could be secretly holding valuable property on his behalf, or keeping his cash for him in offshore companies and Swiss bank accounts, many of his more obvious luxuries are embedded in state-owned enterprises and largely beyond the reach of Western sanctions.
Alina Polyakova, an expert on Russian foreign affairs who leads the Center for European Policy Analysis, said that because government resources and agencies were most likely used to shield at least some of his purported wealth, targeting Mr. Putin personally with sanctions was mainly symbolic.
“To get to him, as well, we’d have to sanction the entire Russian government,” she said. “And, of course, there are reasons why Europe and the United States are not prepared to do so.”
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The Olympia was “presented to Mr. Putin,” according to a conversation recounted in court documents. Its owner was the Russian government, records show. Credit...Claudio Ritossa