Monday, April 04, 2016

Vladimir Putin and the Rape of the Russian People

It's no secret that I despise Vladimir Putin and view him as the latest incarnation of Russia's cavalcade of unfit rulers who have driven the country into the ground and robbed the country blind. Unlike Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Tsarina Alexandra Fedorovna who I believe had good intentions - I have read their diaries - and were simply way out of their league in ruling as autocrats, Putin knows exactly what he is doing and cares nothing for the Russian people.  With Putin, it's all about satisfying his narcissism and inflated ego and hiding money overseas for the day when the Russian people wake up and realize that Putin should meet a fate like that of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Now, a breach of banking record security has provided a picture of just how badly Putin has betrayed the Russian people.  Here are highlights from The Guardian:

A network of secret offshore deals and vast loans worth $2bn has laid a trail to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.
An unprecedented leak of documents shows how this money has made members of Putin’s close circle fabulously wealthy.
Though the president’s name does not appear in any of the records, the data reveals a pattern – his friends have earned millions from deals that seemingly could not have been secured without his patronage.
The documents suggest Putin’s family has benefited from this money – his friends’ fortunes appear his to spend.
The files are part of an unprecedented leak of millions of papers from the database of Mossack Fonseca, the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm. They show how the rich and powerful are able to exploit secret offshore tax regimes in myriad ways.
The offshore trail starts in Panama, darts through Russia, Switzerland and Cyprus – and includes a private ski resort where Putin’s younger daughter, Katerina, got married in 2013.
The Panama Papers shine a particular spotlight on Sergei Roldugin, who is Putin’s best friend. Roldugin introduced Putin to the woman he subsequently married, Lyudmila, and is godfather to Putin’s older daughter, Maria.
Roldugin appears to have been picked for this role because of his lesser profile. He has denied in documents to bank officials in Switzerland and Luxembourg that he is close to any Russian public figures. He has also said he is not a businessman.
Yet the files reveal Putin’s longstanding intimate has a 12.5% stake in Russia’s biggest TV advertising agency, Video International, which has annual revenues of more than £800m. Previously, its ownership was a closely guarded secret.
Roldugin was also secretly given an option to buy a minority stake in the Russian truck manufacturer Kamaz, which makes army vehicles, and has 15% of a Cyprus-registered company called Raytar.
He also owns 3.2% of Bank Rossiya. The St Petersburg private bank has been described as Putin’s “crony bank”. The US imposed sanctions on it after Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine.
These assets are only part of a series of linked financial schemes revealed in the documents that revolve round Bank Rossiya.
The bank is headed by Yuri Kovalchuk. The US alleges he is the “personal banker” for many senior Russian government officials including Putin. The Panama Papers disclose that Kovalchuk and Bank Rossiya achieved the transfer of at least $1bn to a specially created offshore entity called Sandalwood Continental.
These funds came from a series of enormous unsecured loans from the state-controlled Russian Commercial Bank (RCB) located in Cyprus and other state banks. There is no explanation in the files of why the banks agreed to extend such unorthodox credit lines.
Some of the cash obtained from RCB was also lent back onshore in Russia at extremely high interest rates, with the resulting profits siphoned off to secret Swiss accounts.
A $6m yacht was purchased by Sandalwood and shipped to a port near St Petersburg.
Cash was also handed over directly to the Putin circle, this time in the form of very cheap loans, made with no security and with interest rates as low as 1%. It is not clear whether any loans have been repaid.
In 2010 and 2011, Sandalwood made three loans worth $11.3m to an offshore company called Ozon, which owns the upmarket Igora ski resort in the Leningrad region. Ozon belongs to Kovalchuk and a Cypriot company. Putin is the resort’s star patron and a reputed resident.
Speculation over the size of Putin’s personal fortune has gone on for almost a decade, following reports in 2007 that he was worth at least $40bn, based on leaks from inside his own presidential administration.
In 2010, US diplomatic cables suggested Putin held his wealth via proxies. The president formally owned nothing, they added, but was able to draw on the wealth of his friends, who now control practically all of Russia’s oil and gas production and industrial resources.
One of the companies linked to Ove Financial Corp belonged to Mikhail Lesin, Putin’s media tsar and former press minister. Lesin founded the Kremlin’s propaganda TV channel Russia Today but later fell out of favour. He was mysteriously found dead last November in a Washington hotel room with blunt force injuries to the head.
Asked about the offshore companies linked to him last week, Rodulgin said: “Guys, to be honest I am not ready to give comments now … These are delicate issues. I was connected to this business a long time ago. Before ‘perestroika’. It happened … And then it started growing and such things happened. The House of Music [in St Petersburg] is subsidised from this money.”
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s official spokesman, declined to comment on specific allegations against the president. Speaking last week, Peskov said western spy agencies were behind an all-out “information attack” against him to destabilise Russia before elections. Peskov dismissed the investigation by the Guardian and others as an “undisguised, paid-for hack job”. He said Russia had “legal means” to defend Putin’s dignity and honour.
US political scientist Karen Dawisha said it was inconceivable that Putin’s friends had become rich without his patronage. “He takes what he wants. When you are president of Russia, you don’t need a written contract. You are the law.”

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