An ordinary guy with a big last name.
The portrait of Igor Putin, the president’s cousin, who figured out how to make money on the most famous last name in Russia
The Proekt team, November 7, 2018
The president’s cousin, Igor is an unloved relative of Vladimir Putin. But that never stopped him from selling his name as a talisman for questionable multi-million dollar projects. Igor Putin’s latest enterprise was the largest money-laundering scheme in Russian history.
This autumn of 2018, Boris Fomin, former head of the liquidated Promsberbank (PSB), sat in a prison cell near Moscow and wrote answers to The Project’s questions on a piece of paper. There were many questions, because a month earlier, Fomin was sentenced to six years in prison for stealing several billion rubles from the bank, he worked in. His testimony led to the arrest of the shadow owners of the bank, including Ivan Myazin, who the media now calls “the king of Russian money laundering.”
Among the very few managers of the PSB not mentioned in the criminal case, is a 60-year-old board member of inconspicuous appearance. He is Igor Putin, cousin of President Vladimir Putin.
In 2018, Igor Putin’s name hit the world news due to a scandal at Danske Bank. The company through which huge amounts of money were laundered in its Estonian branch, turned out to be connected with PSB and “Vladimir Putin’s family”, European media reported, citing a source at the bank. Igor was the one fingered as “Putin’s family,” the Danish newspaper Berlingske revealed. According to the informant, the money was laundered through the British company Lantana Trade, whose owners were hidden behind offshore companies. They provided fake reports, pretending to be inactive, but in reality hundreds of millions of dollars passed through their accounts.
As The Project discovered, Lantana is really connected with Promsberbank. “This is only one and not the most active, company” of the PSB shareholders, Fomin wrote from the detention center. Igor Putin was given a special role in a dubious bank – he was the Mazin’s “wedding general”, explained Fomin in his answers to The Project. Being a “wedding general” in dubious enterprises – this is almost Igor’s whole career.
Stalin’s chef’s grandchildren
“Grandfather worked first with Lenin, and then with Stalin at one of the dachas near Moscow in Gorki,” said the Russian president in the film “Putin,” which came out on the eve of the last presidential election in 2018.
A few years before, the president’s family secret about his grandfather, who fed Stalin, was revealed to friends by the president’s cousin from Ryazan, about 200 km from Moscow, Igor’s acquaintance told us on condition of anonimity.
Putin’s grandfather, Spiridon, had six children – four sons and two daughters. Igor’s father – Alexander Putin – graduated from the Military Academy of Logistics and Transport in Leningrad. Then he had to live with his brother’s family – young Igor and Vladimir met there for the first time. Thereafter, the Putins sometimes gathered all together at the Communist Party sanatorium near Moscow. The president’s cousin Igor graduated from school in Ryazan, where his father served in a military academy. Since moving there, the Putins from Ryazan have rarely met with Vladimir.
“On one occasion, on the eve of Victory Day, May 9, the president ended up in Ryazan on business. Alexander, the WWII veteran, waited all day for the visit of his nephew. But the president did not come,” recalls Nikolai Kozlov, an old Ryazan acquaintance of Igor.
After graduation, Igor immediately enrolled in the military academy where his father worked. Much later, when Igor Putin was appointed head of the company with the difficult to pronounce name “Surguttruboprovodstroy”, he would say that the appointment was logical – after all, he was an engineer. After the academy, Igor served in Ussuriysk, Kazakhstan, and Volsk. After retiring from the military, he returned to his parents in Ryazan – there was nowhere else to go, Kozlov tells The Project.
Putin and Putin
Igor Putin had no problem finding work after his cousin became president. First, Igor was hired as head of Ryazan’s Licensing Chamber, then he was called to Moscow. One of his countrymen worked as vice-president of Gazenergoprombank, which then belonged to Gazprom. Putin’s salary in the Licensing Chamber was 17 thousand rubles per month – not bad for Ryazan, where the average salary at that time was just over 6 thousand. The job in Moscow promised a salary several times higher, an individual office and a company car. But Igor worked in the bank in Moscow for only four months. As he later explained, he did not like the assignments. But one of his close friend of the time told The Project that his sudden dismissal was preceded by an unspecified incident in the bank. This was followed by a conversation between Vladimir Putin and his cousin, in which Vlad advised Igor to leave the bank and generally “be inconspicuous.” The former head of the bank, Larisa Larina, denies the existence of serious complaints against Igor, since “he was not charged with anything important at all.”
Man with a photo
Expelled from Moscow, Igor moved to Samara, about 1000 km from the capital, where local oligarch Andrei Ischuk appointed him head of the board of directors of his Samara Reservoir Plant (SRP). The businessman noticed Igor at a meeting in Ryazan, where they were seated side by side. Ischuk asked friends, “Is he a relative?” “Yes,” they confirmed, “that’s his cousin”.
“Ischuk wanted a solid person for cover, with a big last name. To be untouchable. And he found this Putin,” recalls The Project’s source close to the Kremlin.
From about that moment, Igor fully realized the importance of his own surname.
“When I met him, he gave me a business card, but he signed it first. Kinda left an autograph. And I immediately understood everything about him,” says one of Igor’s former friends.
He carried a pack of photos with him showing him with his cousin, and “always showed them to everyone”, recalls former employee of the SRP. In 2015, the former director of the SRP Vladimir Bogdanov was released after several years in prison, where he served a sentence for exceeding his authority. Bogdanov was accused of having shipped the plant’s products without prepayment. Bogdanov’s lawyers insisted that at the time of the transaction he no longer directed the SRP, and Igor Putin was director and is responsible for the goods disappearing. But Igor was never implicated, and was involved in the case only as a witness.
“They interrogated him like this, ‘What is your name? How do you like the weather?’” remembers Bogdanov. “Well, who will touch a cousin?”
Putin returned to Moscow with an important mission – to help the Jewish diaspora in a dispute with a businessmen close to criminal circles.
In the mid-2000s, Putin had an office in a two-story mansion on Arbat, at the heart of old Moscow, where real estate is extremely expensive. The mansion was owned by Yevgeny Birger, now the head of the Uzbekistan Post, and then a wealthy Russian businessman of a Jewish origin. The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, one of the biggest diaspora organizations, led by Berl Lazar, lodged in the same building.
The house was located on the site of a company associated with Mikhail Cherny, an authoritative businessman who, according to publications in the press, was part of the Izmailovo criminal group, and bore the nickname Misha-Krysha (which means Mikhail who provides cover – The Project). He planned to build a hotel.
At that moment, when the Izmailovo guys wanted to “squeeze” the mansion, Birger and Lazar needed protection – that’s why Igor Putin settled in the house, says Birger’s former colleague. Birger himself now claims that he simply gave Igor a room “on a friendship basis”.
“He hung up portraits of Vladimir Putin and portraits of himself with Mironov (Sergey Mironov, then the speaker of the high chamber of the Russian Parliament – The Project). I told him, “Igor, this is funny in Moscow. At least take down the ones with Sergey,” – The Project’s source said. According to him, there was not even a computer in the office – Igor still didn’t know how to use one.
Be that as it may, the main goal of Igor Putin’s mission has been achieved.
“The Izmailovo guys came past the property, and suddenly they see some kind of new office, and everything hung with Vladimir Putin’s face. They naturally shit their pants, because they were respectful to such authorities” — says another old friend of Igor (Birger himself denies this story).
Since then, the provision of his name to protect someone else’s business is the main work of Igor. On the plate in his office at “Master-Bank” next to his name he puts the Russian national emblem.
Banker for the Russian Federation
The “Master-Bank” was considered the leader of Russian money laundering at the beginning of 2010th. Igor Putin arrived at a moment when the bank was carrying out a complex litigation with the Domodedovo airport, a former bank employee said, and Igor Putin’s close friend confirmed. Igor’s office was put directly opposite the office of the bank’s director, Boris Bulochnik’s.
“Bulochnik invited me in, and said, ‘Look who now has the office opposite mine.’ And when I saw the sign, I immediately understood that Bulochnik would end up badly soon – with this kind of ‘cover,’” says one of Bulochnik’s friends. The Project was unable to contact Bulochnik himself, since he is hiding from Russian justice.
“Igor had no sense,” says a former employee of “Master-Bank”. “He said that he was going to negotiate with the presidential administration or FSB (Russian security service – The Project). He got into the car with the driver, and drove off. But nothing in the end happened. We found out that he did not even get to the checkpoint, just went inside, waited and came back. ”
“You know what words he used?! Taxcashfree! Mixed tax free and wire transfer,” another acquaintance of Igor Putin from that time said, emotionally.
As a result, Igor’s name did not help the bank. In the spring of 2012 the bank was searched by the police. A source close to the investigation told The Project that Igor Putin’s office was also searched. A year later, the bank had its license withdrawn due to a huge “hole” in its capital, and its founder was wanted. Putin was not mentioned in the case.
The king of money laundering and his retinue
Igor turned out to be very popular in the Russian money laundering market. In addition to the “Master-Bank”, he was invited onto the boards of directors of the Russian Land Bank (RLB) and Promsberbank – both participated in the withdrawal of funds abroad by a group led by Ivan Myazin.
The Russian Land Bank appeared in the case of the so-called Landromat (a scheme for laundering Russian money through Moldovan banks) in 2014. According to an investigation by the OCCRP, RLB opened an account in Moldindconbank, which was an intermediary in the withdrawal of money, in 2013, when Igor Putin worked as a board member of RLB. At the same time, Promsberbank arranged the withdrawal of money through Lantana and Danske – Putin was at that time sitting on the board of directors of this bank too.
Igor left both banks at the end of 2013, and soon both lost their licenses. Shadow banker Myazin was arrested only recently, in May 2018, after Boris Fomin gave detailed testimony against him. Igor Putin again is not mentioned in the criminal case, and the whole Russian investigation is focused on embezzlement at the bank, and not on the withdrawal schemes through the Danske branch.
Igor learns well
The Russian land bank, when Igor Putin was one of its directors, also stole money through loans to companies associated with shareholders and management, according to the results of an audit initiated by the Russian bank supervisory authority. An inconspicuous company “SpetsPostavka” received a few loans – about $18,5 million in total. In 2012, a company with the same name was registered by Igor Putin. Most likely, it was Putin’s company that received the money, since in the bank’s report these loans are referred to as “deals with an affiliated party.” The fate of the money is unclear. Another co-owner of “SpetsPostavka,” Ivan Starikov, told the “Project” that he had seen Igor once in his life and did not create companies with him.
At some point, it began to seem that Igor simply “looks like a simpleton under, but he himself has already learned a lot,” recalls his acquaintance at that years.
The Panama Papers leak found that back in 2008, Igor registered an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands. Parlomedia Corporation has several other beneficiaries. One of them is President Vladimir Putin’s second cousin, Alexander. The second is Ukrainian businessman Alexander Dedov, co-owner of the Swiss company Noga, which once tried to sue Russia for a large sum of money, which at some point led to the arrest of the Central Bank’s accounts, RIA Novosti and to paintings at the Pushkin Museum. Another co-owner was Evgeny Pinsky, Vice-President of “Master-Bank”. Alexander Putin and Pinsky did not answer the questions of The Project about this offshore account. In 2010, the company was closed.
Once, Igor and his family flew to Bali. Indonesians somehow learned that a relative of President Putin was vacationing in their country, and invited him to a wedding. According to one of Putin’s old friends, Igor found himself at the wedding of Indonesian oligarch Setiawan Djody, former owner of the Lamborghini Company, and partner with the family of the ex-president of Indonesia, Suharto.
After that, Djody even flew to Moscow – he wanted Igor to organize a meeting with his brother on the topic of the oil business. But the meeting did not take place – for now obvious reasons.
“There were too many people who wanted to use his surname,” Pinsky recalled, who had himself had created an offshore company with Igor. Russian business is structured in such a way that there was a line of businessmen who wanted to have Igor Putin among their partners or directors. The Project counted 33 companies where Igor Putin held leading positions or was a shareholder. He could not filter the incoming proposals, says one of the interlocutors of The Project: “Like a child, he couldn’t refuse candy that was waved in front of his face.”
Could he really resort to getting help from his cousin?
The president’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told The Project that Vladimir Putin does not communicate with his cousin.
Igor repeatedly complained that he could not communicate with his cousin, The Project was told by several of his acquaintances. This was a problem even when he tried to congratulate Vladimir on his birthday, says Nikolai Kozlov, from Ryazan. Igor often talked to the president’s security chief Viktor Zolotov, trying to get a conversation with Vladimir Putin through him, but without success. “All Russians are the president’s brothers,” Zolotov allegedly replied to Igor.
“He would have been a normal military school commander in Ryazan. But he has that last name,” his friend said sadly.
Now Igor Putin is retired. Recently, he bought a used RV and landed on the banks of the Volga River to build a mansion. As his friend recalls, Igor’s favorite quote was, “The greatest wealth in life is the wealth of human communication”. Igor flatly refused to communicate with The Project.