4 bankers convicted over the Swiss account of a longtime Putin pal

GENEVA — Four former bankers at the Swiss subsidiary of a major Russian bank were found Thursday guilty of failing to properly verify accounts opened on behalf of a Russian cellist with long-standing ties to President Vladimir Putin.

The accused were sentenced to suspended sentences by the Zurich District Court, which can result in fines of hundreds of thousands of francs if they are violated.

Lawyers for all defendants immediately announced plans to appeal, according to an email from a spokesman for Gazprombank Switzerland, which is in the process of going out of business and has not been charged.

The ruling follows a day-long trial on March 8 based on information about secret financial flows uncovered in the 2016 Panama Papers leaks involving musician and Putin’s childhood friend Sergei Roldugin. It took prosecutors years to unravel the money and take the case to court.

The trial opened a rare window on allegations from the Panama Papers that a member of Putin’s circle of friends helped funnel millions abroad and that finance officials may have turned a blind eye to such inflows. Putin has denied the allegations.

Former Gazprombank employees – three Russian-born and one Swiss-born who could not be named under Swiss law – were accused of failing to adequately verify whether Roldugin actually owned the assets in the accounts. He was a bank customer from 2014 to 2016.

All four defendants denied the allegations, which include allegations of violations of the Swiss Money Laundering Act.

The district public prosecutor’s office in Zurich welcomes the judgments in a statement as “an important signal that the money laundering due diligence must be observed”.

Both before and since Putin ordered troops into Ukraine, Western nations have imposed sanctions on oligarchs and others with close ties to his government, including Roldugin.

The US Treasury Department describes Roldugin as “part of a system that manages President Putin’s offshore assets.”

Documents submitted at account opening listed expected transactions of 11.5 million Swiss francs (US$12.2 million). The indictment didn’t specify how much might have reached the bank, but noted that Putin “has an enormous fortune managed by people close to him.”

Gazprombank maintained the accounts despite “numerous” media reports of Roldugin’s relationship with Putin, including that he was godfather to one of Putin’s daughters, the indictment said.

The bank’s documents list Roldugin’s income as CHF 1 million per year, his fortune as CHF 10 million and his work as a musician, indicating that the cash flows are “in no way plausible as Roldugin’s own fortune,” it said in the indictment. The way the accounts were structured suggested he was being used as a ‘straw man’.

When Roldugin was reported in 2016 as the owner of $2 billion in offshore assets, Putin denied having any ties to offshore accounts and described the Panama Papers leaks as part of Western efforts to weaken Russia.

The verdict was largely symbolic: the public prosecutor’s office called for the accused to be imprisoned for seven months on probation.

For years, Switzerland has attempted to cleanse its reputation as a secret haven for billions of illicitly acquired or laundered money, including through laws requiring bankers to verify the origin of funds linked to “politically exposed persons”.

Source : www.washingtontimes.com

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