- Four bankers deny the charges as the trial opens in Zurich
- Sergey Roldugin is a close friend of Putin’s deputies
- Roldugin has been under Western sanctions since 2022
ZURICH (Reuters) – A cellist at a concert moved millions of francs through Swiss bank accounts without any proper cheques, Swiss prosecutors said on Wednesday at the start of the trial of four bankers accused of aiding Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Prosecutors alleged that Sergei Roldugin, a close friend of the Russian president, deposited millions of francs into Swiss bank accounts between 2014 and 2016.
The four bankers – three Russians who worked in Zurich and one Swiss – appeared in the Zurich District Court on Wednesday and denied charges of lack of diligence in financial dealings. They cannot be identified under Swiss reporting restrictions.
The prosecution told the court that they had failed to do enough to identify the beneficial owner of the funds. Prosecutor Jan Hofmann said sums estimated at 30 million Swiss francs ($31.84 million) were involved in the case.
Roldugin is named the owner of two accounts opened with Gazprombank Switzerland in 2014.
This was despite Roldugin appearing on Switzerland’s list of sanctioned Russians – he has no activity listed as a businessman on his bank documents.
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At the time, the musician told The New York Times that he was definitely not a businessman and did not have millions, according to the indictment.
Roldugin was among dozens of members of Putin’s inner circle sanctioned by the West, including Switzerland, after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
Reuters has contacted his representatives for comment.
The indictment, seen by Reuters, says the case highlights how people like Roldogen were used as “smudgers”, a way to hide the real money holders.
“All evidence contradicts Sergei Roldugin being the real owner of the assets,” prosecutor Hoffman told the court.
Defense attorney Bernard Loetscher said there was no evidence that Roldogen was not the real owner of the assets.
“Doubts about the identity of the real owner are not sufficient from the point of view of criminal law,” Lutscher told the court.
Prosecutors are seeking suspended seven-month prison sentences for each banker. The trial is expected to last one day.
Questions about Putin’s origins
There is little trace of Putin’s ancestry.
The indictment states, “It is known that …
Reuters asked the Kremlin to comment on Putin’s relationship with Rooldugin, his wealth and assets.
Putin has said in the past that Roldugin is a friend, brilliant musician, and philanthropist who honestly earned some money from a minority stake in a Russian company.
The Kremlin has previously dismissed any suggestion that Roldugin’s money is linked to the Russian leader as an anti-Russian “butenophobia”. The Kremlin says Putin’s finances are a matter of public record, saying he regularly announces his assets and salary to Russian voters.
The indictment said the bankers in the case did not conduct sufficient checks to see if Roldugin was the real owner of the assets in question.
“At the time the account was opened, it was reported in various articles … that Sergei Roldugin was a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the godfather of his daughter,” the newspaper said.
Other red flags were ignored, she added, and the defendants did not attempt to explain the plausibility of Roldugin being the true owner of the assets, or the source of the funds.
In the bank documents, Roldugin’s professional activity is only listed as a musician, making his ownership and involvement “in no way plausible,” according to court documents.
In Switzerland, banks are under an obligation to refuse or terminate business relations if there are doubts about the identity of the contracting party.
Both accounts in Roldugin’s name were closed in September 2016.
($1 = 0.9421 Swiss francs)
Reporting by John Revell; Editing by Angus McSwan, Alex Richardson, Raisa Kasuluski, and Mark Heinrichs
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