Putin’s Monte Carlo mystery, secret money and swanky real estate
Vladmir Putin. (Washington Post illustration; Photograph by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
MONACO — The apartment hangs over the blue waters of the Mediterranean beneath the Monte Carlo casino of James Bond legend. In the harbor below, royals, moguls and oligarchs float by in iceberg-size yachts.
There is little about the humble background of Svetlana Krivonogikh to indicate that she had the means to acquire property overlooking this playground for the world’s elite. The Russian woman reportedly grew up in a crowded communal apartment in St. Petersburg, and held jobs that included cleaning a neighborhood shop.
But previously undisclosed financial records combined with local tax documents show that Krivonogikh, 46, became the owner of the apartment in Monaco through an offshore company created just weeks after she gave birth to a girl. The child was born at a time when, according to a Russian media report last year, she was in a secret, years-long relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Krivonogikh’s luxury unit at the Monte Carlo Star is revealed by documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and shared with The Washington Post. The documents, known as the Pandora Papers, expose her ownership of a shell company in the British Virgin Islands, as well as her use of a Monaco financial services firm that simultaneously worked for one of Putin’s billionaire friends.
The files do not indicate where she got the money to pay for an apartment that cost $4.1 million in 2003, and is probably worth far more than that today. But the transaction coincided with a period when Krivonogikh was allegedly in a relationship with Putin and amassing an astonishing portfolio of assets in Russia, according to Proekt, an online Russian investigative outlet that exposed her alleged link to the Kremlin leader and has since been outlawed in Russia.
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A Kremlin spokesman dismissed that report when it was published last year. But details about the apartment bolster its core claim — that after Krivonogikh began her reported relationship with Putin, she accumulated assets often linked to his close associates in some fashion.
Before the Proekt report, Krivonogikh’s ties to Putin’s inner circle had surfaced but not caught public attention. Bank Rossiya disclosed in 2010 that she was one of its biggest shareholders through her company OOO Relax. The St. Petersburg-based bank would later be subject to sanctions by the U.S. Treasury, which labeled it the “personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation.”
Krivonogikh has not spoken about her alleged relationship with Putin or her remarkable accumulation of wealth.
But her daughter, who turned 18 this year and goes by the name Luiza Rozova, has fueled speculation about her paternity in interviews, capitalizing on the attention to build a growing online following. In pictures, Rozova bears a striking resemblance to the Russian president, and she has acknowledged that likeness even while refusing to confirm or deny that Putin is her father.
No father is listed for Rozova on official Russian documents obtained by Proekt and reviewed by The Post. But those documents do record a middle name, “Vladimirovna,” that is a patronymic meaning “daughter of Vladimir.” On her Instagram account, which has more than 83,000 followers, she gives her name as “rozova luiza v.”
Krivonogikh did not respond to requests for comment sent to her through her St. Petersburg-based businesses, Bank Rossiya, her daughter and the Monaco financial services firm. Efforts to reach Krivonogikh at three residential addresses associated with her were not successful.
A Kremlin spokesman did not respond to a request for comment submitted by the ICIJ on behalf of The Post and other partner media organizations in the Pandora project.
The clues connecting Krivonogikh to the Monaco property are contained in the massive new repository of financial materials. The Pandora documents include spreadsheets, memos, invoices and emails obtained from law firms, accounting offices and trust administrators that operate in some of the world’s most permissive financial jurisdictions. The trove contains over 11.9 million documents, more than those exposed five years ago in the Panama Papers, a similar collection of files that triggered scandals and reforms.
Key questions to better understand the offshore system
End of carousel
The records illuminate the hidden financial maneuverings of world leaders, billionaire investors, celebrities, athletes and other elite clients. The cache provides a particularly expansive view of how many of those most loyal to Putin have grown exorbitantly rich and stashed assets abroad, even as the Russian president has disparaged the West and called on Russian elites to keep their capital at home.
The files show, for example, that media executive Konstantin Ernst obtained a stake in a lucrative real estate deal after winning the Russian leader’s praise for helping to stage the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The project involved converting Soviet-era cinema complexes still owned by the state into private shopping and apartment developments. Ernst’s partnership has not been disclosed publicly but is detailed in Pandora documents related to the project.
In a written statement, Ernst confirmed his involvement in the real estate venture but denied that it was “compensation for the Olympics 2014.” He did not address other questions submitted by The Post, the ICIJ and other media partners but said, “I haven’t committed any illegal actions.”
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Other documents show that Herman Gref, the head of Russian state-owned Sberbank, held more than $50 million in cash and loan receivables offshore for his family using accounts in Samoa, Panama and Singapore, despite serving as the most prominent public face of Russia’s state banking system.
Singapore authorities flagged transactions involving Gref and two of his Russian colleagues, according to an audit report by the Monetary Authority of Singapore included in the Pandora files, and later fined the financial firm handling Gref’s assets $1.1 million for failing to comply with anti-money-laundering rules. A spokeswoman for Singapore’s monetary authority said the firm paid the fine and has taken remedial actions to address the failures.
Gref declined to comment through a Sberbank spokeswoman.
Overall, the materials reinforce the depiction of Russia as a country where an elite close to government power make millions of dollars and safeguard that personal wealth using opaque financial structures overseas.
Five years after the Panama Papers revelations, the new files show that rather than retreat from the use of offshore accounts, wealthy Russians and their money managers have sought to become better at hiding their assets. In one passage, a lawyer who represented two of Putin’s longtime friends warned a Panamanian firm not to repeat the blunders that led to the leak named for that country.
“You are obliged to keep secrecy for our clients,” the lawyer wrote in a 2016 message, “and to not make feasible at all a second Panama Papers story.”
A trail of documents
Those involved in arranging the Monte Carlo purchase for Krivonogikh took measures that ensured that her name and status as owner did not appear on public records.
On April 2, 2003 — almost exactly a month after Krivonogikh’s daughter was born — a shell company called Brockville Development Ltd. was incorporated on the Caribbean island of Tortola, according to records in the Pandora trove. Months later, Monaco property records show, that shell company purchased the apartment in Monaco for 3.6 million euros, about $6 million in today’s dollars when adjusted for inflation.
The building is “highly sought-after with the world’s wealthiest,” according to online promotional material from a Monaco real estate firm. The complex’s “light and airy” apartments boast “spacious terraces ideal for al fresco dining or watching some of the world’s most luxurious superyachts sail in and out of world-famous Port Hercules,” the firm writes.
(Obtained by The Washington Post)
The Pandora files do not show precisely when Krivonogikh became Brockville’s “beneficial owner,” a term that refers to the person who ultimately controls an offshore company or benefits from it financially, even if other names appear on registration documents. They indicate she was the beneficial owner as early as 2006.
Moores Rowland, the Monaco financial services firm that managed the transactions, used shell companies that would have made it difficult for anyone seeking to unravel Krivonogikh’s ownership. Brockville was tucked inside a second shell company called Sefton Securities, which was in turn owned by Eamonn McGregor, a British-born accountant who runs Moores Rowland in Monaco. That is where the public paper trail ends.
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On Jan. 1, 2006, Krivonogikh signed an agreement that made Sefton the declared owner of Brockville, when, in reality, the apartment was hers, according to Pandora records. A 2015 disclosure letter in the Pandora files makes the arrangement explicit, noting that Krivonogikh had authorized a structure in which Sefton “was appointed nominee and trustee for the beneficial owner.”
Moores Rowland’s offices are in the heart of Monte Carlo, a few blocks inland from the famous casino. The firm appears to have transferred control of Brockville to a different Panama-based shell in 2018, but there is no indication in those files or public records that Krivonogikh ever relinquished ownership.
When a Post reporter visited the Monte Carlo Star complex in mid-August, a security official at the building’s entrance said no one named Svetlana Krivonogikh was listed on the directory of residents.
When a Post reporter knocked on the door of the unit identified by local property records as owned by Brockville, a woman who answered said that no one named Svetlana lived at the apartment. She did not resemble photos of Krivonogikh.
No other residents were seen in the hallway or coming and going from the building’s main entrance. The interior appears to date to the 1970s, with brick-colored walls, walnut-paneled doors and geometrically shaped chandeliers dangling above the main staircase.
Monaco tax officials confirmed that Brockville still owns the apartment. If Krivonogikh is renting it out, recent listings indicate she could earn $25,000 or more in monthly income.
Monaco law requires financial firms operating in that jurisdiction to devote special scrutiny to clients considered “politically exposed persons” — those who hold prominent public positions or have close ties to others fitting that description. Moores Rowland did not list Krivonogikh as “politically exposed” in documents included in the Pandora files.
Moores Rowland has business connections to other Russians close to Putin. Among them is Gennady Timchenko, a billionaire oil trader whose friendship with Putin dates to the 1990s in St. Petersburg.
Registration documents and other records in the trove show that Moores Rowland was active on behalf of Timchenko, helping form a company that would become part of his oil-trading empire. Similar documents also show Moores Rowland’s involvement in setting up shell companies whose listed assets included yachts purchased by Timchenko and his daughter.
The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Timchenko in 2014, alleging that Putin held investments in his oil-trading venture. Timchenko’s firm denied the allegation, but he has a history of being involved in business transactions with people allegedly close to Putin.
For example, Timchenko sold a luxury riverside apartment in St. Petersburg to the grandmother of a rhythmic gymnast, Alina Kabayeva, alleged to have been romantically involved with Putin, according to a report by Russia’s TV Rain citing Russian property records. Putin in 2008 denied being in a relationship with Kabayeva.
Kabayeva did not respond to a request for comment sent through Russia’s National Media Group, where she serves as chairwoman.
Timchenko also sold a mansion in Biarritz, France, and a large stake in the Russian oil and petrochemical company Sibur to Putin’s former son-in-law, according to Reuters.
Carter-Ruck, a London law firm representing Timchenko, said that he “has always acted entirely lawfully throughout his career and business dealings.”
In a letter to The Post, a British law firm representing Moores Rowland defended its client but did not provide any comment for publication.
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A portfolio of properties
The Monaco apartment is part of an astonishing portfolio of properties accumulated by Krivonogikh after she allegedly began her relationship with Putin.
She owns a stake in a Russian bank run by Putin associates, according to public records and the Proekt investigation. She owns a majority share of a ski resort where one of two daughters Putin had with his wife was married. She has a yacht, a Swiss bank account also exposed in the Pandora trove, and apartments at St. Petersburg’s most coveted addresses, according to reporting by Proekt and Russian public records.
Before being publicly linked to Putin last year, Krivonogikh displayed the trappings of wealth in profile photos published by Proekt. One picture now in wide circulation shows her wearing a fur and mirrored sunglasses. Another shows her reclining in sleek clothing against a helicopter.
There is no indication that her personal fortune derives from family wealth.
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Two anonymous sources who said they know Krivonogikh told the Russian publication that she had been “close friends” with Putin for years, forging a relationship that began in the 1990s in St. Petersburg, where Putin worked as a senior city official, and continued into the early 2000s in Moscow after he became president. Proekt reported that it had reviewed passenger records showing that Krivonogikh became a frequent airline commuter to the Russian capital as Putin settled into his duties.
Krivonogikh’s professional prospects suddenly brightened, according to details laid out in the Proekt investigation. As early as 2001, she began working at Bank Rossiya. She subsequently acquired a roughly 3 percent stake in the bank, according to bank statements.
She became owner of an apartment on St. Petersburg’s prestigious Kamenny Island and acquired a stake in a performing arts center in St. Petersburg, according to the Proekt investigation, which cites Russian public records verified by The Post.
Yet another deal gave her a 75 percent stake in a ski resort north of St. Petersburg, which she owns with a friend of Putin who served as Bank Rossiya’s longtime chairman and largest shareholder, according to Russian public records.
The seven chair lifts and diminutive slopes of the Igora resort are no draw for Europe’s elite skiers. But the property has benefited from millions of dollars in investments and expansion since it opened during Putin’s second term as president, and in 2013 it served as the backdrop for the wedding of the younger of Putin’s two daughters with the wife he divorced in 2014.
A resemblance to Putin
Putin has guarded details about his private life and personal wealth with the dedication that might be expected of a former KGB officer. Even his two acknowledged daughters shielded their identities from the public by living under aliases.
But the wall of secrecy has seen cracks develop in recent years amid a surge of online disclosures from opposition campaigners, journalists and Internet sleuths. Earlier this year, for example, Putin’s main political adversary, Alexei Navalny, posted an online exposé alleging that a $1 billion palace on the coast of the Black Sea is a secret residence for the Russian leader paid for through proceeds of corruption. Putin denied owning the property.
Russian authorities have responded in recent months with a harsh crackdown on the political opposition and journalists. After the Black Sea investigation was posted online, Navalny was sentenced to 3½ years in prison and his organization was banned by a Russian court.
Russia has since also outlawed Proekt on national security grounds. Its editor fled the country fearing criminal prosecution.
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Proekt estimated last year that Krivonogikh’s assets in Russia alone were worth 7.7 billion rubles, or about $100 million. The Pandora files provide the first evidence that her holdings have extended beyond Russia’s borders.
Krivonogikh has refused to comment on the allegations of her relationship with Putin and has shunned appearances in public and social media. Her daughter, however, has attracted attention with speculation about her lineage.
In March, Rozova appeared at a Moscow club to play a surprise DJ set in honor of her 18th birthday. She has attracted tens of thousands of followers on Instagram, where the pictures she posts obscure parts of her face but reveal heavy-lidded eyes that resemble those of the Russian leader.
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Her online profile shows the trappings of wealth and that she is familiar with the French Riviera scene surrounding Monaco. During an appearance on the video social-networking platform Clubhouse in February, Rozova noted how she visits the French coastal city Menton each year to attend its Lemon Festival — an event less than 20 minutes from the Monte Carlo property.
Rozova did not respond to requests for comment.
In a February interview with the Russian edition of GQ, she didn’t explain why she stopped using her mother’s surname, Krivonogikh. Nor did she directly address her paternity. She was willing, however, to acknowledge a likeness to Putin.
“Listen, compared to his young photographs, probably, yes, I look like him,” she said. “But, as it turns out, there are many people who look like Vladimir Vladimirovich.”
In an August interview with Srsly.ru, she similarly declined to address the identity of her father, saying the intrigue had already played out and it was “boring to know the truth.” She also declined to say whether she had ever met Putin.
The interviewer asked what she’d say to the Russian president if she ended up in front of him.
“I would probably ask him a question,” Rozova replied.
“Which one?” the interviewer asked.
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