A case in Switzerland may unravel how Russian president Vladimir Putin hides his ‘enormous assets’

Putin's critics speculate that Russia's president could be among the world's wealthiest people.

Vladimir Putin's true net worth is a mystery, with some critics claiming it reaches into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Mikhail Metzel—Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images

No one knows how wealthy Vladimir Putin is, but a new case in Switzerland might start to unravel the ways Russia’s president stores his alleged fortune.

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No one knows how wealthy Vladimir Putin is, but a new case in Switzerland might start to unravel the ways Russia’s president stores his alleged fortune.

The Swiss government is bringing charges of criminal negligence against four Swiss-based executives at Gazprombank, as first reported by Tages-Anzeiger, a Swiss publication. Prosecutors accuse the bankers of mishandling money from Sergei Roldugin, a cellist who also serves as godfather to Putin’s daughter. The trial starts March 8.

The indictment accuses the bankers of not investigating whether Rodulgin was the actual owner of certain accounts, despite the cellist being a “politically exposed person.”

Swiss prosecutors also hope the case can shed light on Putin’s wealth. “It is notorious that Russian President Putin officially has an income of just over SFr100,000 [$106,000] and is not wealthy, but in fact has enormous assets managed by people close to him,” says the indictment, according to the Financial Times

Prosecutors claim that Roldugin had assets of at least $50 million and was planning to send $10 million more into Swiss accounts each year, which “were in general no way plausible as Roldugin’s own assets.”

Panama Papers

Roldugin was a key figure in the Panama Papers, a set of leaked documents published in 2016 that detailed the owners of companies based in offshore tax havens. Investigations by journalists found that Roldugin and other close associates of Putin had significant shares in Russian companies, implying that Putin might be wealthier than official disclosures suggest. 

Switzerland started its investigation into Gazprombank in response to the Panama Papers. In 2018, Switzerland’s financial regulator said that the bank was “in serious breach of its anti-money-laundering due diligence requirements” and recommended a criminal investigation. Gazprombank’s Swiss unit started winding down its operations last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Both the U.S. and the European Union imposed sanctions on Putin on Feb. 25, 2022. Both jurisdictions have also placed sanctions on Roldugin. 

Switzerland adopted European Union sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and other major ministers and oligarchs last March. The country’s decision to adopt EU sanctions put aside its tradition of neutrality in international disputes and conflicts.

How wealthy is Putin?

According to official disclosures from the Russian government, Putin earned $135,000 in 2021. Yet Russia’s president is alleged to own high-end luxury watches, a superyacht, and a 190,000-square-foot mansion overlooking the Black Sea. 

Putin’s critics put his wealth in the tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars, which if accurate would place the Russian president among the world’s wealthiest people. The most extreme claim comes from financier Bill Browder, a Putin critic and one of the main proponents of the Magnitsky Act, who claimed in a 2017 U.S. Senate hearing that the Russian president’s assets totaled $200 billion.

If accurate, that would make the Russian president the richest person in the world, ahead of LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

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