The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is making public a trove of new information about shell companies linked to Russians as part of a broader effort to spotlight the offshore world and the hidden wealth of Kremlin-linked figures in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The company names and other data on more than 800 Russian nationals come from Seychelles-based Alpha Consulting Ltd., an offshore services provider that serves mostly Russian clients. The data includes newly discovered details about companies tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allies and other Russian political figures who shelter assets behind opaque businesses that can also be used to escape global sanctions.
Putin’s former communications minister, a high-ranking regional political leader, an imprisoned cryptocurrency specialist and an oligarch are among the Russians whose names appear in the data, which can be accessed through ICIJ’s public Offshore Leaks Database.
The database now contains information on more than 800,000 offshore companies, foundations and trusts, and links to people and companies in more than 200 countries and territories, which can be publicly searched and downloaded.
In addition to the data release, ICIJ and its partners are publishing new reporting that shows how Russian bankers, oligarchs and others in Putin’s orbit have obscured vast wealth in tax havens with the help of Western enablers. The data release, and the stories, draw primarily from the Pandora Papers, millions of offshore financial records that fueled a 2021 global investigation.
This new publication, dubbed Pandora Papers Russia, marks the latest effort by ICIJ to shine light into one of the world’s most secretive industries – and follows a decade of reporting on Russian offshore maneuvering in particular. For ease of access, ICIJ has compiled much of that prior reporting in a dedicated page called the Russia Archive.
The reporting and the data release come as U.S., British, European and other authorities scramble to hunt down money and assets of oligarchs and others with Kremlin ties, a task that offshore secrecy brokers, like Alpha Consulting, have made far more difficult.
Forty percent of more than 2,000 offshore corporations, foundations and trusts found among the leaked Alpha Consulting data and published today have one or more Russian beneficial owners. Another 23% have one or more Ukrainian beneficial owners.
The new data also links offshore companies to other firms and individuals from more than 100 countries and territories. Among Alpha Consulting’s high-profile clientele are Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman and the focus of ICIJ’s Luanda Leaks investigation; Martin Rushwaya, a Zimbabwean general and presidential adviser; and Davit Galstyan, the owner of an Armenian arms company that a United Nations panel in 2013 said was involved in supplying the United Arab Emirates with ammunition that was later transferred to Libya, which was under an arms embargo.
Dos Santos and Rushwaya did not respond to questions from ICIJ. Galstyan’s attorney, Armen Andrikyan, stated that one of Galstyan’s offshore companies was closed “years ago,” but he has two active offshore companies engaged in international trade. He denied that Galstyan’s arms company supplied ammunition to Libya, stating that Galstyan “has never supplied weapons to armed groups” and the deliveries to the United Arab Emirates “were made under NATO supervision.” He added that Galstyan possesses documents that disprove the panel’s allegations.
Alpha Consulting is one of 14 offshore services providers whose documents were leaked to ICIJ, setting in motion the Pandora Papers investigation, which reviewed more than 11.9 million records, containing 2.94 terabytes of confidential information. Offshore service providers specialize in the incorporation and operation of companies, trusts and foundations typically used to shelter assets in secrecy jurisdictions away from the view of tax and law enforcement authorities, the courts and the general public. The release of Alpha Consulting data is part of ICIJ’s ongoing effort to publish information from the Pandora Papers project. More data tied to the other providers will be published in the coming weeks.
Offshore Leaks Database shines light on offshore economy
Created by ICIJ in 2013 and maintained by ICIJ’s data and tech teams, the Offshore Leaks Database strips away the secrecy that cloaks companies and trusts incorporated in tax havens and exposes the people behind them. The database contains information from leaks that served as the basis for five ICIJ projects: Offshore Leaks in 2013, the blockbuster Panama Papers and Bahamas Leaks in 2016, the Paradise Papers in 2017, and last year’s Pandora Papers, the data of which is being added in installments.
The interactive database application reveals more than 740,000 names of people and companies creating and operating secret offshore structures. The data includes, when available, the names of the real owners. Because the records are leaked, not from a standardized corporate registry, there may be duplicates. In some cases, companies are listed as shareholders for other companies or for trusts, an arrangement that often helps obscure the real people behind offshore entities.
ICIJ doesn’t publish raw documents, corporate or personal, en masse. While the database contains a great deal of verified, organized and searchable information about company owners, proxies and intermediaries in secrecy jurisdictions, it doesn’t disclose private communications, bank account information or private personal documents.
ICIJ is publishing this information in the public interest. While the presence of a person’s or a company’s name is not intended to suggest or imply that they have engaged in illegal or improper conduct, ICIJ believes that providing this data to all for free helps shine a light on the scope of the offshore economy and the damage it perpetuates.
Alpha Consulting data reveals high-profile Russians
Alpha Consulting was founded in 2008 by Victoria Valkovskaya, a Russian translator from Moscow who moved to the Seychelles, an Indian Ocean island nation, and opened the firm with her then-husband, Roy Delcy, a Seychelles native. As is typical in the offshore business, the firm provides so-called nominee directors, or stand-ins, for official corporate paperwork to help shroud shell companies’ actual owners. The company reported in 2019 that its client base is 75% Russian.
Roman Avdeev, a prominent Russian businessman and Alpha Consulting client, began selling radio components and decoders for TV sets in the late 1980s. After the fall of the Soviet Union in late 1991, Avdeev bought Credit Bank of Moscow, a major Russian financial institution. He owns a pharmacy chain and has interests in the construction, timber and oil industries. He also bought the Torpedo Moscow football club in 2017. Forbes lists his wealth at about $1.3 billion as of early April 2022. Credit Bank of Moscow has been under U.S. sanctions since February.
Alpha Consulting records show Avdeev-linked offshore companies to be registered in the Seychelles, British Virgin Islands and Belize. One of those entities, Hi Capital Corp., is listed in records as a personal savings company.
Leonid Reiman, a graduate of what is now the St. Petersburg State University of Telecommunications, worked as an engineer and later held senior positions in what is now the St. Petersburg city telephone network. He was appointed the Russian Federation’s minister of information and communications in 1999 before serving as minister of communications and information technologies and, later, as adviser to the president.
In 2006, a Swiss arbitration panel found that Reiman had used an offshore mutual fund as a front to control large interests in Russia’s telecom industry while he was communications minister. Reiman has consistently denied owning state telecom assets.
Alpha Consulting records show that offshore firms connected to Reiman list their purpose as the trading of securities. Through a representative, Reiman declined to answer questions from ICIJ.
The records also link offshore firms to Alexander Vinnik, a Russian computer specialist. He allegedly operated a cryptocurrency exchange known as BTC-e until U.S. authorities seized it when he was arrested in Greece on a U.S. warrant in 2017. He was later extradited to France, where he was convicted of money laundering, and he is serving a five-year prison sentence. His lawyer has said he fears Vinnik could be extradited to the U.S. after he completes his term. Alpha submitted a report to Seychelles financial authorities in 2018, saying it had learned of Vinnik’s criminal record during due diligence checks,37 documents show. A lawyer for Vinnik didn’t respond to a request for comment from ICIJ.
The publication of Alpha Consulting data adds to what already was a huge trove of information on Russian elites in the Offshore Leaks Database. The database contains records from two financial service providers in the Pandora Papers that, together with Alpha Consulting, have the highest percentages of Russians as beneficial owners: Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (Alcogal) of Panama and Fidelity Corporate Services, founded in the British Virgin Islands. The records of all three firms are now available in the Offshore Leaks Database.
The database now includes information extracted from five leaks, on more than 11,000 entities with links to Russia. The Pandora Papers probe links nearly 3,700 companies to more than 4,400 Russian nationals – by far the most among all nationalities found in the Pandora Papers data. Russians control about 14% of all the companies and other legal entities revealed in the leak.
Pandora Papers recap: Dozens of Russian politicians, oligarchs hoard wealth offshore
Hundreds of Russians have been sanctioned by Western authorities since Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. But efforts to identify and freeze assets held by Putin’s inner circle have bogged down on the shores of secrecy jurisdictions. Throngs of well-connected Russians own businesses in places that make little to no ownership information available. Some companies are used to hide assets like yachts and mansions. Some are used to shuffle money around in schemes that line Putin’s pockets.
In the Pandora Papers, Russian political figures – including former ministers, ex-members of the Russian parliament (the Duma) and a presidential candidate – own 163 distinct entities. That’s more offshore companies than the ones owned by politicians from any other country.
The Russian political figures predominantly use financial service providers Alcogal and Dadlaw, and most of their companies are registered in the British Virgin Islands and Cyprus, secrecy jurisdictions that are notorious for their low taxes.
Mikail Gutseriev, founder of major Russian oil company RussNeft and a former member of the Duma, and his brother Sait-Salam Gutseriev, another former Duma member, are tied to 84 offshore companies registered by Alcogal and Dadlaw. They are the Russian politicians who own the most offshore companies in the Pandora Papers. Neither responded to requests for comment directed to RussNeft’s press office.
In addition to politicians, more than 45 oligarchs appear in the Pandora Papers data. They range from billionaire businessmen who run major oil companies to kingpins in the sports world. As of April 8, at least 12 of them were targeted by the recent sanctions.
Contributors: Caroline Desprat, Pierre Romera, Maxime Vanza, Antonio Cucho, Hamish Boland-Rudder, Asraa Mustufa, Jorge González, Javier Ladrón de Guevara, Dean Starkman