Four bankers have appeared in a Swiss court charged with helping to hide tens of millions of francs on behalf of Vladimir Putin.
The men, who had senior roles at the Swiss branch of Russia’s Gazprombank, are accused of helping Sergei Roldugin – a close friend of the Russian president who has been described as “Putin’s wallet” – to move millions through Swiss bank accounts without the proper due diligence checks.
The men – three Russians and one Swiss national who cannot be identified, under Swiss reporting restrictions – appeared at Zurich district court on Wednesday. They denied the charges.
Roldugin, a godfather to Putin’s eldest daughter, Maria, reportedly placed $50m in Swiss accounts between 2014 and 2016 with no credible explanation as to where the money had come from. He also allegedly planned to pump more than $10m a year into Swiss accounts via a complex web of shell companies.
Swiss prosecutors told the court that the bankers failed to do enough to determine the identity of the true beneficial owner of the funds.
Roldugin was the officially named owner of two accounts opened at Gazprombank Switzerland in 2014. However, there was no evidence to prove the source of Roldugin’s funds.
Roldugin, a cellist and conductor, previously told the New York Times that he was not a businessman and certainly not a millionaire.
“All the evidence runs contrary to Sergei Roldugin being the real owner of the assets,” the prosecutor Jan Hoffmann told the court.
The defence lawyer Bernhard Lötscher said there was no proof that Roldugin was not the real owner of the assets. “Doubts about the identity of the true owner are not enough from a criminal law point of view,” he told the court.
The indictment says: “It is well known that … Putin officially only has an income of 100,000 Swiss francs and is not wealthy, but in fact has enormous assets which are managed by persons close to him … The declared assets were in general in no way plausible as Roldugin’s own assets.”
Putin has previously said Roldugin is a friend, a brilliant musician and a benefactor who has honestly earned some money from a minority stake in a Russian company.
The Kremlin has previously dismissed suggestions that Roldugin’s funds are linked to the Russian leader as anti-Russian “Putinophobia”. It says Putin’s finances are a matter of public record as he has regularly declared his assets and salary to Russian voters.
Roldugin’s alleged role as a “wallet” for Putin was revealed in 2016 by the Panama Papers, an investigation published by the Guardian in collaboration with other media, including the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington and the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.