Mysterious Group of Companies Tied to Bank Rossiya Unites Billions of Dollars in Assets Connected to Vladimir Putin
Entry type: Single project
Reporter.lu (Luxembourg, in German).
Meduza (Russia, in Russian),
Le Monde (France, in French),
Der Spiegel (Germany, in German),
Profil (Austria, in German),
Investigace.cz (Czech Republic, in Czech),
Siena.lt (Lithuania, in Lithuanian),
Eesti Ekspress (Estonia, in Estonian),
The Guardian (U.K., in English),
Information.dk (Denmark, in Danish),
FTM (The Netherlands, in Dutch),
Infolibre (Spain, in Spanish),
Tijd (Belgium, in Flemish),
Tamedia (Switzerland, in German),
Tamedia (Switzerland, in French),
Dagbladet Information (Denmark, in Danish),
NDR/WDR (Germany, in German),
IRPI (Italy, in Italian),
YLE (Finland, in Finnish) and
Inside Story (Greece, in Greek).
Organisation size: Big
Publication date: 2022-06-20
Language: Meduza (Russia, in Russian), Le Monde (France, in French), Der Spiegel (Germany, in German), Profil (Austria, in German), Investigace.cz (Czech Republic, in Czech), Siena.lt (Lithuania, in Lithuanian), Eesti Ekspress (Estonia, in Estonian), The Guardian (U.K., in English), Information.dk (Denmark, in Danish), FTM (The Netherlands, in Dutch), Infolibre (Spain, in Spanish), Tijd (Belgium, in Flemish), Tamedia (Switzerland, in German), Tamedia (Switzerland, in French), Dagbladet Information (Denmark, in Danish), NDR/WDR (Germany, in German), IRPI (Italy, in Italian), YLE (Finland, in Finnish) and Inside Story (Greece, in Greek)
Authors: Olesya Shmagun (OCCRP), Denis Dmitriev (Meduza), Miranda Patrucic (OCCRP), Ilya Lozovsky (OCCRP)
Olesya Shmagun has worked with OCCRP for the last seven years. She co-founded Important Stories, an independent investigative media organization based in Russia, now working in exile.
Denis Dmitriev has been a journalist for news outlet Meduza since its foundation in 2014. As an explanatory journalist he tries to clarify different various complex and confusing issues like the recent amendments to the Russian Constitution.
Miranda Patrucic joined OCCRP in 2006 and is the deputy editor in chief for regional stories and Central Asia.
Ilya Lozovsky is a staff writer and senior editor at OCCRP.
For years, reporters have been looking into Putin’s wealth. His name has never appeared on any document and officials deny he owns anything.
But our investigation found a network of companies, holding assets worth $4.5+ billion, which appears to benefit Putin. These 86 companies, identified by reporters through their email domain, llcinvest.ru, hold all the major assets ever ascribed to him.
Many of these assets were supplied to the system by wealthy businessmen/the president’s friends, suggesting massive conflicts of interest. And it shows how, while not formally “owning” anything, Putin and his inner circle benefit through this informal arrangement.
The project was published in over a dozen media outlets (see above) and reached a wide international audience in many languages, including Russian.
In the country, where political and press freedoms are suppressed, we rarely see any real results of journalistic investigations. In an interview, a spokesperson for Putin referred to our investigation as “stryapnya” (meaning something not tasty that you cook. This word is used to describe unfair reporting). However, no factual comments were ever made to explain the existence of LLCInvest group and Putin’s involvement in it.
Reporters obtained several leaked email archives and used them as a starting point to map out the network of LLCInvest companies holding Putin’s assets. We found that the llcinvest.com domain is hosted by an IT company called Moskomsvyaz that is linked to Bank Rossiya. Moskomsvyaz appears to be a kind of in-house provider of technology services for the Bank Rossiya universe. On examining the full range of IP addresses that includes LLCInvest.ru, reporters found dozens of other email domains representing other companies, which encompassed assets linked to Putin.
Moscomsvyaz’s IP range gave us the initial list of companies, some were familiar to us. Our hypothesis: all of them are parts of one group. We checked if directors and shareholders of these companies are using LLCInvest emails, we noticed that all LLCInvest addresses have the same pattern: the first letter of the name and the surname of the user. We used a web resource to check if an email exists and found dozens of existing addresses: Hunter.io, Email checker
That gave us about 40 companies and we researched all available data about them, their subsidies, directors and shareholders.
We used numerous official and commercial corporate databases:
National Tax Service, biggest commercial database Spark, https://companies.rbc.ru/, https://vbankcenter.ru/contragent)
Final list of LLCIncest companies consisted of 100+ companies. We used many databases to find their purpose and assets, including
Official Land Registry
Official Russian registry of boats
Ship Tracking and Plane tracking resources
OCCRP’s entity extraction and database tool, Aleph, was invaluable; we uploaded thousands of leaked emails and made them searchable. Aleph helped us cross-check these emails with other available datasets, such as custom, corporate, and land records. We used Google’s spreadsheet functionality to build a database of all companies making up the LLCInvest system.
Context about the project:
This story is based on hundreds of corporate records and thousands of leaked emails. It was a complicated analysis of big data in an effort to establish the wealth of the president of Russia. It was hard to nail the story and to present all the facts in a way that a reader who is not familiar with complex corporate structures would understand.
While working on a story one of the main reporters, Olesya Shmagun, was designated by the Russian authorities as a foreign agent, an label that many vocal critics of Putin received in the last two years. This makes it much more difficult to conduct journalistic work in Russia.
Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine started when reporting was finished and the piece was being edited. Very shortly after the invasion, the website of our Russian partner, Meduza, was blocked in Russia and OCCRP was proclaimed an undesirable organization. That made any cooperation with OCCRP illegal for any Russian citizen, including reporters, editors and even experts who provided comments for the story.
Russian partner Meduza published the story even though open association with OCCRP put them at risk of criminal prosecution.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
The biggest lesson is the amount of meticulous organization required. Such a project has so many different leaks, moving parts, and bits of information that it requires a systematic way of collecting and analyzing that information, otherwise it would be impossible to extract anything useful.
It’s also very important for investigative reporters to have an ongoing dialogue with their editors about how to interpret the data, how to shape the narrative, and how to make sure they’re extracting what would make the best story. This needs to be done throughout the reporting process, not just afterwards.
The complexity of this story required very careful storytelling to make sure the subject matter — and especially the exact level of proof obtained by reporters — is communicated to readers. We rewrote the story what seems like a dozen times until we were satisfied that we were conveying exactly what we found in a way that our readers can understand and learn from.
It is also important to be clear about which elements of the story are not fully understood. There is a lot of value in being clear and up-front, communicating what is known and what is not, rather than trying to cover it up. This ensures that other journalists will have opportunities to add to the story, and also that we are transparent about what we can prove and what we cannot.