Putin's "Billions" In Hidden Wealth De-Fang US, EU Financial Sanctions

Tyler Durden's Photo
by Tyler Durden
Monday, Feb 28, 2022 - 12:00 PM

It's a question that has long plagued ordinary Americans and Russians, as well as the US Treasury Department: how much hidden wealth does Russian President Vladimir Putin actually hold?

Before 2016, the personal wealth of the Russian leader was shrouded in mystery, but a series of leaks from inside the law firms and banks that dominate "offshore" finance - including the 2016 Panama Papers and the Pandora Papers released in October 2021 have offered some clues that the president's vast wealth stretches well beyond Russia's borders. The only problem is that, since most of this "hidden wealth" is officially registered in the names of others (often close friends and even former lovers of the Russian president whom he has known for years) it makes it difficult for US sanctions to truly be effective.

Officially, Putin earns about $140K per year (much less now given the moves in the ruble in FX markets), and owns a modest apartment in Moscow. But several  assets believed to belong to the Russian president, including a yacht known as "Putin's yacht" and a massive, billion-dollar dacha on the Black Sea known as "Putin's palace", have now been widely publicized.

Let's start with the palace.

Details about Putin's Black Sea palace were first publicized by imprisoned Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. The palace includes a movie theater, strip club, palatial bedrooms, hot tubs, and much more.

Here are some photos originally published by Navalny's organization and shared with Insider and the Associated Press:

Source: Insider

All told, more than 400 photos of the palace's exterior and interior have been published by Navalny.

Now, let's move on to "Putin's yacht".

Estimated to have cost $100 million, the luxury vessel, named Graceful, has long been tied to the Russian leader. Ship-tracking services captured the vessel leaving Germany for Russia just weeks before the invasion into Ukraine.

Source: NYT

There's also the question of several luxury properties, including a $4.1M apartment in Monaco, and a palatial villa in the South of France. The apartment in Monaco is registered to a woman suspected of being an ex-lover of Putin, while the French villa is registered to his ex-wife, Lyudmilla Putin, and her new husband.

Here's a photo of the villa.

Source: OCCRP

And a photo of the Monaco apartment building taken from inside one of its hallways.

Source: Washington Post

There's also the question of Sergei Roldugin, a cellist and longtime friend of Putin's (their friendship reportedly dates back to their childhoods in St. Petersburg), who was identified by the Panama Papers as holding tens of millions of dollars in assets supposedly on Putin's behalf (though he himself has denied this in interviews with the western press).

One advisor to the US government's efforts to sanction Putin and his allies and cut them off from the US financial system acknowledged in an interview with the NYT that the vast troves of hidden wealth belonging to Putin and allied Russian oligarchs are just "glorified press releases".

Paul Massaro, a senior adviser at the U.S. Helsinki Commission who has been counseling members of Congress on Russia sanctions, said it was not always clear to American officials what assets would be affected.

"It means that the sanctions that we hit these people with are largely going to be glorified press releases, because without knowing what these assets are, we can’t freeze them," he said.

Still, even if the United States has only a limited picture of Mr. Putin’s wealth, sanctions are worthwhile "just to freeze what we can, freeze what we know, and let people know that these people aren’t welcome in our system," Mr. Massaro said.

Estimates of Putin's wealth vary widely. But perhaps the largest ever recorded was shared by Bill Browder, a western financier who has become a prominent Putin critic (most notorious for sheparding the "Magnitsky Act" to fruition in the US), has testified before the US Congress that Putin's hidden wealth is more than $200 billion, making Putin the wealthiest man in the world, even moreso than Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the NYT reports.

The Kremlin has denied all allegations that any of these assets belong to Putin, insisting that the Russian President is a man of "simple tastes" who has "no need for luxury".

But in the end, most of these estimates might be considered irrelevant. Given his immense power in Russia, and the unlikelihood that he will be "retiring" anytime soon. Even if he owns the French villa, or the Monaco apartment, does the Russian leader ever have an opportunity to use them? Or are these properties merely concrete repositories of supposedly "ill gotten" gains?

As Nate Sibley, a researcher at the Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative, put it: Putin doesn't really need a vast fortune because he "controls everything" in Russia. "When people say he’s worth such and such, what does that mean?" he asked. "Are they really saying that he’s going to cash in and retire to St. Tropez?"