Rich Russians apparently transferred money to Switzerland with the help of a second European passport even after the start of the Ukraine war.
According to research published on Thursday by the media group Tamedia, the daughter and partner of Alexander Ponomarenko, managing director of the Moscow water utility Moswodokanal and supporter of the war in Ukraine, “invested millions in Switzerland even after the war began.”
Media analyzed data from a Swiss asset manager
An international media consortium, which, in addition to Tamedia, also includes the magazine “Spiegel” and the French newspaper “Le Monde”, analyzed Russian documents and data from a Zurich asset manager. These were briefly published on the Darknet after a hacker attack.
In June 2022, when the UN in Geneva denounced atrocities committed by Russians against civilians in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Ponomarenko’s daughter opened an account at the private bank Reyl in Zurich “almost simultaneously”. “A short time later” “9.5 million dollars” were received into the account.
As of November 2022, Ponomarenko’s partner had almost “$26 million at Julius Baer and $4.5 million at Pictet Bank,” according to the report.
Banking restrictions were easy to circumvent
In March 2022, Switzerland banned its banks from accepting deposits of over 100,000 Swiss francs from Russian citizens. Several banks, including Julius Baer, had announced that they would be separating from their Russian customers.
However, according to the research, these restrictions could be “easily circumvented”. On the one hand, because the accounts did not belong to Ponomarenko, but to his partner and his daughter, and on the other hand, because they had passports or residence permits from an EU country, “in Cyprus and in Spain”. Therefore, they were not considered “customers from Russia”.
In addition, it is no problem for wealthy Russians to acquire a so-called “golden passport”. These are passports that some countries give out in return for investments.
Russians are moving money out of the country: Swiss banks sounded the alarm
The leaked data also showed that the Reyl Bank realized in autumn 2022 that one of the two women was also Russian and asked the asset manager by email to clarify “whether the woman had two nationalities”.
According to the research, Swiss banks should have “sounded the alarm” after two Russian websites reported that Ponomarenko was accused of embezzling funds, primarily to finance “luxury real estate in France.”
In addition, “the daughter and the partner of the director of a state-owned company are politically exposed people” and therefore “high-risk customers,” said Gretta Fenner, managing director of the Basel Institute on Governance.
Ponomarenkos own real estate worth millions in Germany
Meanwhile, “Spiegel,” which was involved in the research, reported that Ponomarenko’s family members invested millions in luxury real estate in Germany. Accordingly, they acquired luxury properties and land in Berlin, Leipzig and Ludwigsfelde through various German companies.
According to the company, these properties are largely financed through loans. However, according to “Spiegel”, the verified data shows that the loans are partially secured by the private assets of Ponomarenko’s long-time partner.
Lawyer defends Ponomarenko’s partner
A law firm told the research team that Ponomarenko’s partner left Russia in February 2022 and is trying to end her business ties with the country. In addition, the relationship with Ponomarenko ended “for several years”.