| 20 March 2023, Monday |

Putin’s cellist friend moved millions through Swiss bank accounts

The first day of a trial for four bankers accused of assisting a concert cellist connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin launder millions of francs through Swiss bank accounts without any proper checks, Swiss prosecutors alleged on Wednesday.

According to the prosecution, between 2014 and 2016, Sergey Roldugin, a close friend of the Russian president, placed millions of francs into Swiss bank accounts.

The four bankers – three Russians who worked in Zurich and one Swiss – appeared at Zurich District Court on Wednesday and denied charges of lacking diligence in financial transactions. They cannot be identified under Swiss reporting restrictions.

The prosecution told the court they failed to do enough to determine the identity of the beneficial owner of the funds. Sums of around 30 million Swiss francs ($31.84 million) were involved in the case, said public prosecutor Jan Hoffmann.

Roldugin was named the owner of two accounts opened at Gazprombank Switzerland in 2014.

This was despite Roldugin who appears on Switzerland’s list of sanctioned Russians – having no listed activity as a businessman on his bank documents.


At the time, the musician told the New York Times that he was certainly not a businessman and did not himself own millions, according to the indictment.

Roldugin was among scores of members of Putin’s inner circle sanctioned by the West, including Switzerland, after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Reuters has approached his representatives for comment.

The case highlights how people like Roldugin were used as “strawmen”, the indictment seen by Reuters said, a way to hide the true owners of money.

“All the evidence runs contrary to Sergey Roldugin being the real owner of the assets,” prosecuting lawyer Hoffmann told the court.

Defence lawyer Bernhard Loetscher 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,” Loetscher told the court.

Prosecutors are seeking suspended sentences of seven months for each of the bankers. The trial is expected to last one day.


There is little trace of Putin’s assets.

“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 indictment said.

Reuters has asked the Kremlin for comment on Putin’s relationship with Roldugin and about his own wealth and assets.

Putin has in the past said that Roldugin is a friend, a brilliant musician and benefactor who has honestly earned some money from a minority stake in a Russian company.

The Kremlin has previously dismissed any suggestion that Roldugin’s funds are linked to the Russian leader as anti-Russian “Putinophobia”. Putin’s finances are a matter of public record, says the Kremlin, saying he has regularly declared his assets and salary to Russian voters.


The bankers in the case did not carry out sufficient checks to see if Roldugin was the true owner of the assets in question, the indictment said.

“At the time of the opening of the account it was reported in various articles … that Sergey Roldugin was a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin and godfather of his daughter,” it said.

Other red flags were ignored, and the defendants did not attempt to clarify the plausibility of Roldugin being the real owner of the assets, or the money’s origin, it added.

In the bank’s documents, only Roldugin’s professional activity as a musician was listed, making his ownership and involvement “in no way plausible”, the court documents said.

In Switzerland, banks are obliged to reject or terminate business relationships if there are doubts about the identity of the contracting party.

Both of the accounts in Roldugin’s name were closed in September 2016.

  • Reuters