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Gazprombank execs in Swiss court over Putin's cellist funds

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
Gazprombank execs in Swiss court over Putin's cellist funds
Sergei Roldugin with Putin, photographed in 2009. Photo by DMITRY ASTAKHOV / Sputnik / AFP)

Four executives of the Swiss branch of Gazprombank appeared in a Zurich court on Wednesday over vast sums going into the accounts of a close confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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The accounts were held by Sergei Roldugin, the artistic director of the St. Petersburg Music House who is often called Putin's cellist.

Roldugin has been a friend of Putin for more than four decades and is godfather to one of the Russian leader's daughters.

The four executives are accused of having failed to carry out due diligence despite "objective" reasons for concern that the millions of Swiss francs
flowing through Roldugin's account should have generated, according to the indictment.

They are accused of not having taken the necessary precautions to ensure that the cellist and conductor was the legitimate beneficiary of the sums
entrusted to the bank between 2014 and 2016.

Under Swiss law, the musician should also have been subject to stricter checks, as a so-called politically exposed person.

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The cellist was sanctioned by the European Union in the days following Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, with the European authorities saying he was "part of Putin's hidden financial network".

And in June, the US Treasury issued sanctions, saying he was a key figure in managing Putin's personal wealth offshore.

Wearing dark suits and ties, the bank executives -- three Russians and one Swiss national, all of whom cannot be named for legal reasons -- appeared for a first hearing in a court in Zurich, Switzerland's financial capital.

The defendants, who include the bank branch's chief executive, deny the charges. They face a possible seven-month suspended prison sentence if convicted. A second hearing is scheduled for March 30th.

When the accounts were opened, doubts already surrounded the origin and size of the sums being received, said the judge, who asked the defendants why they had not carried out checks.

 "I do reject the accusation. For me personally it's a quite extraordinary situation," said the bank's chief executive, explaining that he was appearing
in court for the first time and that a conviction would be "truly the end of my career".

The defendants' lawyers contested the accusations put forth by the public prosecutor.

Gazprombank is the financial arm of Russian natural gas giant Gazprom. Its Swiss branch focused mainly on products and services intended to finance international trade operations.

 It was banned from the Swiss banking sector following the invasion of Ukraine but is still in the process of liquidating its business.

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