Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich played a pivotal role as an intermediary in transferring significant assets in Russian television from Boris Yeltsin's circle to friends of Vladimir Putin.
This revelation, reported by Russian outlet Vazhnye Istorii, emerges from leaked documents of Cypriot law firms obtained during the international investigative project "Cyprus Confidential".
The project, a global inquiry led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and German Paper Trail Media, involved 270 journalists from 69 media outlets.
It was based on the leak of 3.6 million documents from six Cypriot companies specializing in company registration and consulting.
Key points of the investigation show that after assuming power in 2000, Putin sought to control media, particularly TV channels.
Abramovich, through a deal involving the Video International group, the largest TV advertising seller at the time, played a crucial role in this transition. He bought a quarter of the group in 2003 and sold it in 2010 to firms linked to Putin's friend, cellist Sergei Roldugin, often referred to as Putin's wallet.
The investigation uncovers that the sale contradicted previous beliefs that Video International was sold to structures of Bank Rossiya, owned by Putin's longtime friend Yuri Kovalchuk.
Instead, the Cypriot leak documents reveal that Abramovich bought 25% of Video International for a mere 8 million rubles (about $270,000) in 2003. The subsequent year, this stake yielded $1.8 million in dividends.
The documents further reveal that two Cypriot companies, Finoto Holdings and Grosora Holdings, connected to Abramovich's Sara Trust, acquired the shares from Video International's founder Yuri Zapol in 2003.
In 2010, these companies sold the 25% stake for $40 million to Med Media Network and Namiral Trading, linked to Roldugin and Putin's inner circle.
The investigation highlights Roldugin's significant financial dealings through offshore companies, as unveiled in the Panama Papers. Roldugin, although not a businessman, was found to be the owner of several offshores through which billions of dollars flowed, often for transactions lacking clear economic rationale.
Abramovich, Roldugin, and Kovalchuk did not respond to inquiries about the deal from ICIJ, the BBC, and Vazhnye Istorii.
This investigation provides crucial insights into the power dynamics and financial transactions behind Russian media control, casting light on the intricate connections between business, politics, and media in Russia's power structure.