Annual salary of 114,000 euros, three cars, a car trailer and a 77 square meter apartment: That is all that Vladimir Putin stated in his official 2021 tax return in terms of income and property. So on paper, Russia has been blessed with a humble ruler. But the reality in Putin's empire, as is so often the case, is different. Numerous investigative studies have already shown how Putin uses an intricate network of offshore companies and loyal straw men to build colossal palaces, commission extravagant yachts and give royal gifts to his family.
The dimensions of the wealth that Putin amassed during his 23-year rule can only be guessed at. His net worth and personal life are Russia's most closely guarded secrets. A new research is now bringing some light into this darkness. Investigative outlet "Project" has uncovered the construct of another company serving as the Russian head of state's personal "wallet": a Cyprus-based company called Ermira Consultants.
Information from a source familiar with the offshore company construct triggered the research. Shortly after the start of the war in Ukraine, the man contacted the Russian journalists who have to operate from abroad. He wanted to unpack. "They have lost all borders. They must be stopped," said the informant about the Russian leadership. The war became the stone that set the avalanche in motion.
Checking the informant showed that he worked for many years for one of the companies that manage Putin's personal "wallet". "The facts presented by him, the documents presented and the status of this person have shown that he knows the system of Putin's financial empire very well," says Roman Bodanin, the founder and director of "Project".
The Ermira company is at the center of this system. "The real owner of Ermira is President Putin," the informant reported at a secret meeting with the journalists. Out of concern for his safety, his identity is not revealed. "Pay from Ermira" - this expression means nothing other than spending Putin's money on another deal for his personal benefit.
However, a certain Vladislav Kopylov appears as the nominal owner of Ermira. "Kopylov is a nobody," said the man who has managed the business empire of one of Putin's closest friends in the past. The Cypriot company Ermira also belonged to the secret financial network.
Kopylov is a lawyer from Saint Petersburg, Putin's hometown. He himself is not an important figure, a placeholder. According to the head of the investigative investigators Bodanin, the men with whom he works are more important. Through various companies, he is associated with such people as Yuri Kovalchuk, Arkady Rotenberg or Andrei Fursenko - Putin's closest confidants.
They all pay into Putin's coffers in a variety of ways: via Ermira. The company construct includes the wholly owned subsidiary Real Invest Company. The company owns the rights to the Putinka vodka brand. "Everyone who wants to produce this vodka or trade it has to pay Real Invest," Bodanin explains the principle. Although Putin once claimed he didn't endorse the name Putinka, that hasn't changed since 2002.
After just three years, Putinka became the market leader in Russia with 40 million liters sold per year. The trademark rights and the company are said to have been sold again and again. But they always remained in the hands of Putin's closest confidants. The most important manufacturer and the largest distributor of Putinka also belong to men from Rotenberg's circle - the man who is considered to be Putin's wallet.
And they paid huge sums of money to Putin. Between 2004 and 2019 it is said to have been between 400 and 500 million US dollars. The informant reports "sacks full of cash".
The big Russian media houses not only serve Putin to rule the minds of the Russians, but also to line his pockets. Through Ermira, he owns a stake in National Media Group (NMG). The holding is the largest media company in Russia. The empire also includes the largest broadcaster Pervyy Kanal, one of the most central channels for Kremlin propaganda. Or the newspaper "Izevestia", which serves as the government's publication organ. Exactly how many shares Ermira holds in NMG is unknown. The data will not be disclosed. Significantly, however, none other than Alina Kabaeva has been the CEO of the media group since 2014.
Everyone in Russia knows who Alina Kabaeva is. For years, the former gymnast has been considered Russia's First Lady. In 2008, the Moscow newspaper "Moskovsky Korrespondent" reported on the connection for the first time. Two days later the newspaper was shut down. Kabaeva's name disappeared from state media reports. An instruction "from above" was confirmed by the editors at the time. Since then, the connection has been a secret known to everyone but nobody talks about. (Here you can read more about it.)
Putin has ruled Russia for 23 years. But the Russians know next to nothing about his private life: neither about Kabaeva's status nor about the number of children they have together. The US Department of Justice, which imposed sanctions on the former competitive athlete because of her connection to Putin, does not officially know any further details either. Since the divorce from his wife Lyudmila, Putin has wanted to create the legend that he is married to Russia. But now everyone knows that Kabaeva is his chosen one.
The possessions that she is allowed to call her own show that the 39-year-old enjoys a special place in the life of the Kremlin chief. Several properties have already been identified in the past that have been acquired for the Olympic medalist. Including a villa on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. (Read more about this here.)
The journalists from "Project" have now managed to find a whole series of other residences that Putin had financed for his Kabaeva - via Ermira.
The documents that the informant provided to the journalists led them to Sochi. The Black Sea city and its surroundings are among Putin's favorite places. It spends a large part of the year in the Russian subtropics. Here is his official residence. His secret palace is also here, although thanks to Alexej Navalny and leaks from Putin's circle, it is no longer a secret. Kabaeva also got a manorial seat here - worthy of a tsarina.
In the summer of 2011, the Russian authorities registered remarkable transactions on the housing market in Sochi. In the newly built houses on Kurortny Prospekt, in the poshest part of the city, four huge apartments found new owners. Including the so-called diamond of this real estate complex: a penthouse in the residential complex "Korolewskiy Park", which means nothing other than "Royal Park". The Diamond is a two-story apartment of 2600 square meters with a swimming pool, cinema, terrace and private rooftop helipad. According to information from the largest Russian real estate database "Cian", the property is the largest apartment in Russia.
The regal scale of the property, as well as the regal name of the condominium, seem to indicate the special position of the person who was destined to live in this luxury: Alina Kabaeva.
"The 'Gymnast' came in person and indicated what apartments she needed and who to register with," the source told Projekt. The code word "gymnast" is used for Kabaeva by the man who was directly involved in the administration of Putin's "purse" for several years.
According to him, the scheme was arranged as follows: people who were important to Putin met personally with his followers Arkady Rotenberg, Yuri Kovalchuk and their subordinates and named their wishes, which were fulfilled with money from Ermira's coffers. That's obviously how it happened in the case of Kabaeva. According to the wishes of the "gymnast", the four apartments in Sochi were purchased. Three of them were registered to Kabaeva's grandmother. This emerges from official documents of the Russian authorities, which were publicly available until March 1st.
However, the fourth object, the diamond, was registered to a certain Oleg Rudnov - a well-known front man of Putin's. The media manager, who has since died, met the future president in 1996 during Anatoly Sobchak's election campaign, whose campaign headquarters was headed by Putin. After the death of Oleg Rudnov, his son Sergei took his place. He is currently the nominal owner of "the largest apartment in Russia".
Thanks to a lucky coincidence, the whole world can now take a look at Kabaeva's stately residence. In 2021 the penthouse was briefly offered for sale. The commissioned real estate agency published an advertisement on the Internet with a 3D visualization of the interior of the hostel. (See the "Project" website for more footage.)
In addition, you can still find an advertising brochure on the Internet today, with which Roman Timochin, the general director of the construction company, once advertised the luxury property. Accordingly, the penthouse should cost 15 million US dollars. The interior design was done by Valentin Yudashkin, one of the most famous Russian fashion designers.
This is how the property is described in the ad: "A 20-room apartment with a circular enfilade of living rooms, a fireplace room, its own cinema and billiard room, a private gallery for art collections, a bar, a spa area with a sauna and a hammam, several outdoor relaxation areas with Arcade and Dastarkhan pavilions, a Japanese-style relaxation terrace, a Moroccan-style barbecue pavilion, an outdoor solarium and jacuzzi, and a bar with waterfall walls and a mosaic floor plus mini-dance floor." There are also two staff apartments on the 18th floor of the building.
The penthouse is designed to provide maximum comfort to someone who "comes to the residence in Sochi twice a year - in summer and in winter," said designer Yudashkin, describing his idea for the interior design. "For summer holidays, it offers bright, open spaces, mainly in oriental styles. And in winter, a fireplace room and interiors that have more of a masculine character and give a feeling of warmth". He promised the owner the comfort of "a seven-star hotel".
According to the documents available to the journalists of "Project", the purchase of the penthouse for Kabaeva was paid from Oleg Rudnov's personal account. He shelled out 90 million rubles for it – only a fifth of what the builder wanted for it. According to the documents, the amount was paid in cash to Rudnow's account with the help of Ermira's managers and from there it was transferred to the builder.
To verify the information, an employee of "Project" went to Sochi. Under the guise of being an assistant to a potential buyer, he inspected apartments in the "Royal Park" real estate complex. Two real estate agents independently said they heard the penthouse was "owned by Kabaeva."
However, local residents reported that they have not seen Kabaeva in the house in Sochi, at least in recent years. Instead, Russia's secret first lady apparently preferred a more secluded place to live with Putin: Valday.
The area in the Novgorod region is halfway between Saint Petersburg and Moscow. "For some reason Putin loves the Russian North," a senior official told Projekt journalists a few years ago. The seclusion of his Valdai residence may be one of the reasons for this love. Here the Kremlin gentleman also had a property built for his chosen one - in the middle of the Russian forests. A private railway line leads there. Only a private train is allowed to drive on it. But this is another story.
You can watch the complete research of "Project" on Youtube with English subtitles under this link.