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Cellist And Conductor Allegedly Helped Russians Move Billions Of Dollars

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Cellist, conductor — and alleged billionaire — Sergei Roldugin (left) with Vladimir Putin at Russia's St. Petersburg Music House in 2009.
Mikhail Svetlov, Getty Images
Cellist, conductor — and alleged billionaire — Sergei Roldugin (left) with Vladimir Putin at Russia's St. Petersburg Music House in 2009.

In 2014, Sergei Roldugin told the New York Times, "I don't have millions."

But if the document trail of the Panama Papers proves correct, this Russian cellist and conductor — and a close friend of Vladimir Putin since the 1970s — may actually possess much more than that.

According to reporting from the consortium of 370 international journalists from over 100 news organizations working on the data leak of more than 11 million documents in what's become known as the Panama Papers, Roldugin — or at least his name — is at the center of a network in which up to $2 billion from Russian state banks has been hidden in offshore shell companies.

In the wake of this massive document leak, a pair of articles centering on Roldugin have been published by the Guardian in the U.K. and a nonprofit investigative journalism organization based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina called the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (the OCCRP), which focuses on the regions between Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

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In their reports, the Guardian's Luke Harding and three OCCRP journalists, Roman Anin, Olesya Shmagun and Dmitry Velikovksiy, claim that Roldugin — godfather to Putin's first child, Maria Putina — is at the epicenter of the alleged Russian arrangement, whose activities came to light as part of the data dump from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

The Guardian sets the value of these transactions at $1 billion; the OCCRP journalists mention Roldugin-related deals regarding offshore accounts and state-controlled banks worth at least $2 billion.

Now 64 years old, Roldugin has taken a prominent role in Russian cultural life. According to his biography on the site of the St. Petersburg Music House, a state-sponsored classical music organization whose primary aim is to prepare young musicians for international competition, Roldugin "insisted" on a full restoration of the school's home, the 19th-century Alexis Palace, a former residence of the Russian grand duke Alexei Alexandrovich.

A winner of the People's Artist of Russia prize, Roldugin also serves as a juror of the highly prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition for music, and is a former rector of the St. Petersburg State Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory.

In 1984, Roldugin was named as the first soloist and principal cellist of Russia's premier international orchestra, the Mariinsky Orchestra — an organization led by another close artistic ally of Vladimir Putin, Valery Gergiev. Since then, Roldugin has risen to become one of the Mariinsky's guest conductors.

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