Bankers who helped Putin's friend move millions via Swiss bank accounts lose appeal

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Putin awards Sergey Roldugin during a ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow

By John Revill

ZURICH (Reuters) -Four bankers who helped a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin move millions of francs through Swiss bank accounts have lost their attempt to overturn convictions for failing to perform due diligence in financial transactions.

Zurich High Court on Tuesday upheld an earlier judgement against the men who assisted Sergey Roldugin, a concert violist who has been dubbed "Putin's wallet" by the Swiss government.

Roldugin, who is godfather to Putin's eldest daughter, deposited millions in a bank account with the Swiss branch of Gazprom Bank in Zurich between 2014 and 2016.

Swiss law meant that clarifications were needed into how Roldugin's accounts received dividends of 5 to 7 million Swiss francs ($5.60 to $7.83 million) per year and how he acquired a 20% stake in a media company with a value of more than 100 million francs, the court heard on Tuesday.

Clarifications or checks were necessary by the bankers but not sufficiently carried out, senior Judge Beat Gut told the court.

"The passive acceptance of the claim that Roldugin made his investment from his wages and loans is not plausible," Gut said. "Even in St. Petersburg you cannot make that much money in a hurry."

Instead the judge said there were indications that Roldugin was being used as a "strawman" - or cover - to hide the real owners of the money.

Although the bankers had checked Roldugin's identity, this was "clearly not enough," said the judge, who did not comment on who the real owner of the assets may be.

The four former bankers - three Russians and a Swiss citizen - had asked Zurich's high court to overturn a conviction at a lower court last year.

The bankers, who cannot be identified under Swiss reporting restrictions, were found guilty by Zurich's District Court in March 2023 and given suspended fines totalling more than 450,000 Swiss francs ($504,000).

In their appeal, the defence had argued that while Roldugin was a musician and a friend of Putin, he was also a businessman who could have been the beneficial owner of the funds.

The Kremlin has previously dismissed any suggestion that Roldugin's funds are linked to the Russian leader as anti-Russian "Putinophobia".

A spokesman for the defendants said they would now consider the written judgement before deciding whether to take their appeal to Switzerland's highest court.

($1 = 0.8935 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Alison Williams, Timothy Heritage and Anil D'Silva)