By John Revill and Oliver Hirt
ZURICH (Reuters) -A concert cellist linked to Vladimir Putin moved millions of francs through Swiss bank accounts without proper checks, Swiss prosecutors said on Wednesday in a trial of four bankers accused of helping him.
Prosecutors alleged that Sergey Roldugin, a close friend of the Russian president, deposited millions of francs in Swiss bank accounts between 2014 and 2016.
The four bankers – three Russians who worked in Zurich and one Swiss – appeared at Zurich District Court on Wednesday and denied charges of lacking diligence in financial transactions. They cannot be identified under Swiss reporting restrictions.
The hearing was adjourned with a decision due to be given on March 30.
The prosecution told the court the bankers failed to do enough to determine the identity of the beneficial owner of the funds. Sums of around 30 million Swiss francs ($31.84 million) were involved in the case, said public prosecutor Jan Hoffmann.
Roldugin was named the owner of two accounts opened at Gazprombank Switzerland in 2014.
This was despite the musician, who appears on Switzerland’s list of sanctioned Russians, having no listed activity as a businessman.
Roldugin was among scores of members of Putin’s inner circle sanctioned by the West, including Switzerland, after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
Reuters has approached his representatives for comment.
The case highlights how people like Roldugin were used as “strawmen”, the indictment seen by Reuters said, a way to hide the true owners of money.
“All the evidence runs contrary to Sergey Roldugin being the real owner of the assets,” prosecuting lawyer Hoffmann told the court.
“The bankers have not followed the rules and should therefore be punished,” he added.
Defence lawyer Bernhard Loetscher said doubts about the identity of the true owner were “not enough from a criminal law point of view,” for a conviction.
It was also “plausible” that Roldugin was rich because he was a friend of Putin, Loetscher said.
His position as a favourite of the Kremlin meant he could benefit from beneficial financing and unsecured loans to build his wealth, the defence said.
Prosecutors are seeking suspended sentences of seven months for each of the bankers.
QUESTIONS ABOUT PUTIN’S ASSETS
There is little trace of Putin’s assets.
“It is well known that … Putin officially only has an income of 100,000 Swiss francs, and is not wealthy, but in fact has enormous assets which are managed by persons close to him,” the indictment said.
Reuters has asked the Kremlin for comment on Putin’s relationship with Roldugin and about his own wealth and assets.
Putin has in the past said that Roldugin is a friend, a brilliant musician and benefactor who has honestly earned some money from a minority stake in a Russian company.
The Kremlin has previously dismissed any suggestion that Roldugin’s funds are linked to the Russian leader as anti-Russian “Putinophobia”. Putin’s finances are a matter of public record, says the Kremlin, saying he has regularly declared his assets and salary to Russian voters.
The bankers in the case did not carry out sufficient checks to see if Roldugin was the true owner of the assets in question, the indictment said.
“At the time of the opening of the account it was reported in various articles … that Sergey Roldugin was a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin and godfather of his daughter,” it said.
Other red flags were ignored, and the defendants did not attempt to clarify the plausibility of Roldugin being the real owner of the assets, or the money’s origin, it added.
Only Roldugin’s professional activity as a musician was listed in bank documents, making his ownership of the assets “in no way plausible”, the indictment said.
In Switzerland, banks are obliged to reject or terminate business relationships if there are doubts about the identity of the contracting party.
($1 = 0.9421 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by John Revill; editing by Angus MacSwan, Alex Richardson, Raissa Kasolowsky, Mark Heinrich and Jane Merriman)