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The Daily Vertical: Putin's Money (Transcript)

  • Brian Whitmore

Kremlin apologists have been making a lot of hay about the fact that Vladimir Putin isn't directly and explicitly named in the Panama Papers.

He isn't the direct beneficiary of any account. He doesn't formally own or control any of the assets documented in the massive leak.

Anybody making this argument is either being completely disingenuous -- or simply doesn't understand how Putin's Russia works.

Because as political commentator Leonid Bershidsky noted in a column in Bloomberg, Putin the individual may not show up on any of the accounts or assets, but Putin the institution is a tangible presence.

Prominent in the Panama Papers report, for example, is Bank Rossia, which is headed by longtime Putin crony Yury Kovalchyuk.

Equally prominent is Arkady Rotenberg, Putin's judo sparring partner.

And, of course, there's the cellist Sergei Roldugin, Putin's longtime friend.

Putin's name doesn't appear on any of the accounts because it doesn't need to.

They are in the hands of his most trusted associates.

And Putin has political power over them, and therefore has de facto control over all their nominal assets.

As Kremlin-watcher Mark Galeotti noted in a piece yesterday, "The real currency in Russia is not money but power -- and the latter can buy the former."

In a crime syndicate, the godfather's name isn't on any accounts either. That's what underbosses and consiglieres are for.

But while the godfather's name may not be on any of the legal documents, nobody has any doubt who is in charge.

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