Putin’s tax-exempt nobility

Gennady TimchenkoNPR: Doing business in Russia remains complicated and risky, and getting information about a prospective partner can be difficult

In Russia, politics and business are inextricably linked. Businessmen who have not supported the current government have found themselves the victims of hostile takeovers, often through illegal or highly questionable means. Close friends of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin dominate boardrooms.

Roman Shleinov, a journalist with the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper, has been looking into how these relationships work. His most recent investigation targeted Gennady Timchenko, who has close ties to Russia’s state-controlled oil companies. His network of businesses trades one-third of all of Russia’s oil.

“I asked them questions about the structure. They refused to give any answers. I even gave them some more time,” he says. In the end, Shleinov published a story describing what he had managed to glean from public records. He reported that Timchenko appeared to have an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands with $30 billion in sales.

Shleinov says that if Timchenko is sheltering money abroad, that would run counter to what Putin has publicly demanded. “Putin started his campaign against oligarchs with statements that they withdraw money from the country and do not pay any taxes here. I would like to know, if the person is a friend of Mr Putin, does he have the right not to pay taxes here?” Shleinov asks.

Timchenko’s lawyer, who also has ties to Putin, responded by accusing Shleinov of revealing company secrets and interfering in the businessman’s personal life. The lawyer has threatened to take Shleinov to court — and to involve unspecified government agencies in the case.

“It looks like a hint not to ask more questions,” the journalist says.

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