Indeed, many jurisdictions traditionally have offered not only tax advantages to managing assets through offshore shells, but also corporation registries that make it difficult, if not impossible, to publicly identify the ultimate owners. It is primarily through leaks from law firms specializing in these services that wealthy Russians have been discovered to be frequent clients.
And sometimes the Russian government itself is the beneficiary.
Leaked files known as the Paradise Papers, from the Appleby law firm in Bermuda, revealed offshore projects on behalf of several enterprises controlled by the Russian state, including VTB Capital, an investment bank, and Gazprom. Another involved the $53.9 million purchase of a Bombardier Global 6000 private jet by an obscure Cyprus company, Genetechma Finance Ltd.
Appleby’s records show that Genetechma was operating, ultimately, on behalf of VEB, a state-owned economic development bank with ties to Russian intelligence. VEB, whose chairman has reportedly used private jets, controlled the Cyprus-based Genetechma through a Luxembourg subsidiary.
A different Cyprus company surfaced in the ownership chain of the Olympia yacht, whose connection to Mr. Putin appeared in the British court documents. The litigation involved convoluted allegations of self-dealing among executives at several Russian shipping companies, including Sovcomflot, whose majority owner is the Russian government.
In a decision by a London court in 2010, Justice Andrew Smith described how various players involved attributed their positions of influence to having “a good relationship” with Mr. Putin, and in one instance, recalled a meeting at the Lipp Brasserie in Geneva where the gift of the Olympia to him was mentioned. The yacht, estimated to cost $35 million to $50 million in 2002 and reportedly outfitted with marble baths, extensive gilding and a Jacuzzi, was said to be “managed by Unicom,” a Cyprus-based company.
Corporation records in Cyprus, which in recent years has become more rigorous about requiring transparency of ownership, show that Unicom was owned by a Bermuda company, whose “ultimate parent corporation” was a state-owned shipping company in Russia.
The Olympia, which sails under a Cayman Islands registration, was last known to be in the Baltic Sea near St. Petersburg.