Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the Rotenberg Files? Where are these leaked documents from?

The Rotenberg Files is a collaborative investigative project based on a leak of over 50,000 documents, including nearly 30,000 emails, that shed light on how two of Russia’s most infamous oligarchs, Boris and Arkady Rotenberg, dodged Western sanctions.

The leaked emails run from 2013 to 2020, which includes the period when the brothers first faced sanctions after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula. The messages come from Evocorp, a Moscow-based asset management firm owned by Russian businessman Maxim Viktorov — a key figure in maintaining the Rotenbergs’ assets and businesses across the world.

The leaked archive was provided to IStories and OCCRP by a source who cannot be named to protect their safety. It was shared with 15 other news outlets.

Over 60 reporters spent three months analyzing the documents and expanding on their findings through further reporting. They found a number of complex strategies, coordinated by Viktorov and his team and executed by a range of Western enablers — including lawyers, business consultants, bankers, and corporate service providers — who helped the Rotenbergs avoid the impact of sanctions.

2. How do we know we can trust these leaks? What might be wrong with them?

After obtaining the leaked emails, reporters used a range of public records, such as company records and land registries, to corroborate the information within.

All persons and companies involved were given an opportunity to respond to findings.

Reporters are aware that, by its nature, such a leak offers only one perspective. In this case, the data comes from just one organization involved in a complex process. Reporters spoke to as many involved parties as possible to widen the perspective. All the stories are carefully checked by our fact-checking specialists with standards that exceed industry norms.

3. Who are Boris and Arkady Rotenberg? How close are they to Putin, and how did they make their money?

Boris and Arkady Rotenberg are not just oligarchs who made their fortunes under Putin’s corrupt rule — they are also two of the Russian president’s oldest friends. The relationship goes back to the men’s childhoods, when they practiced martial arts together in St. Petersburg, then still called Leningrad. The trio remained close, and when Putin became president in 2000, the Rotenberg brothers became part of his inner circle.

This was almost certainly crucial to their rapid success, given that they profited heavily from government contracting. In 2008, Arkady bought five construction and maintenance companies from Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy giant. He merged these into Russia’s leading construction group in the oil and gas sector, Stroygazmontazh (SGM Group), which has been among Gazprom’s key contractors ever since, winning many lucrative deals while usually avoiding competitive tenders.

According to the U.S. Treasury, the Rotenbergs’ friendship with Putin netted them more than $7 billion in construction contracts for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. SGM Group was also awarded a tender for another major national construction project: Building a new bridge between the Russian mainland and the annexed Crimean peninsula.

This year, Forbes magazine estimated the Rotenberg brothers’ combined wealth at $4.9 billion.

4. Why should the world care?

Putin’s authoritarian regime has racked up countless victims. Since 2014, and especially since last year, these have included millions of murdered, wounded, displaced, and terrified Ukrainians. He has also repressed domestic journalists, activists, and other dissidents, built a vast propaganda apparatus, and poisoned opponents abroad. And under the oil-fueled cronyism that defines Russia’s modern economy, vast swaths of the country have remained trapped in poverty.

Oligarchs like the Rotenbergs are integral to Putin’s system of power, which perpetuates these crimes. Enriched through his largesse, complicit in his designs, and willing to spend money to prop up his rule, they are key allies who ensure that much of the country’s economy remains aligned with his priorities.

Because their success depends on his good graces, they will never turn on Putin when things go bad. He made them what they are, and if he wanted, he could take it all away: The story of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one oligarch who went against the Russian president, speaks for itself.

But while benefiting enormously from Putin’s rule, the Rotenbergs have never been shy about spending and enjoying their wealth outside Russia. Even as Putin rages against the decadence and perfidy of the “collective West,” his friends collect mansions, yachts, jets, and other luxury goods across Europe and beyond.

5. Who has sanctioned the Rotenbergs?

Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea in early 2014 prompted the United States to sanction Boris and Arkady Rotenberg that March.

Arkady Rotenberg was also sanctioned by the EU that year, but his brother Boris escaped European designation until after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. The United Kingdom sanctioned him in 2022.

Boris’s wife, Karina Rotenberg, was also sanctioned by the U.S. and UK after the full-scale invasion. Other family members under sanction include Boris’s son Roman and Arkady’s children Pavel, Igor, and Lilya.

6. What do the leaked emails show, and what is their significance?

The leaked emails highlight the role of Western enablers in helping the Rotenberg brothers avoid the worst consequences of the sanctions. Though being blacklisted by some of the world’s wealthiest and most influential countries caused them many headaches, there was always someone at hand to help.

The sheer number of lawyers, bankers, and investment managers marshaled by the Rotenbergs’ Russian fixers is evidence of the advantages enjoyed by the world’s wealthiest people — even those under sanctions. No matter their reputation or their proximity to the Russian regime, the Rotenbergs had little trouble attracting talented specialists who worked day and night to solve their problems.

The leak also highlights the strategies these specialists employed on the Rotenbergs’ behalf. The emails show them shifting assets from one offshore company to another, artificially diluting ownership stakes to bring them below the sanctionable 50-percent threshold, and registering companies and assets in the names of relatives or trusted proxies.

With no end to Russia’s war in Ukraine in sight, the Rotenberg Files show that the army of Western specialists sanctioned oligarchs employ — and enrich — deserve no less scrutiny than their clients.

Fact-checking was provided by the OCCRP Fact-Checking Desk.

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