Boris Rotenberg firmly established himself on the Cote d'Azur of France

The Center for the Study of Corruption and Organized Crime (OCCRP) learned how deeply rooted in the French Riviera one of the most infamous Russian oligarchs, Vladimir Putin's childhood friend Boris Rotenberg.
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The elder and even richer brother of Boris, Arkady Rothenberg, under the sanctions of 2014 got and lost his houses in Italy, along with the right to visit Europe. But Boris escaped this fate, apparently due to his Finnish citizenship, which he inherited from his previous marriage, and continued to use French real estate for millions of euros.

We are talking about two previously unknown Rotenberg villas in the seaside commune of Eze, which is part of the district of Nice. In 2009, he received permission to build a third.

Also Rothenberg, through a complex ownership scheme involving the company in Monaco, owns a property in Muan-Sorta. It includes the horse farm of Boris and his young wife Karina.

Despite all the sanctions, the wealth of Russian oligarchs is safely hidden in the most desirable corners of Europe.

Rise of the Rotenbergs

Boris and Arkady Rotenberg have gone a long way from managing a network of gas stations in the 90s to a fortune of 1.2 and 3.1 billion dollars per brother, respectively.

Very likely the rapid growth of business helped the connection with Vladimir Putin. They are friends since childhood, when they were engaged in judo in Leningrad. Over the years, this connection has not weakened, and when Putin became president in 2000, the Rothenbergs found themselves in the close circle of the head of state.

Then the way led to the very top.

"SMP Bank", which Rotenberg founded in 2001, today is among the 30 largest in Russia, according to its official website.

But the main profit brothers received on state contracts. In 2008, Arkady bought from Gazprom five construction subsidiaries and created the most powerful oil and gas construction holding Stroygazmontazh (SGM Group) on their basis. Since then, the holding has remained one of the main contractors of Gazprom, often receiving contracts outside the tender.

Constant overexpenditures peculiar to the projects of "Stroygazmontazh" enriched the Rotenbergs at the expense of Russian taxpayers. In 2017, in a commentary for an article in The New Yorker magazine, analyst Mikhail Korchemkin explained that for Gazprom, "now the main thing is not the profits of shareholders, but the profits of contractors."

In 2015, SGM Group reported revenues of almost 4.6 billion dollars.

Billions of Rothenbergs came from different sources. A press release from the US Treasury says that friendship with Putin has brought Rotenberg construction contracts worth $ 7 billion to prepare the Olympics in Sochi. Arkady also won a colossal tender for the construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait to the annexed Crimea (works continue now).

The success of Arkady Rothenberg can be measured by his constant appearances in the list of "kings of the state order" of Forbes magazine, which makes the rating of Russian businessmen by the total value of the received state contracts.

Rotenbergs came under sanctions in 2014, after the annexation of the Crimea. The first was the Ministry of Finance of the United States: first under the sanctions were both brothers, and then - their company SGM Group and "SMP Bank."

Then the EU arrived with sanctions, but only for Arcadia. A chic hotel in Rome, two villas in Sardinia - in total the Italian authorities in September 2014 arrested the assets of Arcadia for 30 million euros, according to press reports.

Town near the sea

Boris and his assets, European sanctions were bypassed.

One of these assets is the racing team SMP Racing, which trains drivers in the city of Le Luc.

One and a half hours drive from Le Luc, in the commune of Eze, near Boris Rothenberg, 2.7 hectares of land and other real estate, valued by the French bank Societe Generale of 2.5 million euros in 2008.

Situated halfway between Nice and Monaco, the Eze settlement is famous for its medieval architecture and marine views. From here, the Orthodox St. Nicholas Cathedral in Nice is just 30 minutes away.

To the services of Rothenberg in the Eze estate there are two villas with a total area of ​​1300 square meters, a swimming pool and a dormitory for servants. According to the municipality, Boris plans to expand. In 2009, he received permission to build a third villa, another swimming pool, a tennis court and a private funicular.

The municipality managed to find out that the third villa was started to be built in 2009, then it was stopped for some reason and continued in January 2018, having received permission in February 2015 again.

However, the local construction company says that neither Boris nor his wife Karina has been seen for ten years. Instead, a couple's assistant, a native of Ukraine with a French passport, Sergei Pavlenko, observed the construction.

Pavlenko for a while was listed as the director of SMP Racing France (a branch of SMP Racing in Monaco, which has since closed).

In the address book of France his residence is the home of the Rothenbergs in Eze, as well as the addresses in Nice and Grasse - in the city of the French Riviera to the north of Cannes.

Family Fortress in Muan Sartoux

Literally across the road from Pavlenko's house in Grasse, in the neighboring commune of Muan Sartu, is another estate of Boris and Karina Rotenberg. The area of ​​this inconspicuous for other people's eyes is about 29 hectares, the initials "K B R" are on the gate.

The estate, lying slightly away from a small peripheral road, is hidden from all sides by walls and is protected by video cameras and spotlights, arranged at a certain frequency along the perimeter. Against the background of a rather modest environment, the estate stands out with its impressive size and atmosphere of secrecy.

In an interview with the Russian version of Tatler magazine in 2016, Karina Rotenberg spoke about the role that the estate (in the conversation she calls his "dacha") plays in them with her husband's life. According to her, part of the time they spend in Russia, part - in Monaco, which is near the estate.

It is noteworthy that, according to the local municipal database, which the journalists were familiar with, the status of the estate's ownership turned out to be veiled by the presence of a foreign company-owner. As it turned out, the property belongs to the realtor firm Tannor 2, registered in Monaco, and in this jurisdiction it is forbidden to disclose information about the owners.

Therefore, although the estate looks like a property of the Rothenbergs, it is impossible to accurately determine its owner.

Boris Rotenberg did not respond to requests to comment on this article. According to a source close to their family, the Rothenbergs do not own a villa in the literal sense, rather, they rent it from a certain owner. The same source said that as the most active participant in European equestrian competitions Karina keeps her horses in the estate, because transporting them from Russia is too expensive.

Despite the fact that it is impossible to find out the names of Tannor 2 owners, journalists established that the company was registered in Monaco at the same address as Getad, a company run by Edmond Patrick Lecourt, Honorary Consul of Luxembourg in the city-state. This connection does not look like a mere coincidence: in 2014, Lekur came to Muan Sart to request permission to start a new stage of construction on the territory of the Rothenberg estate.

When journalists contacted him, Lekur refused to discuss his relationship with Rothenberg and only confirmed that Getad provides addresses to Monaco firms that want to have a registration there.

Stables and bank vaults

Another link Rotenbergs with the estate in Muan Sart also refers to Karina's passion for horses.

As it turned out, the French company Societe Civile d'Exploitation Agricole des Canebiers (SCEA des Canebiers) was registered at the estate's address. In her official documents it is indicated that she is engaged in the breeding and trade of horses. The company is believed to own the Rothenbergs.

At the same time, the structure of its property looks peculiar.

One percent of shares in SCEA des Canebiers belong to the Luxembourgian lawyer Michael Dandua, who seems to have made his business the creation of unshadowed corporate structures. His law firm, Dandois and Meynial, was in common business with Mossack Fonseca, the main person involved in the leakage of Panamanian documents.

The second owner of SCEA des Canebiers with 99 percent of shares is EQUUS, owned by Boris and Karine Rotenberg. Judging by the registration documents, the couple hired Dandua in 2013 as the company's director.

Communicating with journalists, Michael Dandua did not comment on this distribution of shares in the company and the possible reasons for this.

The wife of Boris Rotenberg Karina herself for a while acted as director of SCEA des Canebiers, but in January 2014, two months before the introduction of the US sanctions against her husband, she was replaced in this position by Sergei Pavlenko. Recall: a native of Ukraine Pavlenko plays the role of an assistant to the four Rothenberg, and sometimes the property manager.

Offshore holding structures, such as those used by the Rothenbergs, can yield certain benefits. In addition to guarantees of confidentiality due to non-transparent ownership, the decision to register a real estate company in Monaco may be part of a strategy whose purpose is to cut taxes or get away from them.

"If there is a chain of related offshore companies, there is a great chance that the French tax authorities will not be able to find the true beneficial owner and will simply stop searching - especially when companies use" nominal "managers. So in this case, it may be an attempt to evade a special tax on luxury, "- believes tax lawyer Antoine Nuterm.

The possible reason for the company's registration at the French address belonging to the firm in Monaco may be the desire to generate fictitious expenses, which can be declared and on this basis to compensate for taxes. In this situation, the owner leases land from a company from Monaco through a French company that "shows" rental payments as the costs of doing business, which gives reason to take them into account when calculating taxes in France. At the same time, costs will be considered income for the structure in Monaco - incomes outside French jurisdiction, protected from French taxation.

If the purpose of such a "corporate distribution" is the desire to conceal the finances of Boris and Karina Rotenberg, then one can say that another attempt of this family to disguise its assets was revealed. In 2015, due to the leakage of Offshore Leaks with data on a hundred thousand offshore structures published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), it turned out that part of Rothenberg's money was withdrawn from Russia to companies registered in the British Virgin Islands. Three companies were connected with Arkady Rotenberg, three more - with his brother Boris.

Despite close relations with the Russian president and the huge fortunes that have been gained (partly due to the large infrastructure project in the Crimea), Boris Rothenberg continues to freely use his French assets.

As Forbes magazine wrote in 2017, it was his previous marriage to a Finnish citizen and his Finnish citizenship that allowed him to avoid the sanctions that his brother got him.