On February 10, 2011, an unknown company by the name of Sandalwood Continental Ltd. of the British Virgin Islands lent $200 million to a similarly unknown company from Cyprus by the name of Horwich Trading Ltd.
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The following day, Sandalwood transferred the rights to collect the loan payments, including the interest, to Ove Financial Corp., another mysterious Virgin Islands firm. Ove paid $1 for the rights.
But the money trail didn’t end there.
That same day, Ove transferred its rights to collect the loan payments to a Panamanian firm, International Media Overseas, for which it too paid $1. Within 24 hours, the company traversed three continents, two banks and four other firms — on paper — and virtually obliterated the traces of the loan in the process.
There were many reasons why those who carried out the transaction might have wanted to disguise it. One, and not the least of the reasons, was that the money trail came too close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Rossiya Bank of St. Petersburg, an institution whose chairman and majority shareholder has been dubbed one of Putin’s “cashiers,” set Sandalwood up and directed the flow of cash.
International Media Overseas, which ultimately received the interest payments on the $200 million, is controlled — on paper — by Sergei Roldugin, one of Putin’s most longtime friends, a classical cellist and the godfather to Putin’s elder daughter.
The $200 million loan was one of a dozen transactions that collectively involved at least $2 billion discovered in the files of Mossack Fonseca involving individuals or companies with a connection to Putin. They were part of a Rossiya Bank undertaking that gained indirect influence over a major shareholder in Russia’s largest truck manufacturer and secretly amassed a large numbers of shares in an important Russian media outlet.
Suspect payments made by Putin's friends were in some instances designed to pay bribes, perhaps in return for contracts or help from the Russian government. From secret leaked documents, it can be assumed that a considerable portion of the loan was originally received from a bank in Cyprus, a large portion of which at the time belonged to VTB Bank, which is controlled by the Russian government.
A Kremlin spokesman has told the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists he will not respond to questions on the matter. In a public statement on March 28, the Kremlin said that the ICIJ and the newspapers that work with it are preparing a misleading “information assault” against Putin and his associates.