Who are the people from Putin’s inner circle with properties in Latvia?
Re:Baltica is part of an international group of 80 journalists from 27 media outlets who are gathering new information on the assets of sanctioned Russian billionaires, servants and propagandists in Europe, USA, and elsewhere after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In few weeks, we found over 145 properties – villas, flats, yachts, private planes – worth over 17 billions US dollars. The Usmanov, Tokarev and Mazepin families own property in Latvia, but some of them won’t be touched until the sanctions are extended to the family members of Putin’s inner circle.
There are two dogs lying in the sun at the gate of 51 Kāpu Street, a manor-like complex with a massive iron fence and hedge in Jūrmala. They are the only sign of life in the large yard where besides the villa itself there is also a backhouse and guard booth. The property next door is under reconstruction and the street is full of signs “For sale” or “For rent”. The sea is less than a hundred meters away via a well-maintained path through the dunes.
The property was bought by Irina Viner-Usmanov, the wife of Alisher Usmanov, considered to be one of the richest people in Russia, and her son Natan Viner. They bought it in February 2014 for 3.9 million euros from Ilya Gerchikov, the former owner of the Latvian cosmetics company “Dzintars”, shortly before Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Data from the Land Register of Latvia shows that the property is currently owned by Usmanov’s stepson. He acquired Latvia’s “golden visa”, a temporary residence permit (TRP), which is valid until 2025, on the basis of this purchase, according to information obtained by Re:Baltica. Latvia is not the only EU country for people who benefit, but don’t want to live under Vladimir Putin’s regime. Viner also has a residency permit in Germany where Usmanov owns expensive properties.
Usmanov’s sister’s property is a 15 minute drive away. Gulbakhor Ismailova purchased the apartment worth half a million US dollars in Jūrmala in May 2014 after the annexation of Crimea. 13/15 Dzintaru Street is a typical example of property purchase for a residency permit—the street is full of them. Beige, white, and brown buildings with large panoramic windows and tanning chairs on verandas waiting for the summer, while in the winter the snowy sidewalks show no sign of footsteps.
The purchase of these properties granted Ismailova and her husband Latvia’s “golden visas”, but they haven’t been renewed since 2016. The apartment in Jūrmala is still owned by her.
According to Usmanov’s press office, he has never acquired assets from the Russian government or taken part in the privatization of state assets, that he has acquired all of his assets from the secondary market or has obtained them through successful investments. He gifted funds to his sister Gulbakhor on the basis of family ties and the way that she chooses to use them is entirely up to her. Usmanov claims to have no business or personal relationship with his stepson Nathan Viner, and thus there is no reason to assume that the property was bought with Usmanov’s money.
Adding Usmanov to the sanction’s list, the European Union (EU) described him as one of the oligarchs closest to Vladimir Putin and as a representative of the business interests and manager of the financial flows of the President of Russia.
The international group of journalists that has been going through the properties of Russian oligarchs under sanctions around the world, so far has counted at least 145 villas, yachts, personal planes worth over 17 billions of USD.
Nonetheless, the sanctions haven’t affected companies where Usmanov owns less than half the shares and they don’t cover his family members. As a result, his family properties in Latvia aren’t at risk at the moment.
Who are the “Navalny 35”?
Usmanov is one of the 35 individuals named by the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny as the people who help finance and maintain the Putin regime, suppress the political opposition, and simultaneously accumulate personal wealth at the expense of the Russian people. Navalny has been asking for Western sanctions against them for some time, but they are being implemented only now after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
During our investigation we added the closest relatives of the Navalny 35 to the list, which makes up around 170 people in total, and started looking for them in registers of different countries to see what properties they own in Europe, the US, and elsewhere. This is only the first publication—we will be continuously adding new oligarchs to the database.
“Elites close to Putin continue to leverage their proximity to the Russian President to pillage the Russian state, enrich themselves, and elevate their family members into some of the highest positions of power in the country at the expense of the Russian people. Sanctioned oligarchs and powerful Russian elites have used family members to move assets and to conceal their immense wealth,” the US Treasury said in a statement when announcing the unprecedented sanctions.
Nikolay Tokarev’s family
Nikolay Tokarev and Putin have been comrades since their days in the KGB. In the 80s they served together in Germany in the repressive security agency’s Dresden office. Today he is the head of one of Russia’s most important state-controlled companies, Transneft, which transports 90% of the oil produced in the country. Transneft also financed “Putin’s Palace”—a palace complex in Gelendzhik, which in the words of Navalny, is the “biggest bribe in the history of the world.”
Thanks to his status within Putin’s inner circle, Tokarev’s family has been able to acquire impressive assets in both Russia (the US estimates that their properties in Moscow are worth around 50 million US dollars) and Europe (Croatia and Latvia). Part of them are formally owned by his daughter Maya Bolotova. After the invasion of Ukraine, Tokarev was personally added to the sanctions lists of the EU and the USA, but Canada has extended the sanctions to his wife and daughter.
The Land Register of Latvia shows that in February 2015 Tokarev’s daughter Maya Bolotova and her husband Andrei bought a 185 square meter apartment in 19 Bulduru prospekts in Jūrmala.
Currently Maya Bolotova doesn’t formally own any properties in Latvia. The apartment in Bulduri, Jūrmala, was transferred to her husband Andrei, from whom she has since divorced, but the company “Dzintaru 34”, which was previously co-owned by them, is in the process of liquidation. The couple acquired their wealth while they were still married and also thanks to contracts between Bolotov’s companies and Transneft.
When asked to comment, Bolotova didn’t respond.
The Mazepin familyy
“Dzintaru 34”, which is partially owned by the Bolotovs, used to own two properties—34 Dzintaru Street in Jūrmala and 3 Elizabetes Street in the Art Nouveau district in Riga.
One of the apartments in the luxurious building is owned by Nikita Mazepin—the son of the mineral fertilizer tycoon Dmitry Mazepin, owner of Uralchem. Nikita is a race car driver and for a while took part in Formula 1 races as a member of the Haas 1 team, but was kicked out of the team because of the sanctions. The team also terminated a sponsorship deal with his father. Mazepin junior bought the 101 square meter apartment in the Art Nouveau district in Riga in September 2015 for almost 708 000 euros.
As both father and son are under EU sanctions, there is a prohibition on the sale of this apartment as well as the properties of companies partially owned by the elder Mazepin at the mineral fertilizer terminal of the Port of Riga (where his business partners are the families of Andris Šķēle and Ainārs Šlesers, who used to be known as Latvia’s oligarchs) and the company Ventamonjaks.
The Mazepins didn’t respond when asked to comment by Re:Baltica.
The Latvian authorities have been slow in freezing the properties of Petr Aven, the EU sanctioned double citizen of both Russia and Latvia, because they have never been in a situation where they have to freeze not only bank assets, but also real estate, company shares and a helicopter. More than two weeks after the introduction of the sanctions the assets have finally been frozen.
Aven was included in the EU sanctions list as one of the oligarchs closest to Putin, as someone he consults with on a regular basis and who doesn’t act independently from the president. Aven and Mikhail Fridman, another owner of “Alfa Group”, are said to have made various efforts to have the Western sanctions against Russia lifted.
28 real estate properties have been identified as owned by Aven in Latvia, two of which are especially prominent. One is a building on 19 Valdemāra Street in Riga. It is formally owned by Aven’s charity foundation “Generation” and he was planning to make it into a museum for his porcelain and art collection. The second is a property of around 60 hectares in the Lazdona parish where he recently built Klauģu manor on the site of a former Soviet campground. Part of the land is owned by Aven himself, part by his companies, and parts in the Lazdona and Prauliena parishes are being leased from Latvia’s State Forests (LSF, 106 hectares of forest in total). The lease was broken by the LSF a week after the sanctions were implemented. This was the first time they had to handle such a matter, the company told Re:Baltica.
Last week the Italian police seized Aven’s villa in Sardinia. His one third share of the property is valued at 4 million euros. His property in London is also being seized.
Aven’s Alfa Group and LetterOne business partner Mikhail Fridman was sanctioned by the EU as a top financier who is an enabler for Putin’s inner circle. Through companies in Cyprus and Latvia he owns the reconstructed sanatorium building on 12 Ērgļu Street in Jūrmala, which has been turned into a guest house with 17 luxury apartments right next to the sea. Just last summer the building was advertised in the real estate market as the most expensive new property in the Baltics with the price per square meter starting at 15 000 euros. Fridman has himself bought a two story residence of around 600 square meters in the building (for the price of 5.6 million euros)—he claims it’s for his parents. Data from the Land Register of Latvia shows that the property has been seized and currently nothing can be done with it.
The owners of the sanctioned properties can live in the estates but can’t lease them. Of course, as sanctions experts explained to Re:Baltica, it might be hard to pay for utilities with frozen bank accounts and credit cards that don’t work if the bank regulator doesn’t give them permission or sets a transaction limit that is too small.
Both Fridman, one of the few big business owners from Russia who has publicly opposed the war, and Aven have announced that they will appeal the EU sanctions because they see them as unjustified. They both deny that they have any “financial or political relationship with president Putin or the Kremlin.”
The Rotenberg family
When Latvia introduced its “golden visa” program in 2010, Arkady Rotenberg, the Russian billionaire and Putin’s judo partner, was one of the first people to receive one after his investment in the subordinated capital of a Latvian bank.
With Putin’s blessing both of the Rotenberg brothers have received contracts worth billions both from Gazprom and the organizers of the Sochi Olympic games. After the annexation of Crimea they were added to the US sanctions list and they sold SMP Bank—one of the smallest financial institutions in Latvia. Šķēle and Šlesers were among those willing to buy it, but the deal fell through.
But one of the Rotenberg brothers still had property in Latvia—the villa “Safīri” in Garkalne. Data from the Land Register of Latvia shows that it is still owned by the company IMNI whose true beneficiary is Boris Rotenbergs’ son Roman. As he is on the US, but not on the EU sanctions list, the authorities in Latvia haven’t touched the estate. Regardless, property taxes for the villa haven’t been paid on several occasions. The debt has yet to be settled and the Garkalne municipality told Re:Baltica that it is planning to enforce payment.
Roman Abramovich’s airplane
For the first time authorities in Latvia have had to seize a plane. On the evening of 27 February, a few days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, private plane “Bombardier Global 6000” linked to Roman Abramovich landed at Riga airport. It had departed from the Vnukovo airport with no passengers, Re:Baltica was told at the airport. The Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) says that the plane made it in time to land before the sanctions that prohibit airplanes associated with Russia from using the airspace of EU countries, took effect. On the day that the EU added Abramovich to the sanctions list, the owners of the airplane asked for permission to fly to Istanbul. CAA didn’t grant permission for the flight and asked for information on the true beneficiary of the airplane (it is registered under the Luxembourg company “Global Jet Luxembourg”). On Sunday evening Abramovich’s plane was still in the Riga airport next to the helicopter used by Aven.
A large part of the properties owned by Putin’s inner circle in Latvia were acquired in the context of the “golden visa” or TRP program. Over the course of ten years, 19 000 people have received TRPs, spending 1.55 billion euros in total. Most of the purchases have been in real estate. 86% of the buyers were from Russia and other CIS countries. Among them are various types of people— independent journalists as well as state company employees. Re:Baltica conducted extensive research on and wrote about TRP recipients for the first time in 2015, but at the time the people from Putin’s inner circle weren’t here yet. Read more: https://en.rebaltica.lv/2015/02/who-has-a-second-base-in-latvia/
Written by Sanita Jemberga, Re:Baltica
Additional reporting by Inese Liepiņa, Re:Baltica
Technical support by Madara Eihe and Aija Krūtaine
English translation by Ieva Raudsepa
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