Latvian appears to front the assets of sanctioned Russian billionaire Arkady Rotenberg.
Diligent readers of the Latvian tabloids might remember her as the “sexy Maria from Moscow”, who flashed to fame due to a brief romance with one of the stars of the national basketball team.
For others, the name Maria Borodunova means nothing. But this Latvian citizen turns out to hold an impressive real estate portfolio in several European countries, linked to Kremlin favourite and sanctioned Russian billionaire Arkady Rotenberg.
Little is known about the 36-year-old. She has no visible business history and her thesis at the St Petersburg State University of Economics was about sports and health services. After her brief splash in the Latvian tabloids and a turn at Moscow’s golden youth parties, memories of which linger on the internet, she vanished from public life and closed her social network profiles to strangers.
A real estate purchase document in France lists cosmetology as her occupation.
But somehow Borodunova’s life has progressed from a small private house in a Riga suburb, where her family lived, to a 400-square-metre penthouse in a high-rise in Monaco, described in advertisements as “the most expensive spot on earth” and with an estimated value of €65 million. She also owns a villa in southern France and shares in a company developing spectacular real estate projects in Moscow.
Borodunova’s list of properties suggests that she is acting as a front to prevent the assets from being found and frozen as linked to Rotenberg, the sanctioned billionaire. But the relationship between the two may be closer than just business partners.
Getcontact software, which shows under which name a particular mobile phone number is stored in other users’ phone books, identifies her as “Maria Rothenberg” in at least 12 different variations, including “Arkady Rothenberg’s wife.” This was also confirmed to journalists by two unofficial sources, but no documentary confirmation of the status of the relationship has yet been obtained. One of the sources, who knows Rotenberg’s inner circle but for reasons of personal security did not allow his name to be mentioned, said that Rotenberg and Borodunova’s relationship “has been known to people close to them for a long time”.
Neither Rotenberg nor Borodunova replied to questions sent to them.
Boris and Arkady Rotenberg were childhood friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, became billionaires under his rule, and are widely considered to be among his closest allies. Rotenbergs wealth grew with the arrival of his old St Petersburg friend and sparring partner in the Kremlin. From the turn of the millennium, the Rotenberg brothers’ businesses began to receive huge state contracts. They built strategic projects ranging from the NordStream gas pipeline to the Sochi Olympic campus and the 19-kilometre-long bridge linking Russia with Crimea in Ukraine. In 2014, they were sanctioned by the US and EU after Russia annexed Crimea.It means all their assets in EU and US should be frozen.
Borodunova’s role became known thanks to leaked emails between the Rotenbergs and the industry serving them, which IStories and OCCRP passed on to a group of 17 other international media outlets, including Re:Baltica. The publications can be found on social media under the hashtag #RotenbergFiles.
At the centre of the nearly 50,000 leaked emails and documents is Moscow businessman Maxim Viktorov, better known in the press as a lover of expensive violins. But as it turns out, Viktorov and his law and management companies are at the heart of an industry that serves the Rotenbergs and helps mask the real beneficiaries of the assets, making them harder to find and freeze. The emails were passed to IStories and OCCRP by a source who wished to remain anonymous for reasons of personal security. The leak shows how oligarchs are investing huge resources to circumvent sanctions that should cut them off from the global financial system. Instead, the sanctions create more work for the industry that serves them, while the Rotenberg brothers themselves and their families continue to live their lives of luxury. Viktorov did not respond to OCCRP’s questions, requested a face-to-face meeting in Moscow and refused repeated offers of a video interview.
Penthouse in Monaco
The penthouse in Monaco was acquired by Borodunova in the summer of 2016 through a complex chain of Maltese and Monegasque companies, as seen from data in the Maltese company register and company documents found in the leaked emails.
A Ferrari is a natural attribute for people who can afford to buy an apartment in Monaco’s Sun Towers. When they leave the house, they are greeted by a Veuve Clicquot champagne bar. Photo: OCCRP
Since February 2017, Borodunova’s Monaco property has had a tenant, Faraotis Holdings Ltd., a British Virgin Islands (BVI)-registered company, which pays €260,000 per month. The company also owns a private plane, which the Rotenberg family uses.
Properties in Moscow
In 2017, Borodunova became the sole investor in a Russian investment fund, which is not required to disclose its owners under Russian law. Through this fund, she acquired an 80% stake in RG Development, a leading real estate developer in Moscow.
In 2014, Arkady Rotenberg was quoted by the Russian state news agency as saying that he was one of the founders and investors of the company. The statement later disappeared from the internet and the Rotenbergs denied any connection to the company, even successfully suing a German newspaper and getting part of the article deleted.
In 2020 alone, Borodunova earned $25.5 million in Russia, according to Russian tax documents seen by IStories.
Borodunova also owns large properties in exclusive Moscow and St Petersburg housing complexes.
Villas in France
The third link between her and Rotenberg is Seestern, described on LinkedIn as “the in-house service company of a leading Russian industrial and banking group”. According to Russian documents obtained by IStories, Borodunova is listed as its deputy head. Seestern is also listed on LinkedIn as the workplace of Borodunova’s sister.
In 2013, Putin presented the Order of Friendship to Arkady Rotenberg as a representative of the Russian Judo Federation. Source: Kremlin.ru
One of the owners of the company is Alesya Makhina. Makhina and Borodunova set up a company in France in 2013 that bought a €4.25 million villa in Nice, according to the French company registry and transaction documents.
The documents describe Makhina as the sports director of the Russian Judo Federation (Arkady Rotenberg has a history of involvement in judo, including as Putin’s sparring partner in Leningrad, and is the organisation’s first vice-president).
Makhina did not respond to questions sent by journalists.
The villa is currently owned by Borodunova and her two daughters, both of whom were born in Nice. The children’s father is not mentioned in the documents.
Written by Sanita Jemberga (Re:Baltica), Graham Stack (OCCRP), Dmitry Velikovsky (IStories)
Visualisation: Dārta Hofmane
English text edited by Jody McPhilips
Social networks by Inese Liepiņa (Re:Baltica)
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