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Since the owner is not on the sanctions list, Ministry of Justice claims there is nothing it can do.

The windows of the historically protected building in the centre of Riga offer one of the most exclusive views of the Freedom Monument, the most important symbol of Latvia’s independence. But to afford an apartment there, one must be either the heir of pre-war owners, or fairly rich.


When Latvian authorities frantically began searching for sanctioned assets of Russian oligarchs to freeze after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, no one thought to look at the lavish apartment building at 19 Brīvības Street.

The staircase at 19 Brīvības Street. Photo: Inga Spriņģe, Re:Baltica.

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.

Now, an international investigation by 17 media outlets including Re:Baltica has revealed that two apartments in the building may belong to one of the Rotenberg brothers, sanctioned billionaires and friends of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.  The property, however, is officially registered in the name of their fixer. 


Information about the apartments was found in the leak of more than 50,000 emails and documents from the industry of lawyers, accountants and fixers who work for the Rotenbergs. They were handed over to IStories and the OCCRP by a source who wished to remain anonymous for reasons of personal security. The emails show, among other things, how an army of little helpers assist the Rotenberg brothers and their relatives to hide their assets behind offshore company chains and the closed investment funds in Russia that are not accountable even to banks, using trusted proxies who are not on sanctions lists. The Moscow lawyer at the centre of the leak, Maxim Viktorov, did not respond to OCCRP’s questions. He requested a face-to-face meeting in Moscow, refusing repeated offers of a video interview.

Take it for half-price

In 2018, Elena Ruzyak bought two apartments of almost 200 square metres each for around €200,000 at 19 Brīvības Street, Land Registry data show. Ruzyak was a manager and minority shareholder of SMP Bank, which used to belong to the Rotenbergs. Correspondence shows that she acts as a fixer for Boris Rotenberg and plays a major role in helping him avoid sanctions.

She bought the apartments from Narcius Investments, a British Virgin Islands (BVI) company, at half the price the company had paid five years previously. 

The BVI jurisdiction is often used to register companies because it is almost impossible to trace the true owners. But leaked #RotenbergFiles show that after the brothers were placed on the US sanctions list, their fixers were looking at ways to transfer their BVI-registered companies to other people, as service providers are no longer allowed to work with companies whose owners are under US sanctions.

The Rotenbergs were sanctioned after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. 

Narcius Investments is mentioned among these companies, but it is not entirely clear which of the brothers owns it. The Rotenbergs did not reply to reporters’ questions.

When Re:Baltica visited the property, no one was there. Ruzyak also did not reply to the questions sent to her. 

The Ministry of Justice told Re:Baltica that Ruzyak is not on the sanctions list, so the property is not frozen, and advised to inform the State Security Service and the Financial Intelligence Service.

Tom Keatinge, director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies at the U.K.-based Royal United Services Institute, said that historically weak enforcement by sanctions authorities meant that managing assets for wealthy sanctioned individuals did not carry much risk and was highly profitable. 

“The paycheck is often worth it. You see very few cases of individuals being added to sanctions lists — let alone prosecuted — for facilitating sanctions evasion,” Keatinge told OCCRP. “To change people’s attitudes, we need some heads on spikes.”

Hitherto unknown assets in Europe

In this investigation hitherto unknown properties linked to the Rotenbergs have come to light in a number of European countries. 

Photo: Henri-Kristian Kirsip/Delfi Estonia

In Tyrol’s exclusive ski resort of Kitzbühel, a two-story house with a metre-high hedge in front overlooks the Streif, one of the world’s most challenging ski slopes. 

On paper, it belongs to another Cyprus-registered company, Wayblue Investments Limited, whose real owners are unknown because Cyprus does not require the disclosure. The scheme by which the purchase of the house was organised in 2013 suggests that the buyer is linked to Arkady Rotenberg. Documents found in the leaked emails show that a company owned by Rotenberg financed the purchase through a loan from SMP Bank. The bank itself was owned by the Rotenbergs at the time. 

When the bank was quickly handed over to the management in 2014 after the Rotenbergs were placed on the EU-US sanctions list, none of the supervisors knew about the villa in Austria because it did not belong to the bank. The value of the villa at the time of purchase was estimated at €10.8 million. 

And it was not Rotenberg who, like other rich guests at the resort, came for a weekend skiing. A young woman with a man and a child was seen there, in whom locals recognised Putin’s eldest daughter Maria Vorontsova and her then-partner Jorrit Faassen.

Our colleagues from Paper Trail Media and Der Standard spent several days at the resort talking to neighbours. Two of them admitted that they had seen Russian President Vladimir Putin visiting the villa, but none of the people in the small and closed environment were prepared to speak on the record.  

Penthouse in Monaco

Photo: OCCRP

The 400 square metre penthouse in Monaco’s Sun Towers, advertised as “the most expensive spot on earth”, is owned by Latvian citizen Maria Borodunova through a chain of Maltese and Monegasque companies. The leaked emails estimate the Monaco deal at €65 million. Little is publicly known about the 36-year-old woman, who has no apparent business history and lists cosmetology as her occupation, but several unconnected, unofficial sources suggested that she might be a partner of Arkady Rotenberg’s. There is no official confirmation of this yet and neither she nor Rotenberg responded to questions sent to them.

Villa on the Riviera

Source: screenshot from Google Maps.

This €4.25 million villa on the French Riviera also belongs to Borodunova and her young daughters. She bought it in 2013 together with Alesia Makhina, who is listed as the sporting director of the Russian Judo Federation, whose first vice-president is Arkady Rotenberg. 

Equestrian sports centre and villas in France

Source: Alamy Stock Photo

OCCRP journalists had previously revealed that Boris Rotenberg owns two villas on the French Riviera, but it has now been revealed that the property portfolio is much larger. Some of them were acquired through companies registered in Monaco. These include an equestrian centre and villa in Moansartou, a villa in Grasse and an apartment in Eze. He has also acquired two large plots of land and a hangar. The value of the newly discovered properties is estimated at around €15.8 million.

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)

All the media listed below participated in the collection of information on the properties:


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