Putin’s ally Expanded Business on French Riviera Despite EU Sanctions: Investigation

Despite harsh European sanctions against Russia, one of Russia’s most infamous oligarchs, Boris Rotenberg, has managed to expand his business ventures on the French Riviera, a joint investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and the French Le Monde reveal.

The report sheds light on the extent to which Boris Rotenberg, close ally and childhood friend of Russia president Vladimir Putin, is entrenched in the French Riviera.

In response to Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the European Union banned more than 100 Russian officials and businessmen from entering its territory and froze their European assets. The move was meant to punish well-connected Russians who have profited from their country’s aggression against Ukraine.

Arkady Rotenberg, Boris’s even wealthier older brother, was one of those sanctioned by the EU in 2014, losing his extensive Italian properties and the right to travel to Europe. But — supposedly thanks to the Finnish citizenship he obtained through an earlier marriage — Boris himself was left off the list, enabling him to continue enjoying his French assets.

The Rotenbergs’ main gains have come from government contracts. In 2008, Arkady purchased five construction and maintenance companies from Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy giant. He merged these into Russia’s leading construction group in the oil and gas sector, Stroygazmontazh (SGM Group), which since then has been among Gazprom’s key contractors winning many lucrative deals while avoiding competitive tenders.

According to the U.S. Treasury, their friendship with Putin netted them construction contracts worth more than $7 billion for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The elder Rotenberg also won a major tender to build a new bridge between the Russian mainland and the newly-annexed Crimean peninsula (work continues on the project to this day).

Foreign sanctions struck the Rotenbergs in 2014, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The U.S. Treasury acted first, sanctioning both brothers personally and then blacklisting their major companies, SGM Group and SMP Bank.

The EU instituted its own sanctions — but just on Arkady Rotenberg — that July. Around €30 million of his assets, including an upscale hotel in Rome and two villas in Sardinia, was seized by Italian authorities in September 2014, according to media reports.