Friday, June 23, 2023

An Oligarch and His Attorney

From The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project:

When a Rotenberg Is Your Client

Leaked emails reveal the wide range of services — from fighting the tax authorities to preparing a PR campaign to writing complaint letters — that Russian oligarch Boris Rotenberg required from a distinguished Monaco lawyer. Not everything went smoothly.

Graced with Mediterranean waters and elegant Belle Époque architecture, the French Riviera is a playground for the rich and famous. In the 19th century it hosted kings, queens, and czars; in the 20th it drew the likes of Pablo Picasso and Brigitte Bardot.

Today this sun-kissed region, which includes the French city of Nice and the independent city-state of Monaco, is no less a haven for the world’s ultra-wealthy. And these visitors often need top-shelf legal expertise.

Enter the Law Offices of Donald Manasse, a firm that touts its work in a variety of areas of interest to high-net-worth clientele, from “cross-border matrimonial disputes,” to “complex and high-profile litigation cases,” to “all aspects of taxation.”

Founding partner Donald Manasse — a self-described “well-known figure in Monaco and Nice” — has worked in the region for over three decades and is “a published authority on trusts, taxation and international real estate transactions,” according to the firm’s website.

In the mid-2010s, Manasse’s clients included a man who likely stood out, both in terms of his wealth and the headaches he brought with him: Russian billionaire Boris Rotenberg, a childhood friend of Vladimir Putin.

Despite Rotenberg’s longtime relationship with the Russian president, his support for Putin’s aggressively anti-Western regime, and his sanctioning by the United States, the oligarch has spent considerable time in Monaco. According to a new leak of emails from Maxim Viktorov, a Russian businessman who helped coordinate Rotenberg’s affairs, he even owned an extensive real estate portfolio in the Riviera.

The emails offer unprecedented insight into how the staff of Viktorov’s Russian firm, Evocorp Management Company, coordinated lawyers, bankers, and investment managers around the world on the billionaire’s behalf, especially after he was sanctioned by the United States following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

In Monaco and southern France, the leaked correspondence also showed what kind of services a client of Rotenberg’s unusual stature required from a distinguished local lawyer: from helping him avoid tax payments, to writing complaint letters about “unsatisfactory” flights, to setting up an abortive PR campaign. Manasse, it turned out, also faced the problem of making sure he got paid.

Manasse and Rotenberg did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Viktorov said neither he nor any of his companies had ever violated any laws, “in particular, the U.S. and EU sanctions legislation.” He described reporters’ findings as “erroneous.”

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