The tight web of lawyers and PR firms who oil the wheels for billionaires

In November 2017, a bank with close links to the Kremlin was revealed to have funded a £140m investment in Twitter.

The share acquisition made by DST Global, founded by the Russian-born billionaire Yuri Milner, was financed by the Kremlin-controlled VTB Bank, now under UK sanctions, leaked documents revealed.

Milner said at the time it was a “fairytale” to suggest the investment bought in May 2011 may have been used to influence social media on Russia’s behalf. He said DST Global was a “passive investor”.

While the Twitter shares are now sold, corporate filings reveal the “care of” address for the DST Global entities holding the shares was a four-storey townhouse in Mayfair, London. This stucco-fronted property is the base of Alistair Tulloch, one of the best-connected lawyers among Russia’s super-rich.

Over the years, those who have tried to unpick the financial paper trails of Russian investments, oligarchs and officials have found it is Tulloch’s name – or the address of his legal firm, Tulloch & Co – that frequently pops up on the paperwork.

An investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in October last year, based on the leaked offshore documents known as the Pandora Papers, reported that Tulloch’s law firm helped manage offshore companies for former Russian deputy finance minister Andrey Vavilov and Vitaly Zhogin, a Russian banker.

Property records and company filings involving Tulloch’s firm also lead to other former Kremlin politicians and Russian business figures. These include Igor Shuvalov, Russia’s former deputy prime minister, who was last week sanctioned by the UK government after pressure from Labour leader Keir Starmer.

Shuvalov owns two flats in Whitehall, fitted with chandeliers and marble furnishings. A previous filing on Land Registry records reveals the “care of” address for the registered property owner was Tulloch’s legal firm.

Oxford-educated Tulloch is also a trustee of various charities. These include the Mamut Foundation, linked to the Moscow-based billionaire Alexander Mamut.

In 2014, Mamut fired Galina Timchenko, the editor of his Russian news site, over an interview she published with a far-right Ukrainian nationalist. She was replaced by a pro-Kremlin journalist.

Charity Commission records show the Mamut Foundation made two grants of £100,000 each to Eton College in 2016 and 2017 in support of its library. Eton College said last week it had received no further funds from the charity. It did not comment on whether it had established Alexander Mamut was behind the charity.

Tulloch said: “We fully comply with UK regulations. And obviously, in today’s world, we are incredibly sensitive to people from Russia, and we make sure that everybody is properly assessed.”

It is claimed such regulations have been too lax because politicians have long been reluctant to disrupt the links that were being forged with Russia. It has meant that London – called “Londongrad” by critics – has become a nexus for Russian money and a global professional services hub for the country’s oligarchy.

At a Conservative summer ball in June 2013, a London-based public relations firm, New Century Media, was revealed to have invited two prominent Russians – Vasily Shestakov, an MP in the Russian Duma and a friend of Vladimir Putin, and Andrei Klyamko, a Russian billionaire. Both men were pictured with then prime minister David Cameron.

Legal filings also reveal that New Century Media acted for the oligarch Vladimir Makhlay, who entered the UK on a golden visa. The fee for services, including “reputation management”, was £75,000 a month. New Century Media has given more than £200,000 to the Conservative party, and is chaired by the former Ulster Unionist MP David Burnside.

Another firm which benefited from Russian links is the concierge firm Quintessentially, co-founded by Ben Elliot, co-chair of the Conservative party. “It is not enough to simply have money,” states a recently deleted webpage for potential Russian clients on the company’s site. “One has to have proper contacts to maximise the use of that money.” The firm said it condemned the Ukraine invasion and had vetted its clients, ensuring none were on the sanctions list.

Lawyers who have been hired to pursue legal actions against journalists involved in scrutiny of the Russian oligarchy are also in the spotlight. The Conservative MP Bob Seely used parliamentary privilege last week to name lawyers who had worked in connection with Russian oligarchs.

A spokesperson for New Century Media said: “We fully condemn the military action in Ukraine. Neither Mr Shestakov nor Mr Klyamko were ever clients of New Century Media. New Century Media has no Russian billionaire or Russian state-owned clients. We have never worked with any sanctioned individuals.”

DST Global said the international firm, with offices in London, New York and Beijing, had not raised capital from Russian limited partners since 2011. It said less than 3% of capital it had raised from inception was from VTB Bank and all such capital was returned by 2014. The firm said Milner had been an Israeli citizen since the late 1990s and had relocated to the US in 2014.

The Mamut Foundation did not respond to a request for comment.

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