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Who is Sergei Roldugin, the concert cellist who may have moved billions for Vladimir Putin?

Roldugin is an accomplished cellist who, per the Guardian, currently serves as “lead soloist at the Mariinsky theatre and rector of St Petersburg’s conservatory.” He has been Putin’s best friend since the Russian leader attended KGB training with Roldugin’s brother, and he’s the godfather to Putin’s daughter Maria. And he may have helped Putin move billions of dollars through offshore accounts. 

In interviews, Roldugin has routinely refused to talk business or wealth, pointing to his “second-hand” cello and telling The New York Times, “I’m not a businessman, I don’t have millions.” But the Panama Papers, which have exposed the shady financial dealings of the leaders of a number of countries, including Iceland, Saudi Arabia, and Ukraine, reveal that Roldugin leads a “double-life.” According to the Panama Papers, Roldugin “is listed as the owner of offshore companies that have obtained payments from other companies worth tens of millions of dollars. A company linked to the cellist also grabbed secret influence over Russia’s largest truck maker, another snagged a big slice of Russia’s TV advertising industry.”

Roldugin had previously been tied to a private bank that has channeled money to many of Putin’s closest friends and allies. But it’s not clear what his exact role in this scheme is, or how much money Roldugin has, or even if Putin himself is directly involved. You can watch Roldugin discuss classical music and conduct Beethoven below.