German journalist, documentary filmmaker, and writer Hubert Seipel, who made a movie about Russian dictator Putin and wrote 2 books about him that became bestsellers, received hundreds of thousands of euros from offshore companies linked to Russian oligarch Alexei Mordashov, close Putin’s ally.
This is evidenced by the leak of Cypriot legal documents as part of the international investigative project Cyprus Confidential, writes the Russian publication Vazhnye Istoriyi, which participated in the investigation.
Cyprus Confidential is a global investigation based on the leak of 3.6 million documents from six Cypriot companies involved in company registration and consulting. It was conducted by 270 journalists from 69 media outlets under the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and German Paper Trail Media.
The publication notes that Seipel’s two books about Putin – “Putin. The Logic of Power” (2015) and “Putin’s Power. Why Europe Needs Russia (2021) – were published in several languages and became bestsellers, with tens of thousands of copies sold.
Seipel’s documentary I, Putin. A Portrait” (2012) was nominated for a German television award for best reportage.
“Seipel’s area of expertise is Russia. This is understandable: according to Seipel, he has not only studied Russia for many years as a researcher but has also talked to the Russian president “a hundred times”, the newspaper writes, noting that Seipel has been repeatedly accused of lacking criticality about what he heard from Putin.
For years, secret financial arrangements have linked Seipel to companies close to Russian oligarch Alexei Mordashov.
The investigation also reveals that in 2018 and 2019, Hubert Seipel received over 600,000 euros from a shell company linked to Alexey Mordashov, a famous Russian oligarch sanctioned since Russia started the war in Europe and the United States, precisely for his links with the Kremlin. The arrangement signed by Hubert Seipel did not provide for any direct consideration. Instead, the money was to be a kind of “sponsorship contract”.
According to documents obtained by the publication, in 2018, Seipel signed a “sponsorship agreement” that was supposed to bring him at least 600 thousand euros. According to the agreement, this amount was allocated to create and popularise a book about the “political climate in Russia.” This book was “Putin’s Power. Why Does Europe Need Russia?” published in 2021 by the respected Hamburg publishing house Hoffmann und Campe.
The EU described Mordashov in its sanctions report as one of “Putin’s elite” who was “benefiting from his links with Russian decision-makers“. Mordashov has owned a stake in Rossiya Bank, described as the lender to Russia’s elite, and was the largest shareholder in Tui, Europe’s biggest tour operator – an investment currently frozen under sanctions.
Also, the documents prepared for signing contain a handwritten note “similar to the 2013 agreement: Putin’s biography.”
“The preparation of Seipel’s previous book “Putin. The Logic of Power” was a separate agreement for a distinct amount. Readers could not find out about the sponsorship agreements and Seipel’s possible conflict of interest – the books should have mentioned them. Neither did the publisher of both bestsellers know about them,” Hoffmann und Campe said in a response to the publication’s request.
The sponsor hid behind the dummy company De Vere Worldwide Corporation from the British Virgin Islands – this company is registered to Igor Voskresensky, one of the directors of Power Machines, an engineering giant owned by Russian oligarch Alexei Mordashov.
Another employee of Mordashov, Dmitry Fedotov, a longtime head of the legal department of the oligarch’s Severstal steel giant, signed the sponsorship agreement as a witness.
The money for payments to Seipel came to De Vere Worldwide from offshore companies whose beneficiary was Mordashov himself: in 2018 and 2019, two offshore companies transferred 610 thousand euros to De Vere Worldwide. After each such transfer, De Vere sent money to Seipel.
Answering Paper Trail Media’s questions about De Vere Worldwide by phone, Voskresensky said he did not remember such a company and hung up. Fedotov and Mordashov did not respond to inquiries from the media.
Alexei Mordashov is a regular on the Russian billionaires’ list compiled by Forbes magazine. In 2021, the oligarch even topped it with a fortune of almost $30 billion (this year, he is in fifth place).
He was called one of the sponsors of the construction of Putin’s palace near Gelendzhik. Mordashov’s structures also owned large stakes in the Rossiya Bank (also known as the “Putin’s Friends Bank”) and the National Media Group (NMG), which controls a significant part of Russian television broadcasting and the media market in general.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, Mordashov was subject to Western sanctions.
Answering questions from Paper Trail Media, Seipel admitted that a Russian billionaire sponsored the books about Putin, but he does not believe this discredits his work.
Hubert Seipel, 73, is considered one of Europe’s leading experts on the Russian regime. He likes to take advantage of his privileged access to Vladimir Putin, whose biography he has written. The journalist does not hesitate to broadcast images of himself and the Russian president deer hunting in Siberia or riding in the back of a limousine through the streets of Moscow.
The revelations are likely to reverberate throughout Germany, where debate has raged since the Russian invasion of Ukraine over the role parts of the political and business elite played in keeping Putin in power, not least due to Europe’s largest economy’s long-term reliance on Russian oil and gas.
In this context, Putin’s puppet propagandists and writers helped him build a positive image of the Kremlin dictator, part of the broader game to spread Russian influence in Europe.