Maxim Viktorov (Максим Валерьевич Викторов), Russian public figure, lawyer, philanthropist. Member of the Public Chamber of Russia, first deputy chairman of the Presidium of the Russian Association for the Advancement of Science and former advisor to the Russian Defense Ministry in an email dated September 21, 2023 has given response centering a report published in Blitz about Russia’s sanctioned billionaire Boris Rotenberg and his glamorous Russian-born wife Karina Rotenberg.
According to the report, in 2014, shortly after Russia annexed Crimea, the US Treasury Department sanctioned oligarch Boris Rotenberg for his close ties to his childhood friend Vladimir Putin. It turned Rotenberg into a global financial pariah: No US citizen or company was allowed to do any business with him — not even so much as to buy him a cup of coffee.
Rotenberg’s glamorous Russian-born wife Karina Rotenberg, a socialite who has a passion for horseback riding and a large social media following, wasn’t blacklisted at the same time as her husband. This allowed the family to hold some of its valuable assets in her name.
But leaked records indicate she was a US citizen, so being married to a sanctioned person left her the crosshairs of enforcement authorities. Properties, companies, and even joint bank accounts she owned with her husband now became a liability — any sharing or swapping of money or assets could lead to charges of violating US sanctions.
The evidence for this is found in a new leaked archive of emails from a Russian management company belonging to lawyer Maxim Viktorov, a Moscow-based businessman who coordinated a team of fixers that came to the Rotenberg family’s aid after the sanctions were imposed.
About the Rotenberg Files
The Rotenberg Files is an investigative project based on a leak of over 50,000 records, including nearly 30,000 emails and some 12,000 documents, that shed light on how Russia’s most infamous oligarchs, the Rotenberg brothers, dealt with being sanctioned by the West.
Boris and Arkady Rotenberg were childhood friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, became billionaires under his rule, and are widely considered to be among his closest allies. So, it was little surprise that they were sanctioned by the United States in 2014, and later by the European Union, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and illegal annexation of Crimea.
The question of how much those sanctions affected them, and what they and their families did to minimize their impact, is a difficult one — but the leaked emails, provided to IStories and OCCRP by a source who asked not to be named to protect their safety, provide unprecedented insights.
The emails, which cover the period between 2013 and 2020, come from Moscow-based Evocorp, an asset management company belonging to Maxim Viktorov, who turns out to be a key figure in the Rotenbergs’ maintenance of their assets and businesses around the world after they were sanctioned.
Emails from Maxim Victorov and his company
On September 21, 2023, Blitz received the following two emails – one from Maxim Viktorov and the other from his company:
Since 20 June 2023 many publications have been released on the Internet mentioning my name and the companies which I own. The publications were the result of interaction of the journalists from different countries and media with the OCCRP and the Russian language website iStories.
In my deep conviction, the actions of iStories, in particular Roman Anin, the editor-in-chief, including the reasons for the appearance of publications, should be the subject of investigation by law enforcement agencies, which I described in detail in a video on YouTube.
My hypothesis can be proved by the fact that, having learned about the upcoming publication, I expressed my readiness to meet with the OCCRP and/or their journalist partners in Moscow, London, and Baku. However, the journalists did not meet with me either before or after the publications were released.
The publications of iStories and Roman Anin, which laid the basis for your publications, contain not only false and defamatory statements, but also deliberate incitement of hatred towards me by compiling and distorting my political position.
I believe another journalists acted together with Roman Anin and iStories without knowing that the iStories publication itself would contain signs of hatred and deliberate distortion of my political position, and my proposals for a meeting were not accepted.
I have always been open to interaction with journalists, but my requests to the OCCRP for a face-to-face meeting before releasing publications didn’t produce result, and I do not know whether another journalists were notified of my availability and readiness for the interview. All the documents and correspondence on this matter were posted by me and publicly available on the website.
At the same time, I assure you that either I or the companies belonging to me not only have had no intention of breaking the law, but also have never violated the sanctions law.
I am currently taking all the necessary legal steps to find and bring to justice all those individuals and entities guilty of intentionally causing damage to my honor, dignity and business reputation. I ask you to publish this response.
In another email, Maxim Viktorov’s company – Evocorp said:
On July 5, 2023, a publication appeared on your website mentioning the name of Maxim Viktorov and the companies which he owns.
We intend to exercise a right of reply.
As mentioned in the materials, the publications were released under the auspices of the OCCRP consortium. Publications also contain links to the Russian-language website Istories (editor-in-chief – Roman Anin).
We do not rule out that the publications release was a result of a conspiracy among a group of individuals aimed at disseminating untrue narratives in the international media to discredit and inflict harm to Maxim Viktorov and his companies.
There is also reason to believe that journalists used information provided by third parties, probably by the OCCRP and/or Istories. At the same time, your publication contain obvious factual errors, in particular provides information that the posted materials are based on documents of the Evocorp company from 2013, while the company itself was incorporated only in 2015, about which information is available in the public register of legal entities.
Obviously, acting in line with generally accepted journalistic standards, employees of your media should have fact-checked the information released. Moreover, no attempt was made by your edition to contact Maxim Viktorov and/or Evocorp. At the same time, in the correspondence with the OCCRP Maxim Viktorov proposed an in-person interview in Moscow and in London, and after the publications were released, also in Baku. We would like to note that Maxim Viktorov presented his detailed position on this matter in a video posted on YouTube, and all the correspondence between the OCCRP and Maxim Viktorov is publicly available on the website.
As Maxim Viktorov, being the subject of an investigation, repeatedly offered to meet with journalists, they had an opportunity to get an alternative point of view and answers to all the questions raised in the publications. Ignoring the readiness of the subject of investigation for a meeting means that an alternative point of view was deliberately not presented and the placement of such publications contradicts generally accepted standards of journalistic activity, including those formed under the auspices of UNESCO and the International Federation of Journalists. We believe that your publications that mention the name of Maxim Viktorov and his company should be removed.
We also believe that the attached text of Maxim Viktorov’s response should be posted on your resources, by analogy with published materials.
We are counting on your cooperation in the event of an investigation into the reasons for the publication and the violations committed, including by other publications and/or online resources and/or third parties, in connection with which we plan to contact, inter alia, the law enforcement authorities.
According to OCCRP, Boris and his brother Arkady grew up with Putin in what was then called Leningrad, and became billionaires thanks in part to lucrative state contracts. Both of them were sanctioned by the US in the wake of Russian attacks on eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.
It is not clear when Karina obtained US citizenship, but a French customs document found in the emails shows that she had an American passport as early as 2013.
Though she usually traveled using her Russian passport, on December 17, 2013, en route to the Florida city of Palm Beach, she and her two children presented US passports as they left France. The French document also shows Karina’s mother Liubov Gapchuk traveling under Russian and US passports.
Among the other documents in the leak is Karina’s W-9, a US tax form that gives her name, address and Social Security Number, showing she had the right to live and work in the United States. This document was for the 2014 tax year, and it appears in several email threads where European lawyers discuss her citizenship status.
Karina eventually joined her husband on the US sanctions list in March 2022, just after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The Treasury Department did not answer questions about blacklisting Karina.
MVP: Most Valuable Passport?
The emails show that, at times, Karina’s US passport offered a way around some of the more difficult conditions imposed by the sanctioning of her husband. But it also made it difficult for her to receive money from her husband.
In early 2015, with Boris’s funds in Switzerland and the EU frozen by banks, the couple appeared to have voiced concerns about being able to support their children.
Viktorov’s office got advice from US law firm Kostelanetz & Fink — which bills itself as “the law firm of choice for clients facing high-stakes controversies” — but it provided little comfort. The law firm said Karina could apply for a special license from the US to receive funds from her sanctioned husband, but “very few such licenses are ever granted” and the application itself could “bring [her] specifically to the attention” of the U.S. Treasury, leading to her being sanctioned as well. Kostelanetz & Fink did not respond to requests for comment.
It’s not clear if they applied for a license. Nevertheless, Boris Rotenberg appears to have found ways to transfer funds to Karina. A draft deposit agreement among the leaked documents indicates that, in November 2015, two million euros ($2.1 million) would be deposited in the Cyprus account of a British Virgin Islands (BVI) company, Gremarana Projects Limited. The bank — a Cypriot branch of Russia’s Promsvyazbank — would then make a loan for the same amount to Karina, using the Gremarana funds as collateral, according to a draft “letter of comfort,” apparently sent to the bank by Boris and Arkady, and found among the leaked documents.