European journalists on the Kremlin’s payroll

16.11.2023

On November 14, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has published an article regarding renowned German journalist Hubert Seipel receiving €600,000 in undisclosed payments linked to the Putin oligarch.

Hubert Seipel: Controversial Payments, Putin’s Portrait, and the Cyprus Connection

German journalist Hubert Seipel, known for his bestseller and award-winning documentary on Russian President Vladimir Putin, allegedly received around $600,000 in secret payments from middlemen connected to sanctioned Russian oligarch Alexey Mordashov, the main shareholder and chairman of Severstal, Russia’s largest steel and mining company.

In 2011 and 2012, Hubert Seipel spent months accompanying Russian President Vladimir Putin for the documentary “I Putin – a Portrait,” which focused on the 2012 Russian presidential election. The documentary was broadcast on ARD. Additionally, Seipel conducted the world’s first television interview with Edward Snowden after the Snowden leaks. Excerpts of this interview were aired by ARD on January 26, 2014. In October 2020, Snowden was granted permanent residency in Russia.

Leaked financial records from a Cypriot service provider suggest the payments were framed as a “sponsorship” for Seipel’s books, raising concerns about the extent of Russia’s propaganda influence abroad. Seipel defended the legitimacy of his work, asserting that Mordashov’s sponsorship was intended solely for the book projects. Seipel’s publisher Hoffmann and Campe and broadcaster ARD expressed concern over the undisclosed agreement, with further investigations underway. The revelations are part of the Cyprus Confidential investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and Paper Trail Media.

Leaked documents reveal that Seipel, despite denying any Kremlin payments during an interview, received funds from a British Virgin Islands company, De Vere Worldwide Corp, connected to Igor Voskresensky, a director of a company owned by sanctioned Russian billionaire Alexey Mordashov. 

The Cyprus Confidential Files: 3.6 Million Leaked Documents Expose Financial Services Providers

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) collaborated with over 270 journalists from 54 countries, utilizing its secure document-research platform, Datashare, to investigate leaked records for the Cyprus Confidential project. The leaked internal records, spanning from the mid-1990s to April 2022, include confidential background checks, financial statements, bank account applications, and email messages. The investigation unveils a clandestine financial system in Cyprus that has empowered influential figures and attracted foreign funds, particularly from Russia. 

Putin with Mordashov by GettyImages

PwC Cyprus collaborated with at least 12 of the 25 Russians previously sanctioned by Western governments or Ukraine following the 2014 Crimea annexation and the Donbas war, according to ICIJ. However, PwC only decided to leave Russia and instructed its affiliates to stop working with sanctioned clients a few months after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. The accounting firm declared on its website that sanctions on Russian entities or individuals worldwide would be universally enforced. The investigation exposes PwC’s Cyprus office, with 1,100 employees, assisting Putin ally Alexey Mordashov in transferring a $1.4 billion investment to evade EU sanctions during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Cypriot Ministry of Finance is investigating the share transfers, following awareness of the situation.

Estonian Bloggers Reject Cooperation Offers from Russian State Media

Estonian blogger Ruslan Naframita, known as JuliusRou online, turned down a cooperation offer from Ruptly, a video agency affiliated with Russia Today, according to the Estonian Internal Security Service (KaPo). 

“We would like to offer you cooperation. We are looking for a cameraman who will help us cover events in the Baltics and film interesting stories,” a person who introduced himself as a producer at the Ruptly video agency wrote to Ruslan Naframitsa.

The offer sought a cameraman to cover events in the Baltics. Naframita, who has over 150,000 YouTube subscribers, expressed concerns about the lack of research into influencers’ political stances by the agency. He, along with other bloggers in Estonia, condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine and refused the offer, calling it ethically unacceptable. The Security Police Department stated that such cooperation could violate international sanctions, making it a criminal offence.

Screenshots are from sources used in the story.