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Investigation: German journalist who wrote complimentary books about Putin received €600 thousand from Putin's oligarch

15.11.2023, 15:14

German journalist, documentary filmmaker and author of several complimentary books about the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, Hubert Seipel, received hundreds of thousands of euros from offshore entities affiliated with the Russian oligarch Alexey Mordashov, according to the joint investigation by reporters working for Paper Trail Media, Der Spiegel, ZDF and "Vazhnye Istorii".

The journalists analyzed a legal document leak from Cyprus as part of the global investigation "Cyprus Confidential". The investigation is based on a leak of 3.6 million files from six Cypriot financial services that deal in company registration and consulting.

The Cyprus leak reveals that in 2018, Seipel signed a “sponsorship agreement” which was to earn him 600 thousand euros at least. According to the agreement, this sum was to be his payment for promoting the book “Putin’s Power: Why Europe Needs Russia”, which was released by the Hamburg-based publisher Hoffmann und Campe in 2021.

The document also contains a handwritten note that reads, “Similar to the 2013 agreement: biography of Putin.” This suggests the same sponsor paid Seipel for his earlier book, “Putin: The Logic of Power”. According to the investigation, there was no way for the readers to know about Seipel's sponsorship deals and the possible conflict of interests, as the books never mentioned them. The publisher of both books had no knowledge of them either, according to Hoffmann und Campe's response to the journalists' inquiry.

According to the investigation, both books were sponsored by the British Virgin Islands shell company De Vere Worldwide Corporation, which is registered under the name of Igor Voskresensky, one of the directors of the Russian energy company Power Machines, which used to be owned by the Russian billionaire Alexey Mordashov. The witness’s signature on the agreement belongs to Dmitry Fedotov, the head of the legal department of Mordashov's steel company Severstal.

The funds for Seipel’s payments were issued to De Vere Worldwide from offshore accounts whose beneficiary was billionaire Alexey Mordashov himself. In 2018–2019, two of Mordashov’s offshore entities transferred a total of 610,000 euros ($664,000) to De Vere Worldwide.

In an interview with Paper Trail Media, Seipel admitted that Mordashov sponsored his books about Putin. However, he disputed that idea that this discredits the books themselves.

He said that the sponsorship agreements with De Vere Worldwide included a clause stating that he was under no obligation to his sponsor regarding the books’ contents. He also described Mordashov as an “entrepreneur who sponsors projects with private funds.” Seipel clarified that the money went only to support his book projects, but not his film or public work. "My books triggered active debate and ideological battles. However, none of them have been found to contain any specific factual errors," said Seipel.

Alexey Mordashov is a permanent member of the Russian billionaires list compiled by Forbes. In 2021, the oligarch ranked first with a fortune of almost $30 billion. He has been said to be one of the sponsors of the construction of Putin's palace near Gelendzhik. Mordashov's companies also owned large stakes in the bank "Russia" (also known as the "bank for Putin's friends") and the "National Media Group" (NMG), which controls a large part of Russian TV broadcasting and Russia's media market at large.

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Mordashov was sanctioned by the West for his proximity to Putin, his pocket bank and his propaganda machine.

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