The Russian Bank, Bruce Willis Ad and the $900 Million Sanctions Battle | Russia


In one of Russia’s highest-profile marketing campaigns, movie star Bruce Willis appeared in cinematic advertisements featuring a car chase and rooftop rescue, ending with the tagline “Trust is like me, but a bank”.

The campaign for National Bank Trust in 2011 – which included cardboard cutouts of Willis appearing in 400 branches across Russia – was credited with raising the bank’s profile and boosting business.

Ministers are now under pressure to impose sanctions on the bank for its efforts to collect hundreds of millions of pounds in debt from the UK.

Ten years ago, customer money flowed into bank vaults and large chunks were sent around the world as loans for a network of offshore companies. But it was later alleged that the elaborate corporate structure incorporated false documents and was a fraudulent scheme that concealed bad debts and enriched key executives.

Willis, whose family announced earlier this year that he has aphasia, a neurological disorder, had no knowledge of the alleged scheme.

London’s high court ruled in January 2020 that the bank owed $900m (£735m) compensation to three former bosses, two of them based in Britain, who were allegedly involved in the scheme. The bank is now seeking to recover the money owed to the UK, but ministers wonder whether the sanctions will prevent it from getting the money.

National Bank Trust is now majority owned by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, so any money collected in Britain could revert to the Russian state.

Christine Jardine, Liberal Democrat Treasury spokeswoman, said: “There are too many question marks surrounding the National Bank Trust and whether it is, in fact, capable of funneling funds to Putin’s regime.

“We need clear answers on whether he is able to raise foreign funds, which the Kremlin is so desperate for, and send them back to Russia.

“The government must reassure the British public that sanctions are being applied to all Kremlin cronies without exception, and that National Bank Trust is unable to help Putin fund his war chest. If so, it should be sanctioned immediately. Jardine has filed parliamentary questions about whether the bank will face sanctions.

The Foreign Ministry announced economic sanctions targeting the Russian central bank on February 28, four days after the invasion of Ukraine. The Foreign Office would not say whether National Bank Trust also faces sanctions.

The bank alleges that its former majority owners – Ilya Yurov, former chairman of the supervisory board, Nikolay Fetisov, its former chairman, and Sergey Belyaev – orchestrated a fraud to conceal bad debts and extract millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses. . Russia attempted to extradite Yurov from the UK in 2018, but the request was denied on the grounds that he would not receive a fair trial.

Steptoe & Johnson, the law firm that acted for the bank, said an English “fixer” called Benedict Worsley ran the bank’s offshore network, allegedly hired a team in Cyprus who “produced false documents in this which can only be described as a factory document”.

Yurov and Fetisov said offshore companies were properly used for “balance sheet management”, while Belyaev, who moved to the United States, denied knowledge of the scheme. Worsley, who was not called to give evidence at the hearing but was described as a man who ‘likes to act like James Bond’, said all decisions regarding the administration of the business were made by the owners or bank managers. The bank collapsed in December 2014 and required a state-backed bailout of more than 100bn rubles (£1.2bn).

The high court heard in 2018 that Yurov’s family properties, held in the name of his wife, Nataliya, included Oxney Court, a Gothic mansion with pool and tennis court on the Kent coast bought for £4.1million in 2012 ; two properties in Cyprus; and three apartments in Chelsea with a combined value of over £6million. The Fetisov family portfolio included a £4.25 million mansion in Oxshott, Surrey; a £1.6m apartment in Chelsea; and a residence near Moscow.

Mazars, the international accounting and consulting firm, announced in May 2020 that it was working as co-administrators in the bankruptcy of Yurov and Fetisov. He recently filed court petitions for bank statements related to the case.

The firm was appointed by the business secretary on behalf of the high court and is seeking to recover the assets of bankrupts for the benefit of creditors, including National Bank Trust.

Mazars said it has complied with all sanctions and that no transactions will take place with sanctioned entities or their subsidiaries without court authorization. National Bank Trust did not respond to a request for comment.

British officials say they routinely sanction Russian individuals and organizations, but won’t comment on specific cases. One official said: “While he [Putin] continue this war, we will continue to tighten the ratchet with new sanctions.


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