Two names and a handful of key management personnel should be highlighted within DOCEF’s leadership structure: Vladimir Yakunin, Ruben Vardanyan, and three lesser-known yet still-significant leadership figures. As a prior KGB intelligence officer from the First Main Directorate (Foreign Intelligence Collection) and former Russian Railway (RZD) magnate, Vladimir Yakunin has adroitly navigated the post-Soviet space resulting in gross self-enrichment at the expense of the Russian people by siphoning billions. One such example was Yakunin’s involvement in the Moldovan laundromat scandal that saw the authorities initiate legal proceedings “for money laundering, presumably from the budget of the Russian Federation, in an amount exceeding 20 billion U.S. dollars.”
Ruben Vardanyan is the former CEO and principal partner of Troika Dialog. Troika eventually grew into becoming Russia’s largest investment bank; however, from 2006 to early 2013, while under the leadership of Mr. Vardanyan, it enabled nearly $5 billion to flow through offshore companies in what has become known as the Troika Laundromat. By obscuring or masking the origins of illicit wealth via offshore companies, the laundromat was able to successfully launder money to Putin’s inner circle and powerful oligarchs.
Two senior leaders–Leonard O’Brien and René Frischknetcht–that formed part of the core of DOCEF should be highlighted for their roles not just within the organization, but in that they have overlapped with other Yakunin projects: Foundation for the Support of Historical and Cultural Studies & St. Andrews Foundation. These two individuals appear to represent, for one reason or another, a reliable structure for Yakunin. Leonard O’Brien’s Geneva-based firm Salamander Corporate Services SA is located at 1205 Genève rue Jean-Gabriel-Eynard 8 and shares its address with all three Yakunin projects. Before serving as an officer in these Yakunin-led projects, René Frischknetcht was first vice-president of Dresdner Bank in Switzerland, which, according to a prominent researcher, developed close links with Putin. And, based on Swiss reporting outlet WOZ Die Wochenzeitung, Mr. Frischknetcht and Alessandro Lardi bought, via their Zurich company Swisspath, a hotel in Davos for Andrei Yakunin, the son of Vladimir. Lastly, Kassim Meghjee serves as the legal counsel for both DOCEF and the St. Andrews foundation; however, it should be noted that the firm for which he works, Mishcon De Reya, has provided reputational services to the Yakunin family by leveraging the UK’s notorious libel laws to mitigate perceived reputational damage.
DOCRI aspires to franchise, in strategic locations, its brand of think-tank around the globe in order to promote its view; furthermore, funds appear to have been dispensed for the sole purpose of trawling for academic talent from reputable universities ranging from Columbia to Princeton so as to populate its board with such “experts”. Ilya Zaslavsky characterized the institute's sole function as being “widely regarded as the Kremlin’s main propaganda ‘factory’ in the West”; in particular, whitewashing Yakunin et al’s reputations by pandering to Western academics. Additional red flags exist in the form of the organization’s opacity as it relates to finances as well as a suggested donation method involving real estate.
Nonprofit organizations, directly or indirectly, engaged in the laundering of money, reputations, narratives or criminal activity morally corrode the nonprofit space; moreover, any third sector organization (NGO) engaged in such practices can serve as a vehicle or vector for weaponized kleptocracy to undermine western institutions. Open-source signatures indicate the founder, associated leadership, and its direct as well as indirect activities warrant DOCRI/DOCEF’s designation as a high-risk NGO. Therefore, Dialogue of Civilizations as a whole has been placed onto the Institute for European Integrity’s NGO watchlist.