At the time of DOC-RI’s founding in 2016 it was common knowledge that Vladimir Yakunin had been sanctioned in relation to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea as he was identified as being part of the “inner circle” of a senior Russian government official, a euphemism used at that time by the US Department of Treasury when referring to Vladimir Putin.
The combination of being a prior KGB intelligence officer of the First Main Directorate (Foreign Intelligence Collection) and Russian Railway (RZD) magnate has enabled Mr. Yakunin to adroitly navigate the post-Soviet space, thus resulting in gross self-enrichment at the expense of Russian society by siphoning billions from the Russian budget, to say nothing of his links to organized crime through the Ozero dacha cooperative.
Despite being fired after the global laundromat scandal (a/k/a “Moldovan” or “Russian” laundromat), which saw Moldovan authorities initiate legal proceedings “for money laundering, presumably from the budget of the Russian Federation, in an amount exceeding 20 billion U.S. dollars”, Mr. Yakunin has been neither criminally investigated by Russia nor sanctioned by the European Union.
While founding member Vladimir Yakunin was situated between organized crime and the global laundromat scandal, another senior leader of DOC-RI found themselves at the epicenter of a different yet equally infamous laundering program.
Described by OCCRP as the former CEO, President, and principal partner, Ruben Vardanyan oversaw an entity that eventually grew into becoming Russia’s largest investment bank and asset manager firm: Troika Dialog. During Mr. Vardanyan’s tenure from 2006 to early 2013, Troika Dialog 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.
In apparent disregard of his close proximity to money laundering activities, DOC-RI continued to present Mr. Vardanyan on its website as a member of the governance body. Post Troika Dialog and DOC-RI, Mr. Vardanyan has continued to court controversy as evidenced by FBK’s 2020 investigation into alleged bribery payments made to the wife of Tatarstan’s current Head of State through his offshore company Santerna Holdings Limited in late 2018.
Leonard O’Brien and René Frischknetcht are two senior leaders that not only formed part of the core of DOC-EF but also overlap 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 enabling structure for Vladimir Yakunin. Leonard O’Brien’s Geneva-based firm Salamander Corporate Services SA is located at 1205 Genève rue Jean-Gabriel-Eynard 8 and has shared 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 prominent researcher Marlene Laruelle, developed close links with Putin. Based on Swiss reporting outlet WOZ Die Wochenzeitung, Mr. Frischknetcht and Alessandro Lardi purchased, via their Zurich company Swisspath, a hotel in Davos for Andrei Yakunin, the young scion of Vladimir Yakunin.
Kassim Meghjee has served as the legal counsel for both DOC-EF and the St. Andrews foundation. As a Partner in Mishcon De Reya Private, Mr. Meghjee specializes in advising UK and international clients on matters of taxation as well as luxury assets through the firm’s Luxury Assets Group. In recent years Mishcon De Reya has come under scrutiny in two regards:
1: providing reputational services to oligarchs (e.g. Yakunin) by leveraging the UK’s libel laws to mitigate perceived reputational damage from published material by researchers and investigative journalists; and
2: a subsequent investigation by the UK’s Solicitors Regulation Authority uncovered “serious breaches” relating to money laundering protocols (i.e. due diligence) that resulted in the firm being fined £232,500.
To offer a veneer of legitimacy and offset negative perceptions associated with individuals possessing links to financial and organized crime, DOC-RI’s funds appear to have been dispensed, amongst other things, for the trawling of academic talent from reputable western universities. Two noteworthy names contained within the expert section of DOC-RI are Aymeric Chauprade and John Laughland, with the former having previously served as a biased election observer while the latter has occupied senior leadership positions in at least two IEI-Watchlisted organizations. Ilya Zaslavsky characterized the institute's sole function as being “widely regarded as the Kremlin’s main propaganda ‘factory’ in the West.”, while an academic noted that the locus of thought surrounding Mr. Yakunin’s world view encompassed the concept of a “multipolar world”, a term often used by political philosopher Alexander Dugin, that serves as “a Russian politically correct euphemism for anti-Americanism.”
Third sector organizations such as nonprofits, think tanks, or foundations possessing meaningful links to or behaviours consistent with: malign influence and finance; financial and organised crime; narrative or reputation laundering; or espionage, amongst others, may morally corrode the nonprofit space. Additionally, any organization engaged in or associated with such activities can potentially serve as a vector for undermining western institutions and values as well as transatlantic relationships. Open-source information indicates Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute’s senior leadership and its direct as well as indirect activities warrant the designation of this organization as a “high-risk NGO”. Therefore, DOC-RI has been placed onto the Institute for European Integrity’s NGO Watchlist.