German journalist who praised Putin for years was paid by Russian oligarch

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Hubert Seipel, a German journalist, documentary filmmaker and writer who made a film about Vladimir Putin and wrote two best-selling books about him, received hundreds of thousands of euros from offshore companies associated with Alexei Mordashov, an oligarch close to Putin.

Source: Russian media outlet Vazhnye Istorii (Important Stories), which took part in an investigation into a leak of Cypriot legal documents as part of an international investigative project, Cyprus Confidential

Cyprus Confidential is a global investigation based on a leak of 3.6 million documents from six Cypriot firms involved in company registrations and consulting. It was conducted by 270 journalists from 69 media outlets led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and Germany’s Paper Trail Media.

Vazhnye Istorii notes that Seipel’s two books about Putin, Putin: Inner Views of Power (2015) and Putin’s Power: Why Europe Needs Russia (2021), were published in several languages and became bestsellers, with tens of thousands of copies sold.

Seipel's documentary, I, Putin. A Portrait (2012), was nominated for a German television award for best reportage.

Quote: "Seipel’s area of expertise is Russia. That much is clear: according to Seipel, not only did he study Russia for many years as a researcher, he also talked with the Russian president ‘nearly a hundred times’," writes Vazhnye Istorii, noting that Seipel was repeatedly accused of being insufficiently critical of what he heard from Putin.

Secret financial arrangements have linked Seipel for years to companies close to Russian oligarch Alexei Mordashov.

According to documents seen by Vazhnye Istorii, Seipel signed a "sponsorship agreement" in 2018 under which he was to receive at least €600,000. According to the agreement, this amount had been allocated to create and publicise a book about the "political climate in Russia". This book ended up being Putin’s Power: Why Europe Needs Russia, which was published in 2021 by the respected Hamburg publisher Hoffmann und Campe.

A handwritten note in the documents prepared for signing reads: "Similar to the agreement concluded in 2013: Putin's biography".

"Clearly a separate agreement was concluded for a separate sum [of money] for the preparation of Seipel's previous book, Putin: Inner Views of Power. Readers could not have known about the sponsorship agreements or Seipel’s potential conflict of interest – not a word was said about them in the books. The publisher of both the bestsellers was not aware of them either," Hoffmann und Campe said in response to an enquiry from Vazhnye Istorii.

Details: It is noted that the sponsor was hiding behind De Vere Worldwide Corporation, a British Virgin Islands-registered shell company belonging to Igor Voskresensky, one of the directors of Power Machines, an engineering giant owned by Russian oligarch Alexei Mordashov.

The sponsorship deal was witnessed by another of Mordashov’s employees, Dmitry Fedotov, the longstanding head of the legal department of metals giant Severstal, which is also owned by the oligarch.

The money payable to Seipel was sent to De Vere Worldwide from offshore companies whose beneficiary was Mordashov himself: in 2018 and 2019, two offshore companies transferred a total of €610,000 to De Vere Worldwide. After each of these transfers, De Vere sent the money to Seipel.

When Paper Trail Media called Voskresensky to ask him about De Vere Worldwide's activities, he said he didn't remember any company of that name and hung up. Fedotov and Mordashov did not respond to requests.

Alexey Mordashov is a regular fixture on the Forbes list of Russian billionaires. In 2021, the oligarch even topped it with a fortune of almost US$30 billion (this year, he is ranked fifth). He was said to be one of the financial backers behind the construction of Putin's palace near Gelendzhik. Mordashov's structures also owned large stakes in Rossiya Bank (also known as the Bank of Putin's Friends) and the National Media Group (NMG), which controls a significant segment of Russian television broadcasting and the overall media market.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Mordashov became subject to Western sanctions.

When questioned by Paper Trail Media, Seipel admitted that his books about Putin were sponsored by the Russian billionaire, but said he did not believe that this had somehow discredited his work.

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