In one of Russia’s most popular marketing campaigns, movie star Bruce Willis appeared in movie ads with a car chase and a rooftop rescue, ending with the tagline “Trust is just like me, but it’s a bank.”
A 2011 National Bank Trust campaign — which featured Willis cardboard cutouts in 400 branches across Russia — was credited with raising the bank’s image and boosting business.
Ministers are now under pressure to impose sanctions on the bank over its efforts to recover hundreds of millions of pounds of debt from the UK.
A decade ago, money was flowing into bank coffers from clients and large portions were sent around the world in the form of loans to a network of offshore companies. But it was later alleged that the sophisticated company structure included forged documents and was a fraudulent scheme hiding bad debts and enriching key executives.
Willis, whose family announced earlier this year that he has aphasia, has no knowledge of the alleged scheme.
The High Court in London ruled in January 2020 that the bank owed $900m (£735m) in damages from three former presidents, two of whom had settled in Britain, for their alleged involvement in the scheme. The bank is now seeking to recover money owed in the UK, but ministers are facing questions about whether sanctions will prevent it from getting the money.
The National Bank Trust is now majority owned by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, so any money recovered in Britain can flow into the Russian state.
Kristen Jardine, a Treasury spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrats, said: “There are a lot of question marks about the National Bank Trust and whether it is, in fact, able to channel money into the Putin regime.
We need absolutely clear answers about whether it was able to raise foreign money, that the Kremlin desperately needs it, and send it back to Russia.
The government must reassure the British public that sanctions apply to all Kremlin cronies without exception, and that the National Bank Trust is not in a position to help Putin fund his war fund. If this is the case, it needs to be punished immediately.” Jardine asked parliamentary questions about whether the bank would be sanctioned.
The State Department announced economic sanctions targeting the Russian Central Bank on February 28, four days after the invasion of Ukraine. The State Department did not comment on whether the National Bank Trust also faces sanctions.
The bank claims that its former owners – Ilya Yurov, the former head of the supervisory board, Nikolai Fetisov, its ex-chairman, and Sergey Belyaev – hatched a scam to hide 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 get a fair trial.
Steptoe & Johnson, the law firm that worked for the bank, said an “English broker” Benedict Worsley ran the bank’s offshore network, and allegedly employed a team in Cyprus that had been “putting out fake documents in what can only be described as a factory document”.
Yurov and Fetisov said that offshore companies were used correctly for “balance sheet management,” while Belyaev, who settled in the United States, denied knowledge of the scheme. Worsley, who was not called to testify at the hearing but was described as a man who “likes to act like James Bond,” said all decisions about corporate governance were made by the bank’s owners or managers. The bank collapsed in December 2014 and required a state-backed bailout of more than 100 billion rubles (£1.2 billion).
The High Court heard in 2018 that the Yorov family property, held in the name of his wife Natalia, included Oxney Court, a Gothic country house with a swimming pool and tennis court on the Kent Coast, purchased for £4.1m in 2012; two properties in Cyprus; and three apartments in Chelsea with a total value of over £6m. The Fetisov family’s portfolio included a £4.25 million mansion in Oxshott, Surrey; £1.6m apartment in Chelsea; A residence near Moscow.
Mazars, the international accounting and consulting firm, announced in May 2020 that it was serving as joint trustees in the Yurov and Fetisov bankruptcy cases. She recently applied to the court for bank statements related to the case.
The company has been appointed by the business secretary on behalf of the Supreme Court and is seeking to recover the assets of bankrupts in favor of creditors, including the National Trust Bank.
Mazars said it has complied with all sanctions and no transactions with sanctioned entities or their affiliates will occur without court permission. The National Bank Trust did not respond to a request for comment.
British officials say they are systematically punishing Russian individuals and organizations, but will not comment on specific cases. One official said: “While he is [Putin] This war continues, and we will continue to tighten the ratchet with more sanctions.”