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Putin Defends Cellist Friend at Center of Panama Papers Scandal

Sergei Roldugin Vladimir Putin
Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Sergei Roldugin and Vladimir Putin at the Saint Petersburg House of Music in Russia on Nov. 21, 2009.

"He is Russia's People's Artist," says Putin.

The publication of a report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) brought to the limelight obscure Russian cellist Sergei Roldugin, an alleged bagman for President Vladimir Putin. The report, known as the "Panama Papers," never mentions Putin himself, but alleges that Roldugin moved more than $2 billion using offshore bank accounts and companies.

Unlike some other friends of Putin's youth -- some who came to attention as major entrepreneurs during his rule -- Roldugin, the godfather of Putin's daughter Maria, has never been known to be involved in business.

Still, according to local media reports, Roldugin, who has been Putin's friend since the 1970s, owns shares in a few companies, including the bank Rossiya, and his net worth was estimated at $350 million two years ago.

Russian State Media Mostly Ignore Panama Papers

For nearly 20 years, Roldugin, now 64, was a soloist at the cello group at St. Petersburg's renowned Mariinsky theater and later became a conductor at the theater's orchestra. Briefly, he was rector of St. Petersburg conservatory of music but stepped down to focus on creative activities.

Roldugin has not commented on the Panama Papers allegations, but Putin recently spoke in his defense.

"[Roldugin] is not just a musician," he was quoted as saying by Russia Today. "He is Russia's People's Artist."

"Many creative people in Russia try to do business," he went on to say. "[Roldugin] is a minority stakeholder in a company. He makes some money, but not billions of dollars. I'm proud of people like that. He spent almost all the money he made on music instruments, which he bought abroad and brought to Russia."

Overall, the publication of the Panama Papers was mostly ignored by Russia's mainstream media, and senior state officials dismissed allegations made in the reports.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the report's main target was Putin himself.

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