In one of Russia’s most high-profile marketing campaigns, movie star Bruce Willis appeared in movie ads featuring a rooftop chase and rescue, ending with the tagline, “Trust is like me, but a bank.”
The 2011 National Bank Trust campaign — which included cardboard cutouts of Willis that popped up in 400 branches across Russia — was credited with raising the bank’s profile 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.
Ten years ago, customer money poured into the bank and large sums were sent around the world in loans for a network of offshore companies. But it was subsequently alleged that the elaborate corporate structure contained false documents and was a fraudulent scheme that disguised bad debts and enriched key executives.
Willis, whose family announced earlier this year that he had the neurological disorder aphasia, was unaware of the alleged plan.
The High Court in London ruled in January 2020 that the bank owed $900 million (£735 million) in damages from three former bosses, two based in Britain, who were allegedly involved in the settlement. The bank is now trying to recover the money owed in the UK, but ministers face questions about whether sanctions will prevent them from getting the money.
National Bank Trust is now mostly owned by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, so any money recovered in Britain can flow back to the Russian state.
Christine Jardine, the spokesman for the Liberal Democrat Treasury, said: “There are too many question marks around the National Bank Trust and whether it is actually able to channel money into the Putin regime.
“We need crystal clear answers as to whether it will be able to take foreign money, which the Kremlin is so desperately seeking, and send it back to Russia.
“The government needs to reassure the British public that sanctions are being applied to all Kremlin cronies, without exception, and that the National Bank Trust is not in a position to help Putin fund his war chest. If so, it should be sanctioned immediately.” Jardine has asked parliamentary questions about whether the bank will be the target of sanctions.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced economic sanctions against Russia’s central bank on February 28, four days after the invasion of Ukraine. The State Department would not say whether the National Bank Trust also faces sanctions.
The bank alleges that its former majority shareholders – Ilya Yurov, former chairman of the supervisory board, Nikolay Fetisov, former president, and Sergey Belyaev – orchestrated a fraud to hide bad debts and obtain millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses. Russia tried to extradite Yurov from the UK in 2018, but the request was rejected because he would not receive a fair trial.
Steptoe & Johnson, the law firm acting for the bank, said an English “fixer” named Benedict Worsley managed the bank’s offshore network and reportedly hired a team in Cyprus that “produced fake documents in what can only be described like a document factory”.
Yurov and Fetisov said the offshore companies were being properly used for “balance sheet management”, while Belyaev, who settled in the US, denied having any knowledge of the plan. 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 business administration decisions were made by the owners or managers of the company. Bank. The bank collapsed in December 2014, requiring a state-backed bailout of more than 100 billion rubles (£1.2 billion).
The Supreme Court heard in 2018 that Yurov’s family property, registered to his wife, Nataliya, included Oxney Court, a Gothic mansion with a swimming pool and tennis court on the Kent coast, bought for £4.1 million in 2012; two properties in Cyprus; and three flats in Chelsea with a combined value of over £6 million. The Fetisov family’s portfolio included a £4.25 million mansion in Oxshott, Surrey; a £1.6 million flat in Chelsea; and a residence near Moscow.
Mazars, the international accounting and consultancy firm, announced in May 2020 that it was working as co-curators on the bankruptcy of Yurov and Fetisov. It recently filed court requests to obtain bank statements related to the case.
The company was appointed by the company secretary on behalf of the Supreme Court and is seeking to recover the bankrupt’s assets for the benefit of creditors, including National Bank Trust.
Mazars said it complied with all sanctions and that no transactions would take place with sanctioned entities or their subsidiaries without court approval. National Bank Trust did not respond to a request for comment.
British officials say they are systematically punishing Russian individuals and organizations but would not comment on specific cases. An official said: “While he… [Putin] continues this war, we will continue to tighten the ratchet with further sanctions.”