Austrian Mystery Villas Owned by Former Romantic Partner of Sanctioned Russian Oligarch Eduard Khudainatov

Four luxurious properties were purchased by Khudainatov’s longtime partner for a total of 26 million euros.

A longtime romantic partner of Eduard Khudainatov, a Kremlin-linked Russian oil boss placed under sanctions by the European Union in June 2022, owns four villas in an upscale Austrian ski town, reporting by paper trail media, OCCRP, and iStories reveals.

Svetlana Eliseeva, a Russian and Cypriot citizen, bought the four properties in Kitzbühel in Austria’s Alpine Tyrol region between 2017 and 2021, paying a total of around 26 million euros, property records show.

Leaked documents obtained by OCCRP reveal that Eliseeva was Khudainatov’s partner for many years, although she denied through her lawyer that they were currently in a relationship. She does not appear to have significant assets of her own, raising questions over whether the funds used to purchase the Kitzbühel villas may have come from Khudainatov.

In March, the regional Tyrolean newspaper Tiroler Tageszeitung reported that the four expensive villas had been purchased by a mysterious Russian woman named “Svetlana E.” The report ignited speculation in Kitzbühel about who she might be and how she had been able to buy so much real estate in a town where second homes are strictly regulated.

The newspaper quoted a member of the local parliament as saying that the situation “rais[ed] alarm bells about multiple illegal leisure residences and the sell-off of Tyrol,” even though nobody could figure out who Svetlana E actually was. There was no entry for the woman in the Austrian population register, and “nothing about her to be found on the Internet either,” the newspaper wrote.

When paper trail media visited Kitzbühel last month, the four villas were all quiet, though they appeared well-maintained. Neighbors told reporters that none of the houses appeared to be inhabited by their owners, although some mentioned a caretaker who spoke Russian and German. The doorbell of one was labeled with the name “Max Mustermann” — the German-language equivalent of “John Doe.”

But Austrian property records show that the owner of “Max Mustermann’s” house is actually Eliseeva, who went on a buying spree in the bucolic Alpine town starting in July 2017, when she acquired a lavish mountainside villa for 13.25 million euros, Austrian property records show. The villa, perched above the town, has a direct view across the valley to Kitzbühel’s Streif, one of the world’s most challenging ski race courses, which attracts tens of thousands of international spectators each year.

Only a few minutes drive away from Eliseeva’s villa is a two-story ski chalet where locals have glimpsed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s elder daughter Maria Vorontsova, OCCRP and partners reported last year.

In July 2018, Eliseeva purchased two more Kitzbühel villas on a single plot of land, for a total of just under 6 million euros. Finally, in May 2021, she bought a fourth villa for 7 million euros.

Khudainatov did not respond to a request for comment. Sergej Etinger, a German lawyer acting for Eliseeva, said that while his client did not deny that she owned the Austrian villas, she was a “purely private person” and “NOT the partner of Mr. Khudainatov.”

“Our client has no relations and/or contacts with Mr. Khudainatov,” Etinger said.

“Our client acquired the properties exclusively from her own funds and holds them exclusively in her own interest and for her own account,” he added.

Golden Passports

A few months before purchasing the first of her Austrian villas, Eliseeva obtained a European Union passport through Cyprus’ now-abolished citizenship by investment program.

Eliseeva’s so-called “golden passport,” acquired in January 2017, allowed her to avoid restrictions on land purchases by non-EU citizens. Austrian regulations require people from countries outside the bloc to obtain approval from local authorities before buying a property, which is granted only if there is a cultural, social or economic interest in concluding the transaction and the purchase will not impair “national political interests.”

Before becoming a Cypriot citizen, Eliseeva had also applied for a Maltese passport, according to an application found in a leak of documents from the investment migration consultancy firm Henley & Partners, obtained by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation and shared with OCCRP.

The January 2016 application never ended up being submitted, but it revealed details about her relationship status.

Although Eliseeva and Khudainatov were not married, the application showed that two of her children share his surname, and he is listed as their father on their Russian birth certificates. Internal emails regarding her application also referred to Khudainatov as Eliseeva’s “partner,” and noted that he was financing her application.

“By way of information, Svetlana has never worked,” a Maltese employee of Henley & Partners wrote. “The benefactor’s name is … Eduard Khudaynatov. Please find attached his bank account details and passport copy.”

From 2010 to 2012, Khudainatov headed the state-controlled Rosneft, one of the world’s largest oil producers. Because Rosneft was subject to U.S. and EU sanctions following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Henley & Partners declined to continue working on Eliseeva’s Maltese passport application, the documents show.

Henley & Partners spokesperson Sarah Nicklin confirmed to paper trail media that Eliseeva had approached the firm for help applying for Maltese citizenship, but said it had not accepted her as a client because “the benefactor was on the management board of a sanctioned entity.” She said Henley & Partners had not received any payment from Eliseeva or Khudainatov.

Khudainatov has had ties to the Kremlin since 2000, when he organized Putin’s first presidential election campaign in the oil-rich Siberian region of Tyumen. Before that, he worked in the energy sector for most of his career, including at the Soviet Oil and Gas Ministry in the 1980s and as the vice president of a private oil firm in the 1990s, according to a profile published by Forbes in 2022, which called him “one of Russia’s most mysterious oligarchs.”

After finally leaving Rosneft in 2013, Khudainatov built up his private oil business, NNK, part of which he then sold to Rosneft for $9.6 billion. Forbes estimated his personal wealth in 2022 to be at least $2 billion.

Henley & Partners had written that Eliseeva never had a job, but pension data obtained by reporters shows that she does have a history of more than 30 years of employment in Russia — although it almost exclusively involves working for companies connected to Khudainatov, including NNK and another private firm, Soyuzprominvest, which was at one point owned by Khudainatov’s brother. (In 2001 she also briefly worked for another company that reporters could not identify.) The pension data also shows that from 2015 to 2020, her annual salary never exceeded $20,000.

Khudainatov made international headlines after the Fijian government in 2022 seized a $300-million megayacht, Amadea, registered in his name and moored in Fiji. The seizure took place at the request of the U.S., which later accused Khudainatov of being a strawman owner of the yacht on behalf of another Kremlin-allied oligarch, Suleiman Kerimov.

Media have also reported Khudainatov to be the owner — at least on paper — of one of the world’s largest superyachts, Scheherazade, valued at $700 million. Citing a court affidavit by U.S. authorities, Bloomberg News has reported that the yacht is actually linked to Putin. It was impounded by the Italian government in May 2022 in response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Porsches and Caviar

Khudainatov’s Kremlin links have not stopped his family enjoying a glamorous international lifestyle, according to social media and event photography websites.

In 2019, Eliseeva and her daughter Yulia celebrated Yulia’s pregnancy at a lavish baby shower in London where guests were served individual tins of Caspian caviar. Two years later, both women sported St George’s Ribbons, symbols of Russian patriotism, at a birthday party for Yulia’s child in London. Yulia was also photographed in Vogue at a Chanel fashion show in Paris in 2017, and documented her travels around Russia and the world on her social media page. (She told reporters she could not respond to a request for comment until later this month, and asked them not to contact her again.)

Back in Russia, her mother Svetlana owns three large apartments in the heart of Moscow, and a residential compound near the town of Gelendzhik on Russia’s Black Sea coast, according to state records obtained by OCCRP. She also owns two Porsche Cayennes, two Mercedes Benzes, and one Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Although Eliseeva’s presence in Austria has flown under the radar, the Kitzbühel mayor’s office told paper trail media that they were now investigating her property purchases, and whether the villas were improperly being used as leisure residences.

However, it’s unclear what additional scrutiny she could face for her links to Khudainatov. Local authorities in Tyrol told reporters that they did not have oversight over matters related to potential sanctions violations, and referred questions to Austrian federal authorities.

Austria’s Directorate for State Security and Intelligence declined to comment.

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