The Russian bank, the Bruce Willis ad and the $900m sanctions battle

In one of Russia’s most high-profile marketing campaigns, film star Bruce Willis appeared in cinematic advertisements with a car chase and a rooftop rescue, ending with the slogan, “Trust is just like me, but a bank.”

The campaign for National Bank Trust in 2011 – which included cardboard cutouts of Willis popping 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 in debts from the UK.

A decade ago, money was pouring in to the bank’s coffers from clients and large chunks were sent around the world in loans for a network of offshore companies. But it was subsequently alleged that the elaborate corporate structure incorporated fake documents and was a fraudulent scheme that concealed bad debts and enriched key executives.

Willis, whose family announced earlier this year he had the neurological disorder aphasia, had no knowledge of the alleged scheme.

The high court in London ruled in January 2020 that the bank was owed $900m (£735m) compensation from three former bosses, two settled in Britain, allegedly involved in the scheme. The bank is now seeking to recover money owed in the UK, but ministers face questions on whether sanctions will stop it getting the cash.

National Bank Trust is now majority owned by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, so any money recovered in Britain could flow back to the Russian state.

Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson, said: “There are too many question marks around the National Bank Trust and whether it is, in fact, able to channel funds to the Putin regime.

“We need crystal-clear answers about whether it is able to raise foreign cash, that the Kremlin is so desperate for, and send it back to Russia.

“The government must reassure the British public that sanctions are being applied to all Kremlin cronies without exception, and that National Bank Trust is in no position to help Putin fund his war chest. If it is, it must be sanctioned straight away.” Jardine has tabled parliamentary questions about whether the bank will be targeted with sanctions.

CONTINUE @ THE GUARDIAN

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