A contemplative Oleg Tinkov at the 2016 Tour de France.

Oleg Tinkov pleads guilty to vast tax fraud

The colourful Team Tinkoff owner confessed to concealing more than US$1 billion in assets.

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Russian banking billionaire Oleg Tinkov – the sponsor and owner of the Tinkoff cycling team from 2013–2016 – has pleaded guilty today to US tax fraud.

The charges relate to Tinkov’s dealings in 2013. According to the Department of Justice, Tinkov – who had been an American citizen since the mid-90s – abruptly renounced his US citizenship shortly after the Russian branchless bank he’d founded, Tinkoff Credit Systems, went public on the London Stock Exchange.

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Within days of the bank’s IPO (initial public offering) – which saw Tinkov’s wealth balloon to US$1.1 billion after he sold US$192 million of shares – he went to the US embassy in Moscow to relinquish his citizenship.

There, as part of the expatriation process, he reported that his net worth was only US$300,000. The following year, he submitted a false 2013 tax return that reported his income as just US$205,317. The US Department of Justice notes that this caused a tax loss of $248,525,339.

Oleg Tinkov and one of his star riders, Peter Sagan, share some rest-day giggles in Gap at the 2015 Tour de France.

US prosecutors have been chasing him since February 2020, filing an arrest warrant six years to the day after he filed his false tax return. In the 18 months since, Tinkov had been battling extradition to the US from his home in London. He has, he says, been unable to travel on medical grounds, due to being immunocompromised from treatment for leukaemia and graft versus host disease.

Under a plea agreement, Tinkov has agreed to pay more than half a billion dollars – the missing 2013 taxes, a civil fraud penalty, interest on the tax, and other tax that Tinkov has conceded he owes. “Per the terms of the plea agreement, the parties have agreed to recommend a custodial sentence of time served, followed by one year of supervised release, and an additional fine of $250,000,” the Department of Justice writes.

Tinkov faces sentencing before U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar on October 29.

“Oleg Tinkov brazenly violated United States tax law. No one who enjoys the immense benefits of United States citizenship, as Tinkov did, may avoid the corresponding obligation to support the country he chose,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds for the Northern District of California. “Tax evaders should take notice of the long reach of U.S. law enforcement.”

Tinkov is one of the more colourful characters to have graced the sport of cycling in recent years. He was involved in cycling from 2012 in partnership with Bjarne Riis; he bought the team he sponsored outright in 2013, running it to the end of the 2016 season under the names Saxo Bank-Tinkoff, Tinkoff-Saxo, and finally, Tinkoff. Landmark riders for the team through that era included Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan.

In 2016, as he bowed out of the sport, he vowed to make a return once the Chris Froome era had come to an end. “I’m waiting for the end of the Froome-age to get back in the peloton. But one thing is certain: I will come back to win the Tour,” he told Sporza.

Tinkov at the 2015 Giro d’Italia. Times change.

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