In the world's biggest country, railways are still a route to riches. With nearly 1 billion passengers a year and $42 billion in annual sales, the state company Russian Railways is a giant commercial opportunity.
At its head is Vladimir Yakunin, an old friend and long-standing ally of President Vladimir Putin. He oversees a company that strikes international deals, issues bonds to major investors and plans hugely expensive new high-speed lines. By many measures, Russian Railways is a standard corporate colossus.
But a Reuters investigation has uncovered another side to the state-owned company: Under Yakunin, it has paid billions of dollars to private contractors that disguise their ultimate owners and have little or no presence at their registered headquarters.