Bribes from Zed+: Arrest of Dutch lawyer in Madrid linked with VimpelCom and Russian MIA?
Struggle for power and forthcoming changes in the Board of Directors of Zed+, a major European technological holding, uncovered the possible involvement of its management into the bribing of Russian officials. According to European media, the ‘Spanish–Dutch trace’ leads to such prominent Russian figures as Mikhail Fridman, a co-founder of Alfa-Group, and Vladimir Kolokoltsev, the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation.
After the detention of Dutch lawyer Peter Wakkie – who was basically unknown to the public earlier – in Madrid–Barajas Airport, a major scandal is escalating with growing pace. The arrest of Peter Wakkie, the insolvency administrator of Zed+ technological holding, in Madrid was reminiscent of action movies. Over 30 operatives of Spanish secret services have secured Madrid–Barajas Airport, sealed all entrances and exits, and seized mobile phones and cameras from passengers and other persons present in the terminal to exclude possible leaks of unauthorized arrest footage to the Internet.
Security perimeter in Madrid–Barajas Airport
According to El Confidencial Madrid newspaper, the Spanish law enforcement authorities had expected Wakkie several days earlier. The insolvency administrator of Zed+ intended to hold a meeting in Madrid with potential buyers of the company, which is currently going through hard times. However, due to some unknown reasons, he had postponed the trip to Spain until January 16, 2016.
It is necessary to note that the special operation was under personal control of investigative prosecutor Jose Grinda, known for a large-scale ‘sweeping purge’ of the ‘Russian mafia’ in Spain – codenamed ‘Operation Troika’ – in 2008. Grinda specializes in combatting organized East-European criminal groups.
Investigative prosecutor Jose Grinda
His involvement into the operation has revealed the primary reason behind the arrest of the Dutch lawyer: Wakkie is suspected of siphoning $30 million from Grupo Zed with the purpose to bribe Russian functionaries.
Commenting the situation, the Spanish police refers not only to its internal operative information, but also to FBI data. American law enforcement authorities are actively involved into the investigation because Grupo Zed operates on the US market as well.
Deutsche Welle notes, citing its sources in Spanish enforcement structures, that the investigation had been launched in 2013–2014, after the disappearance of $30 million from the Russian branch of Grupo Zed. The Central Unit for Economic and Fiscal Delinquency (Unidad Central de Delincuencia Económica y Fiscal, UCDEF) of the National Police Corps of Spain believes that the money had been withdrawn with the purpose to bribe top-ranked governmental officials in Russia.
According to the German broadcaster, the Spanish police even knows the recipient (or recipients) of the bribes in the Russian circles of power, but the investigation is not going to disclose any names at this point.
Shadow of Fridman
Forbes rates Mikhail Fridman, with his wealth of $13.3 billion, the second richest person in Russia
The Spanish investigators indicate the possible involvement of Russian–Israeli oligarch Mikhail Fridman, a co-founder and shareholder of Alfa-Group (according to TAdviser, currently he owns only 18% in the consortium), into the bribing of Russian functionaries. Peter Wakkie is believed to be his confidant and even ‘right hand’ – the Dutch lawyer was involved into operations of Highland Marine Stichting fund.
This fund is controlled by Fridman, and the Luxembourg-based LetterOne Group (former Altimo, which also used to manage the telecommunication business of Alfa-Group) was selling its oil and gas assets in the North Sea through it. At the same time, the billionaire businessman vehemently denies any links with Wakkie.
Zed+ is officially incorporated in Bermuda and controlled by LetterOne Group. VimpelCom Ltd. owns only 5% of its shares. However, two Cypriot offshore companies – Bambalia and Gelvaser – own additional 25% of shares in the Dutch holding with the Russian and Spanish capital; these companies are controlled by Vage Engibaryan, a confidant and long-term partner of Mikhail Fridman.
Mikhail Fridman and Vage Engibaryan
In 2014, Peter Wakkie had been appointed the insolvency administrator of Zed+ by the Amsterdam Commercial Court and continued purposively “ravaging Zed+ accounts”, acting in the interests of Mikhail Fridman and LetterOne Group.
El Confidencial states, citing an official report of the Central Unit for Economic and Fiscal Delinquency (UCDEF), that the purpose of Wakkie’s actions was to reduce the value of Zed+ as much as possible and enable LetterOne to buy out the remaining shares from the Spanish shareholders for next to nothing. In addition, the Spanish law enforcement authorities claim that the Dutch lawyer had been constraining the investigation of swindling operations with Zed+ assets undertaken by the National Police Corps of Spain.
Time of Kolokoltsev
According to UCDEF, the money had been siphoned from Zed+ using the following scheme: its Russian branch, Temafon Close Joint Stock Company (Grupo Temafon in Spanish documents), has established Vstrecha company without approval from the Board of Directors; this company was used to accumulate funds withdrawn from Zed+ in 2013–2014.
PricewaterhouseCoopers auditors have later calculated that $30 million have been subsequently transferred to FunBox – a Russian company co-owned by businessman Aleksander Vladimirovich Kolokoltsev, son of Vladimir Kolokoltsev, the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation.
Vladimir Kolokoltsev, Minister of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation
El Confidencial emphasizes that the nature of the services rendered by the company belonging to Kolokoltsev at the cost of $30 million is still unknown. However, the newspaper states, citing operative information provided by the Spanish law enforcement authorities, that the money were used to bribe “relatives of Russian ministers”.
The conclusion of the Spanish investigators seems logical, taking the marred reputation of Aleksander Kolokoltsev broadly discussed in media in the period when his father was appointed the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation.
In 2012, after the appointment of Vladimir Kolokoltsev the Minister of Internal Affairs, his foes tried to find compromising materials against the general, but failed and switched to his son – a businessman and former officer of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation. Media outlets had published information about criminal roots of his business and claimed that Kolokoltsev junior was borrowing large amounts of money “under father’s guarantees” and ditching his creditors.
In February 2016, it turned out that 32-year-old Aleksander Kolokoltsev is a big businessman. He co-owns, in equal shares with entrepreneur David Stepanyan, Stinkom Development Group; Vedomosti newspaper estimates its assets at $500 million. Apart from Stinkom, his business interests are extensive and diverse – according to SPARK-Interfax, Kolokoltsev junior owns 33.4% of shares in Il Forno Limited Liability Company and co-owns Brinde company. In 2013, Aleksander Kolokoltsev had owned 50% of shares in Matrix Telecom company (currently it belongs 100% to Cyprus-based Lombardion Holding). He owns 40% of shares in FunBox company specializing in wed design and development of mobile apps. In particular, FunBox is known for the creation of dating-fun.ru dating web site, which currently belongs to MTS.
A CrimeRussia source close to business structures of Mikhail Fridman believes that the ugly ‘raiding takeover’ attempts – as some experts call the events around Zed+ – are a result of the bitter struggle waged by major shareholders for the promising company put on the verge of bankruptcy due to the ‘hole’ of $30 million in its budget.
Back in 2014, Zed+ was the leader on the market of Mobile Value Added Services (MVAS) – i.e. services bringing mobile operators additional revenues (ringtones, subscriptions, etc.).
Its Spanish shareholders included famous businessman Juan Abello, the Perez Dolset family, Grupo Planeta media company, and Santander bank. Structures controlled by Fridman and Engibaryan represented the Russian shareholders.
However, after the discovery of the loss of $30 million, Javier Pérez Dolset, President of the company, refused to sign papers pertaining to the Russian branch of Zed+ – which has effectively ruined his relations with Mikhail Fridman. In response, VimpelCom has severed all ties with Grupo Zed, which dealt a heavy blow to its business: over 80% of the corporate income in Eastern Europe depended on the Russian subsidiary company. The Russian partners had never fulfilled their obligation to compensate the losses in the amount of €32 million to the Perez Dolset family in accordance with the settlement signed in May 2014.
Javier Pérez Dolset
As a result, the company has failed to pay out the syndicated loan in the amount of €140 million to BBVA, Santander, ING, and Raiffeisen Bank and had to start the bankruptcy procedure.
Javier Pérez Dolset, the President of Zed+, has been suspended, and the Amsterdam Commercial Court appointed Peter Wakkie the insolvency administrator.
The police investigation has been launched in Spain following a report filed by Javier Pérez Dolset and accompanied by an independent audit of operations of the Russian branch of Zed+ performed by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Alvarez&Marsal as per order from the Pérez Dolset family.
The fierce ‘Russian–Spanish War’ between the Zed+ shareholders has unexpectedly resulted in a major – although temporary – victory of the Netherlands.
The Netherlands Commercial Court disregarded the arrest of Peter Wakkie in Spain
On January 19, 2016, the Amsterdam Chamber of Commerce – which was examining the arbitration lawsuit filed by the Russian shareholders of Zed+ – has delivered a verdict depriving all the company shareholders of their shares. The Spanish partners have lost 69% of the company, while structures controlled by Fridman and Engibaryan – some 30% in total. The Amsterdam Chamber of Commerce has reconfirmed the powers of Peter Wakkie as the insolvency administrator of Zed+ and disregarded the charges of “punishable insolvency and membership in a criminal organization” laid against him by the Spanish authorities.
The dispute between the shareholders is not over yet. In addition to the Spanish police, the following US agencies are currently investigating this case: FBI, Securities and Exchange Commission, Department of Justice, and Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Office. Russian law enforcement authorities keep persistent silence.