Friendship of millionaires. Trace of criminal gang in embezzlement of Gazprom funds? 

Friendship of millionaires. Trace of criminal gang in embezzlement of Gazprom funds?
Who has got billion-ruble Gazprom contracts? Photo: The CrimeRussia

The CrimeRussia has performed its own inquest and found out who had got the suspicious billion-ruble Gazprom contracts to build a gas pipeline to China. The traces lead to Gazprom top managers and not-so-public billionaires linked with ‘Solntsevskie’ organized criminal group.

“Gazprom – dreams come true!” – this is the most likely reaction of the owners of a tiny company founded less than a year ago who managed to win billion-ruble Gazprom contracts. The contracts worth 8 billion rubles ($139.6 million) have not only hit the headlines but also attracted attention of Deputies of the State Duma. Deputy Valery Rashkin asked the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) to check the legitimacy of the contracts signed with an admittedly suspicious company. According to the parliamentarian, the company belonging to some Sergei Samarin from Nizhnevartovsk won’t be able to implement the Power of Siberia project. Most likely, it would transfer the money to offshore accounts and then cease its existence.

The CrimeRussia has connected the dots and found out who had got the billion-ruble contracts and who could be interested in this. The traces lead to not-so-public billionaires having ties with Gazprom top managers.

According to the Consolidated State Register of Legal Entities, Inter-Management Limited Liability Company mentioned by the media was founded in August 2016. Its staff does not exceed 5 persons. During the six months of its existence, Inter-Management managed to win several Gazprom tenders for the total amount of 7.85 billion rubles ($137 million). All the contracts have been signed with Gazprom Public Joint Stock Company and pertain to the construction of the Power of Siberia pipeline. The company has secured its first contracts in November 2016 – i.e. three months after its creation. Apparently, Inter-Management is a nominal intermediary entity. Interestingly, it has honestly indicated its main type of activity – “financial mediation”. Even if the funds are not siphoned off to offshore territories – as the Deputy has supposed, ‘right’ subcontractors would be retained for all the works without contests. In addition, Sergei Samarin, the General Director and sole proprietor of Inter-Management, did not sign any contracts with Gazprom – everything had been done by the previous General Director and owner (only one contract was signed in March 2017).

It turned out that Alisa Borisovna Ustinova was the lucky owner of Inter-Management in 2016 – i.e. in the period when the governmental tenders had been carried out. This name is basically unknown to the public. She is also a founder, cofounder, or General Director in a dozen other companies. Apparently, her main business is Jackfruit Event Agency. But entertainment and pipeline construction seem a little bit different spheres of activity...

The CrimeRussia has found documents pertaining to an arbitration lawsuit heard in 2012–2013 and involving the former owner of Inter-Management. Based on archived court decisions, Alisa Ustinova had married Nikita Ustinov in 2002. On the next day, the father of the bride had presented some sum of money to the newlyweds (unfortunately, the amount is unknown). In 2010, some Mikhail Nadel (most probably, the former owner of Asia Universal Bank and friend of Maksim Bakiyev, the President of Kyrgyzstan) had borrowed some money from Alisa Ustinova without knowledge of her husband. Upon becoming aware of this, Nikita Ustinov has filed a lawsuit against his wife, ex-banker, and his guarantors. According to him, the funds were a marital property and Alisa Ustinova had no right to lend those without his consent. Nikita Ustinov has requested to return the money immediately. Representatives of Nadel told the court that their client was not aware about the marital status of Alisa Borisovna. Although she has stated that she “had repeatedly warned Nadel that my husband Ustinov did not give his consent to handle the money and therefore, must not know about this” while handing the money over to him... What could be the loan amount, taking that the borrower was the head of the largest and most successful – at that time – bank in Kyrgyzstan? Not only does this episode provide a clue to the mysterious winners of the Gazprom contracts, but also vividly characterizes the Agrest–Ustinov family.

Alisa and Nikita Ustinov

Alisa and Nikita Ustinov

The above-mentioned lawsuit lost by Nikita Ustinov also provides the maiden surname of Alisa Borisovna: Agrest. Boris Agrest is a Russian billionaire well-known because of his high-profile divorce with Zhanna Kremen. In 2012, she has seized £12.5 million in alimony from the ex-husband–oligarch in the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

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Zhanna Kremen met young Boris Agrest in 1989; at that time he was a successful producer of perspective rock band Nautilus Pompilius. They married in 1991; he started a business, succeeded in it, and relocated together with his wife first to Austria and then to the UK. In the meanwhile, Boris Agrest has acquired Israeli and Greek citizenship. Attorneys for Zhanna Kremen claimed that by the time of the divorce, the wealth of Boris Agrest had amounted to dozens of millions of dollars. He had claimed that he lives in Moscow and his monthly salary is $150. They have divorced in 2003 but could not divide the assets peacefully.

The point is that Agrest–Kremen spouses had only sons: Gennady, Viktor, and Maksim. So where is daughter Alisa from? May be, she has no relation to that family? A namesake? Many delicate details have surfaced in the wake of the scandalous divorce.

Boris Agrest and Zhanna Kremen

Boris Agrest and Zhanna Kremen in Jamaica, 1994

Later Agrest had insisted that their marriage was illegal claiming that by the time of its registration, he was not divorced with his previous spouse yet. It turned out that in the past he was married to some Anna Bozhko. This marriage was not successful. The first wife of Boris Agrest had a daughter of the previous marriage born in 1982.

Her birth date exactly matches the birth date of Alisa Borisovna Agrest. Another coincidence? But according to the Federal Service for State Registration, Cadastre and Cartography (Rosreestr), the apartment where Alisa Agrest currently resides had belonged to Zhanna Kondratievna Kremen, ex-wife of Boris Agrest, up until 2000.

The list of Alisa Ustinova’s friends on social networks includes Gennady Agrest, son of Boris Agrest.

Therefore, the billion-ruble Gazprom contracts have been awarded to a firm belonging to the oligarch’s stepdaughter – apparently, a nominal owner of a dummy company. That might have been the end of our inquest, and the materials could be submitted to the ICR or Deputy Rashkin. But the question is: what was the interest of Gazprom in that story?

The gas monopoly was caught on awarding governmental contracts to suspicious ‘intermediary’ companies more than once. Gazenergoservis Open Joint Stock Company belonging to Evgeny Pershin was one of such companies.

According to the media, Evgeny Pershin had started his business back in 1992 under the ‘cover’ of ‘Solntsevskie’ organized criminal group. In 1999, he has founded Vostok-Investprom Limited Liability Company jointly with Igor Salo. This Russian–Ukrainian businessman reportedly was a member of the Kemerovo ‘branch’ of ‘Solntsevskie’. Allegedly, he was the ‘right hand’ of Alexander Shishkin, leader of the Kemerovo ‘brigade’, and still represents his business interests.

Alexander Shishkin

Alexander Shishkin, Member of the Council of the Federation

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Alexander Shishkin is a Member of the Council of the Federation, ex-Deputy of the State Duma, dollar billionaire (46th position in the Forbes List), and owner of Estal and Amurmetal companies. In police reports, however, he is mentioned as a member of the Kemerovo ‘branch’ of ‘Solntsevskie’ organized criminal group.

In fact, he had never tried to conceal his past. Businessman Dmitry Baranovsky told in an interview to Novaya Gazeta that his business partner Shishkin had spoken about himself as follows: “I am a former leader of an organized criminal group!” “Looking at his tough methods of work, it was easy to believe him...”, – Baranovsky says.

Other companies of Evgeny Pershin (Tsentrgazservis and Severnaya Magistral (Nord Track)) were also winning Gazprom contracts in the past. While managing them, Pershin has established connections with important people, including influential businessman Ziyad Manasir, founder of Stroygazconsulting – a major contractor for Gazprom.

Evgeny Pershin with his Gazenergoservis became a subcontractor for Stroygazconsulting and over time built on connections with key figures in Gazprom. Ultimately, Pershin managed to get close to Kirill Seleznev, General Director of Gazprom Mezhregiongaz, and Mikhail Sirotkin, Head of the Corporate Costs Department of Gazprom Public Joint Stock Company. Under supervision of Salo and Shishkin, Evgeny Pershin started signing contracts directly with the state gas monopoly, without the involvement of Manasir. By the way, Gazprom has a subsidiary company with the same name – Gazenergoservis Limited Liability Company; is it a decoy?

Gazprom top managers

Gazprom top managers: Kirill Seleznev, Mikhail Sirotkin, and his wife Elena Mikhailova

The business community is aware that Kirill Seleznev, Mikhail Sirotkin, and his wife Elena Mikhailova, Member of the Management Committee and Head of the Asset Management and Corporate Relations Department of Gazprom, govern, both directly and indirectly, all contracts signed by the gas monopoly. They have driven Ziyad Manasir out of Gazprom contracts and own shares in some contractor companies via their relatives. No one can say why Alexey Miller, Chairman of the Management Committee and Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of Gazprom, turns a blind eye to this. Perhaps, this is because all of them used to work together in the well-known Sea Port of St. Petersburg? Upon becoming the Chairman of the Management Committee of Gazprom in 2001, Miller has taken them to Moscow as well.

According to the materials of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom pertaining to the divorce of Boris Agrest and Zhanna Kremen, Agrest had tried to conceal his assets by all means to avoid their severance. But the majority of his assets, real properties, and business connections have been revealed and proven in court.

It was found out inter alia that Boris Agrest is a close friend of dollar billionaire Alexander Shishkin.

“In her evidence W told me how H used to boast of his fortune and of how he was in competition to be as rich as his friend Alexander Shishkin who was worth $1bn”.

There are not too many billionaires with the surname Shishkin in the world – therefore, this refers to the current Member of the Council of the Federation and former member of ‘Solntsevskie’ organized criminal group who has already established ties with Gazprom.

The Consolidated State Register of Legal Entities also confirms that Shishkin and Agrest are more than just friends. Their business interests overlap – via a number of firms – in Vesta company. Its General Director is Alisa Ustinova, while Boris Agrest and RMB Leasing are its cofounders. Earlier this company has established, jointly with Alexander Shishkin, Russian National Bank. Lichtenstein-based ECC Holding Establishment is also a link in that chain; it might be used to transfer funds abroad.

Now it is time to put together the two stories. We have found out that Gazprom top managers responsible for the allocation of governmental orders award contracts on a regular basis to Gazenergoservis linked with Alexander Shishkin via his two associates – Igor Salo and Evgeny Pershin.

Perhaps, Alexander Shishkin decided to provide access to the ‘horn of abundance’ to his friend Boris Agrest via a dummy company officially belonging to his stepdaughter Alisa Ustinova?..

Would ICR investigators be able to solve these sophisticated schemes?

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