Renato Usatîi – source of fakes in ‘colonel Zakharchenko case’
Apparently, the investigation of the case against Zakharchenko and ‘Kings of Governmental Orders’ affiliated with him is actively progressing, and arrests of new suspects are forthcoming. The primary target of the investigators at this stage are low-ranked members of this organized criminal–commercial group, including Renato Usatîi – who poses as a “big businessman”, philanthropist, and politician but, in fact, is a henchman of a group affiliated with Solntsevskie gang. For many years, this group had received large-scale governmental contracts from Russian Railways.
Usatîi actively advertises himself. On May 18, The CrimeRussia has reported, citing its well-aware sources, that the Russian law enforcement authorities have put Usatîi on the wanted list in the framework of the ‘colonel Zakharchenko case’ – and he immediately dismissed this information as an element of the smear campaign organized by his adversaries.
Usatîi published a certificate issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation on April 26, 2019 confirming that he does not have a criminal record in Russia.
Photo from Renato Usatîi’s Instagram
The CrimeRussia, in turn, has filed an official request with the MIA and received a response on May 21, 2019: Usatîi is on the wanted list.
This document was presented on the air of a Moldovan TV channel conducting an interview with Usatîi. He responded that this excerpt of the Russian MIA pertains to the warrant issued by the Moldovan authorities against him in 2016. But why the Russian law enforcement structure would refer to a warrant issued in a different country?
The ‘explanation’ was as ridiculous as his other attempts to deviate from questions asked by the interviewer. Usatîi repeated again and again an old story involving German Gorbuntsov, Vlad Plakhatnyuk, and intrigues of Igor Dodon, the current President of Moldova. Allegedly, he cannot return to Moldova for fear of political repressions and had to flee Russia over a conflict with some “high-ranked law enforcement functionaries” who “had seized his almost entire business”.
In fact, it is unclear what business is referred to? Officially, Usatîi does not own a single legal entity in Russia – although his web site (http://ru1.md) claims that in 2005-2015, he was the President of VPT-NN company incorporated in Nizhny Novgorod and specializing in high plasma technologies.
According to the company’s official web site (currently, it is unavailable – but some pages are saved in the cache memory), VPT-NN has been supplying tools and equipment for rolling stock and rail repairs to Russian Railways and private depots.
However, according to the Consolidated State Registry of Legal Entities, some Aleksei Akimov has been the General Director of VPT-NN Limited Liability Company since its incorporation. Akimov owns 63% of company’s shares; the remaining 37% of shares belong to his deputy Andrei Makarov. Still, Usatîi said in an interview to Moldovan portal NewsMaker that he has established this company in 2004 and made Akimov the nominal owner of his shares because, at that time, he was a Moldovan citizen.
Akimov, in turn, claims that he had offered the young native of Moldova to lobby the interests of the Nizhny Novgorod-based company in Moscow thinking that “the talented and honest guy with hungry eyes would be an ideal corporate representative despite the total absence of knowledge of high plasma technologies”.
Usatîi claims that this career advancement became possible thanks to his numerous connections. In 2014, he told in an interview to Meduza.io portal that, back in 1999, he “arrived to Moscow on the New Year and met some guys on the Red Square”. “The mother of one of them had worked in the administration of Aman Tuleev (then-Governor of the Kemerovo Region); the father of another one was a big banker in Volgograd. They invited me to Moscow and appointed a Vice President of the International Baltic Sea Region Business Forum. This was a joint project of the Executive Office of the Russian President and Walter Schwimmer, then-Secretary General of the Council of Europe. I had worked on a volunteer basis because I had no Russian passport at that time. I just needed to advance,” – Usatîi recalls.
According to his web site, Usatîi had combined this ‘advancement’ with work in Moldova – in 2000–2001 he was a Supervisor in the International Airport of Chisinau and in 2002–2004 – a Leading Engineer at the food production facility of Moldovan Railways.
At some point, he met Sergei Movchan, a former Vice Governor of St. Petersburg and an aide to Vladimir Yakunin in the early 2000s. After that, the business of VPT-NN started actively developing – Russian Railways became its main customer, and the revenues of the Nizhny Novgorod-based company significantly increased.
The extensive connections of Usatîi in the circles of power enabled him to become a partner of powerful ‘Kings of Governmental Orders”. But now he has to hide both from the Moldovan and Russian law enforcement authorities.
After the appointment of Yakunin the President of Russian Railways, a network of companies was created to perform the most profitable contracts for Russian Railways. It was supervised by businessman Andrei Krapivin, an old friend of Yakunin. In 2007, the President of Russian Railways had introduced him as his “advisor and experienced financier skilled in banking affairs”. This was their only official tie.
The network of companies consisted mostly of offshore structures, dummy firms, and banks siphoning off the funds abroad or legalizing in Russia through other businesses, including development. The subcontractors – who had actually performed the contracts for Russian Railways – had received only a small portion of the money.
Andrei Krapivin had kept a low profile – while his son Aleksei and businessmen Valery Markelov and Boris Usherovich were the official heads of the companies winning governmental tenders.
Boris Usherovich (on the left)
According to banker German Gorbuntsov, who had purchased in late 2006 the controlling block of shares in Konvers Bank Moskva – the primary bank of the network where hundreds of companies affiliated with Russian Railways had accounts – and renamed it into Stolichny Torgovy Bank (STB), the roles were distributed as follows: Krapivin was responsible for top-level contacts, Markelov supervised business affairs, while Usherovich, who was familiar with leaders of Solntevskie and Lipetskie organized criminal groups, was in charge of the unlawful operations.
Pretty soon, these three persons seized the control over all key subsidiary companies of Russian Railways receiving hundreds of billions of rubles in governmental contracts. Krapivin junior retired, relocated to Switzerland and died there in 2015 – but the scheme designed to embezzle billions of budget rubles continued functioning.
Several years later, inspired by their success, the heads of the network decided to step out of the shade. In 2014, Krapivin, Markelov, Usherovich, and businessman Yuri Obodovsky have established 1520 Group of Companies; it was supposed to seize control over all other contractors working for Russian Railways, thus, becoming its sole partner. Shortly after that, a subsidiary structure of GK 1520 has won a tender to electrify the Eastern Polygon (Baikal–Amur Mainline and Trans-Siberian Railway Network). In early 2018, the trio had topped the Forbes “Kings of Governmental Orders” Rating with 218 billion rubles ($3.4 billion) received by their companies from Russian Railways.
The operations of the shady businessmen was covered up by their ‘high patrons’ in the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR), MIA, and Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation. The corrupt law enforcement functionaries had thwarted any attempts to bring the embezzlers to liability.
In August 2015, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has removed Yakunin from office. A year later, in September 2016, colonel Dmitry Zakharchenko, Head of Administration “T” of the MIA General Administration for Economic Security and Combating the Corruption, was detained. The investigation believes that Zakharchenko had played the key role in the safety provision for the group led by Krapivin, Markelov, and Usherovich. Huge amounts of cash were found during searches: $123 million and €2 million have been seized from the apartment of his sister and 13 million rubles ($201.8 thousand), €5 thousand, and $170 thousand – from the car. The origin of the funds still remains a mystery. The colonel was charged with exceedance of official powers, bribe-taking, and obstruction of carrying out of justice and preliminary investigations.
Yakunin, who used to sharply criticize the West, started spending most of the time abroad. In August 2018, he was spotted in the German Embassy – the former President of Russian Railways received a D visa there; holders of this visa normally gain residence permits. By the way, the son of Yakunin became a UK citizen a long time ago.
In October 2018, Markelov was arrested in Sochi. The rest of the shady bankers were put on the wanted list. Yuri Obodovsky and Ivan Stankevich having ties with the group have fled to the USA, while Usherovich and his associated Motorin – to Cyprus. Later, Usherovich was spotted in Israel. According to some sources, now he is settling in the UK.
Krapivin junior also got under the blow – but then Igor Rotenberg, son of oligarch Arkady Rotenberg close to Oleg Belozerov, the new President of Russian Railways, gained control over 1520 Group of Companies, and the situation improved again for Aleksei Krapivin. Reportedly, he found common grounds with the new beneficiaries of tenders conducted by Russian Railways.
Banker Petr Chuvilin convicted for swindling was among the first to testify against Zakharchenko. Chuvilin also was directly involved in fraud schemes pulled of in Russian Railways. According to the banker, he had paid ‘salary’ to the MIA colonel for nine years in exchange for covering up dozens of shady operations involving the funds of Russian Railways. A sum of €150 thousand per month was mentioned inter alia. Zakharchenko and another influential fixer, MIA colonel Zabednev (the one who had taught Zakharchenko all illegal schemes), had covered up hundreds of companies and banks siphoning off “tens and hundreds of billions of rubles” from Russian Railways.
According to a former colleague of the colonel, after the sudden death of Zabednev in 2012, Dmitry Zakharchenko started receiving a significant cut of these financial flows. A source of Novaya Gazeta newspaper claims that Zakharchenko had closely communicated with Markelov – who had highly valued the MIA colonel and generously remunerated his efforts. Zakharchenko was familiar with Andrei Krapivin, too. In total, Zakharchenko received over 2 billion rubles ($31 million) in bribes in the period of 2007–2016.
On June 10, 2019, the Presnensky District Court of Moscow has sentenced the billionaire colonel to 13 years in a maximum security penal colony. In addition, the former police officer was stripped of his titles and awards and fined 117 million rubles ($1.8 million). The court found Zakharchenko guilty of two bribe-taking episodes and obstruction of justice.
In the meantime, Usatîi had performed special tasks for this organized commercial–criminal group. His Moldovan origin was very useful for lobbying various economic, political, and criminal interests in Moldova. Apparently, Usatîi managed to establish connections in high circles of power – but still remained a messenger and executor of dirty errands.
In the late 2000s, he received an order to ruin banker German Gorbuntsov who had fled to Moldova.
In 2009, in the midst of the crisis, Gorbuntsov came into conflict with his VIP clients. The clients decided to close their accounts and withdraw funds from the bank. Gorbuntsov claims that they had lost money on development projects – while construction projects for Russian Railways had to be continued – and were looking for somebody to attribute their debts to. According to another version, Gorbuntsov appropriated a portion of the funds belonging to Russian Railways and siphoned it off abroad via Moldova-based Universalbank belonging to him. Krapivin, Markelov, and Usherovich became STB shareholders in the second quarter of 2008. Perhaps, they became suspicious that the banker was not honest with them and requested him to repay a debt of $1 billion. Gorbuntsov was unable to pay such a sum – and the shady businessmen started terrorizing him by seizing his shares in charter capitals of six banks, several companies, including Flat & Co., Avtokombinat № 1 Open Joint Stock Company, Sokolniki Palace of Sports, etc. In addition, they seized from him apartments, homes, and 15 deluxe cars. Rosbalt.ru recently reported, citing its source, that German Gorbuntsov has filed a lawsuit for $1.2 billion against Boris Usherovich and Valery Markelov with the London High Court of Justice.
Interestingly, Usatîi had lived in that period in a luxury home seized from Gorbuntsov and located between Dmitrovskaya village and Nikolina Gora. The banker had tried to retaliate against his opponents in court – but then, a criminal case was instituted against him for forging and using fake banking bills. Ultimately, Gorbuntsov relocated to Moldova and obtained its citizenship.
Renato Usatîi: “A quest for the police... Why do I have two Rolls-Royce cars?”
But his troubles were not over yet. In 2011, MEP Group Limited offshore company has purchased his Universalbank under puzzling circumstances. This was the first assignment of Usatîi – he was behind the raiding takeover of the bank. A year later, the National Bank of Moldova has revoked its license, while the Moldovan law enforcement authorities instituted a criminal case against Gorbuntsov for embezzlement on an especially large scale. This is how the Moscow bandits managed to drive Gorbuntsov out of Moldova.
The last straw was an assassination attempt committed against the banker in 2012 in London where he has settled. Gorbuntsov survived by a miracle, was several days in coma – and then realized that he has nothing to lose anymore and decided to tell everything to the public. He provided to Reuters banking documents showing that, in the period of 2007–2013, $2.5 billion received from Russian Railways had been siphoned off via ten companies with nominal and dummy directors. Gorbuntsov also accused Usatîi of the assassination attempt committed against him – according to the banker, Usatîi had tried to gain favor with Solntsevskie gang that way. By the way, The CrimeRussia has exclusively published audio records of telephone conversations directly indicating that Usatîi had a hand in the attempted assassination.
Usatîi explains his eagerness to punish a person supposedly unfamiliar with him by patriotism. «The Internet was full of articles about ‘black banker’ Gorbuntsov – who had stolen hundreds of millions of dollars, etc. My main message was: “Guys, stop the criminal!”» – Usatîi told in an interview. In other words, after lobbying the interests of a Nizhny Novgorod-based company for almost ten years, he decided to return to his native country to purchase a bank for the sake of justice.
Usatîi and Zhirinovsky
Usatîi also claims that he had never seen Gorbuntsov in Moscow. Only after the beginning of the story with Universalbank, he has ‘accidentally’ met him in a Chisinau hotel and accidentally had a seat next to him on one of the flights.
Recently Usatîi has attacked Gorbuntsov again by ‘leaking’ to Novaya Gazeta newspaper materials allegedly proving his involvement in the embezzlement of assets of billionaire Aleksander Mineev killed in 2014. According to Usatîi, during the lifetime of Mineev, Gorbuntsov has replaced nominal directors and founders of companies belonging to the billionaire who had owned commercial real estate in Moscow.
Usatîi claims that Markelov was arrested on the basis of a complaint filed by Gorbuntsov. Upon becoming aware of this, Usatîi arranged a meeting to ICR general Sergei Chernyshov to tell him the truth about ‘fraudster Gorbuntsov’. An officer of the FSB Directorate “M”, who had participated in the arrest of Markelov, had also attended that meeting.
The parties allegedly agreed that, in a few days, Usatîi shall provide to the investigators all materials about Gorbuntsov collected by him for ten years. But then some people suggested him to stop digging into Gorbuntsov – who was a very important witness in the ‘Zakharchenko case’.
Since 2011, Usatîi calls himself an advisor to Vlad Filat, ex-Prime Minister of Moldova convicted for corruption, and presents a respective service ID. However, Filat had refuted this information and claimed that the ID was forged.
In 2012, Usatîi joined the Moldovan politics – even though he had obtained the Russian citizenship by that time. He returned to his home country and became a philanthropist – conducting public events with the participation of Russian celebrities, donating apartments, cars, and money to disabled people, athletes, teachers, etc. Two years later, in 2014, he took charge of the People’s Republican Party – later renamed into Our Party and then into Party of Renato Usatîi. Using simple slogans – “Truth is the Power!” and “Moldova without Corruption!” – the party was striving for power at the parliamentary elections. However, the Ministry of Justice has barred it from the elections on suspicion that 30% of its signatures were falsified. The MIA of Moldova launched an investigation. Apparently, the main priority for Usatîi was not the political stance – but victory – and he decided to join the parliamentary list of already registered Patria Party. Usatîi invited several other politicians, not members of his team, to join Patria, too, including Georgy Petrenko, a former member of the Communist Party and Deputy of the Parliament, and Igor Tulyantsev, Chairman of the Russian Youth League of Moldova, considered a creature of Rogozin, then-Vice Prime Minister of Russia and Presidential Special Envoy for Transnistria.
Too bad, but three days before the election, Patria was barred on suspicion of “illegal use of external funding”. Usatîi had to flee the country to avoid arrest.
Still, six months later, this scheme was pulled off again – and this time, successfully. In early 2015, Usatîi returned to Moldova and was elected the Head of the People’s Republican Party again at its convention. After that, the party was renamed into Partidul Nostru (Our Party) and won the local elections in June 2015 by scoring the first place by the number of the cities – its candidates have won 12 localities. Renato Usatîi was elected the Mayor of Balti, the second largest city in Moldova, by gaining 74% of votes in the first round.
Opponents had explained his victory by the support of the Russian authorities, or Moldovan criminals residing in Russia, or political intrigues inside Moldova. By the way all these versions seemed pretty reasonable.
In the course of the election campaign he had called for denunciation of the Moldova–European Union Association Agreement. This had happened amid the turbulent events in adjacent Ukraine. Of course, Usatîi had never forgotten about his partners – he hoped to get a concession on Moldova Railway and transfer it to Russian Railways because Moldova was unable to allocate €3–4 billion on its modernization. According to him, Russian Railway was “the only corporation able to invest and completely reanimate Moldova Railway”.
Reportedly, Usatîi had also lobbied the interests of Solntsevskie gang in the person of criminal ‘authority’ Grigory Karamalak (Bolgar (Bulgarian)). Usatîi vehemently denies any ties with the criminal world – but, according to our sources, they jointly own two floors of Elat Trade Center in Chisinau. Usatîi has even appointed Sergei Sukhodol, ex-Police Chief of Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia, the manager of these premises – this seems to be a gratitude for patronage earlier extended to members of Solntsevskie organized criminal group. Back in 1998, Karamalak was detained by the Department for Combating Organized Crime – and prosecutors found out that somebody from the MIA was conveying information to the members of the gang led by Bolgar. The investigation established that it was Sukhodol, then-Head of the Chisinau Criminal Police.
Renato Usatîi and Grigory Karamalak
54-year-old Grigory Karamalak was born in Taraclia, Moldova. In the 1990s, he created a gang; the Moldovan law enforcement authorities believe that it has committed numerous crimes – from contract killings to robberies and abductions. The gang was affiliated with Solntsevskie organized criminal group and operated not only in Moldova – but in Ukraine and Russia as well. In 1998, Karamalak was put on the Interpol wanted list for a number of crimes. However, he managed to flee to Russia and resides there since then. In 2004, amid the exacerbation of relations between the two countries, Russia has declined the extradition request submitted by Moldova and granted the Russian citizenship to Bolgar. In 2010, Karamalak was detained in Moscow at a thieves’ congregation attended by crowned thieves from Georgia and Abkhazia and Slavic criminals – members of Solntsevskie and Kuntsevskie gangs. In 2016, a new clampdown on the criminal group led by Bolgar has began in Moldova – some of its members were detained, while Karamalak was put on the international wanted list again. In April 2017, the Moldovan law enforcement authorities reported the solution of an assassination attempt committed against oligarch Vladimir Plakhotnyuk, leader of the Democratic Party. According to some sources, Karamalak was named among the assassins’ paymasters. However, in Russia is a legitimate businessman, the President of the International Foundation for Assistance to Veterans and Invalids of Sports (Ifavis), and Vice President of the Wrestling Federation of Russia.
Usatîi claims that he has brought 14 million MDL to the country in dollars and euro (some $543.3 thousand at the exchange rate of 2014). Allegedly, the authorities had charged him with illegal use of external funding on the basis of the cars used by members of his election headquarters. “I don’t make a secret that I had donated cars to them and ten more girls and donated an apartment to my driver,” – Usatîi says.
This may be not a big amount for an election campaign – but the source of the money still remains unknown.
Gorbuntsov believes that Usatîi was supposed to take up a higher position, thus, enabling Markelov, Usherovich, and Krapivin to use the republic as a ‘reserve airfield’ – i.e. be able to flee there if necessary (Moldova never extradites its citizens). Karamalak, who, according to his own words, is sick for the home country, would appreciate this, too. In that context, it is pretty safe to assume that the political voyage of Usatîi was orchestrated by Solntsevskie gang.
In January 2016, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Moldova instituted a criminal case against Usatîi for threats to governmental officials expressed in the course of the protests. Nicolae Timofti, then-President of Moldova, initiated the criminal proceedings due to the threats of violence and physical attack made by his political opponent. That same year, the Moldavian court has issued a warrant against Usatîi for masterminding the attempted assassination of banker German Gorbuntsov in 2012. After that, the politician returned to Moscow – he fled the country under the pretext of an official trip.
Later, Usatîi managed to convince Interpol that his prosecution was politically charged – and the warrant was removed from the database.
On January 19, 2018, the Balti Municipal Council has voted to hold a referendum to depose the Mayor – who was out of the country for 1.5 years by that time – but in February, Usatîi announced his resignation.
In December 2018, Usatîi had to flee Russia as well to avoid the fate of his “old friend” Markelov. Currently, he resides in Munich. He claims that, a month earlier, his home in the Moscow region was searched, and Usatîi allegedly had a meeting with “a high-ranked law enforcement official”. He provides totally different reasons behind this meeting in the same interview: on the one hand, somebody had forced him “to give up the party” and stop opposing Dodon – but, on the other hand, “somebody got scared” because he “had interfered in the case against Zakharchenko”.
Now Usatîi can only wait and hope to find new ‘patrons’ for his scheme designed to embezzle funds from Russian Railways via governmental contracts. Alternatively, he may try to return to Moldova. According to some sources, he currently holds negotiations with the local political establishment via some Romanian politicians. But most probably, Usatîi is going to share the fate of Markelov and Zakharchenko.