Salting Chaika’s Life: A Story of One Mistake
On March 16, 2016, the Federal Antimonopoly Service of the Russian Federation removed from its web-site the name of some A.Yu. Chaika mentioned in an application to acquire 90% of East-Siberian Trade-Industrial Company. A technical error was cited as an explanation.
On March 16, 2016, the Federal Antimonopoly Service of the Russian Federation (FAS) removed from its web-site the name of some A.Yu. Chaika mentioned in an application to acquire 90% of Vostochno-Sibirskaya (East-Siberian) Trade-Industrial Company. A technical error was cited as an explanation. An interesting detail: the name of the party to this acquisition mentioned in the document is identical to the name of Artem Chaika, the eldest son of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, whose interest towards this salt mine had surfaced as early as in 2014.
The name of Artem Chaika, the eldest son of Yury Chaika, the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, had been mentioned in press more than once, and every time – in connection to another investigation. In 2011 he was named a witness in the case of illegal casinos in the Moscow Region.
In December 2015, Alexey Navalny’s Anti-corruption Foundation released a documentary “Chaika” which was widely publicized and won a special award at Artdocfest Documentary Festival. In this movie, the anti-corruption team made public the business relations between Artem Chaika and wives of the Tsapok’s gang leaders as well as numerous corruption schemes used by the Prosecutor’s son in his business affairs.
Artem Chaika used to run a sugar business with Angela-Maria Tsapok and Natalia Tsepovyaz; all of them were linked with Sakhar Kubani (Sugar of Kuban’) Company. However, based on information provided by Forbes in 2014, salt always was of greater interest for Artem Chaika rather than sugar: since 2005, a scheme has been developing to make him soon a beneficiary of the company owning Tiretsky Salt Mine – third largest Russian salt deposit producing top-quality salt.
The scheme of purchasing and selling mining rights on two salt deposits – Tiretsky Salt Mine and the largest (at that moment) undeveloped Vorobievskoe deposit – has been tracked for the period since the end of 2004 and until March 2016, when Chaika’s name finally appeared in sale documents.
The story began with Sibsol Company taken over by some Mikhail Karamuska in 2004. Less than in a year, Sibsol Federal State Unitary Enterprise filed for bankruptcy and was liquidated by a court decision in 2007.
Information from the company’s web-site: Tiretsky Salt Mine Public Joint Stock Company is the largest salt producer in Siberia and Russian Far East. The main production site is Tiret’ Salt Rock Deposit (Tiret’ township in Irkutsk Region) which extracts and produces more that 500 thousand tons of rock-salt annually. The staff exceeds 700 employees. Its edible salt is sold under Baikalochka, 100 Morei (100 Seas) and Posolskaya (Embassy) trademarks.
The assets of Sibsol Company have been purchased by Soledobivayushaya Compania (Soil Mining Company) founded by the same Karamuska only a month before. Two years later, Soledobivayushaya Compania was also sold, this time – to Russol Company affiliates. At the same time, the Federal Agency for State Property Management (Rosimushestvo) put for sale the fourth largest salt deposit in Russia – Tiret’ Salt Rock Deposit in the Irkutsk Region.
The government attempted to sell Tiret’ Salt Rock Deposit to private companies since 2008, but could not find enough bidders for an auction. The auction took place only in 2010, and the contract for 661 million rubles – the starting price – has been awarded to a totally unknown Solidarnost’ (Solidarity) Limited Liability Company based in Irkutsk. Back at that time Rosimushestvo sources emphasized its links with Artem Chaika, supported by the fact that the company founder and principal general was Nikolay Kulgaev, whose name surfaced in relation to an attempt to seize Serpukhovskie Nedra (Serpukhov Mineral Riches) Municipal Unitary Enterprise, in connection to which the name of Prosecutor General’ son has also been mentioned.
The sources in the Anti-corruption Foundation linked the Solidarnost’ victory at the auction with prior staffing changes in Rosimushestvo in 2008-2010. At that time, Pavel Fetisov was appointed the Head of Irkutsk Territorial Administration of Rosimushestvo; his boss until 2010 was Albina Kovaleva, who acted as the Head of Irkutsk Regional Administration of the Federal Service for State Registration, Cadastre and Cartography (Rosreestr). As per Navalny’s documentary, she closely knew the Chaikas family and provided patronage to them at various times.
Anyway, only a few months after the auction, 100% shares of Tiretsky Salt Mine have been sold again, this time – to Vostochno-Sibirskaya (East-Siberian) Trade-Industrial Company with Limited Liability (VSTIC). The Principal General of this company is the same Mikhail Karamuska, who left Sibsol Company – the first chain in the ‘salty’ scheme – in 2004 and initiated the re-sale of rights on salt deposits development.
The final icing on the cake is the story with VSTIC which now plans to sell 90% of shares to some Artem Chaika. Vedomosti newspaper published this information on March 16, 2016 with a reference to a document on the FAS website, where Chaika was mentioned as a correspondent. Later his name was removed from the application to sell the salt mine, and a FAS officer explained: “We accidentally disclosed personal data of a citizen and have now removed those”.
An old, but forever new scheme
Similarly with the Tiretsky Salt Mine, development rights on another deposit – Vorobievskoe – have been sold. Until recently it was the largest undeveloped salt deposit in Russia. It constitutes 11% of total salt deposits in the Central Federal District of Russia.
The Department for Subsurface Resources Management of the Central Federal District (Tsentrnedra) has conducted a bidding to develop Vorobievskoe salt deposit in 2013, and two companies participated in the bidding: the already-mentioned Tiretsky Salt Mine and Maloyaroslavsky Solepromisel (Maloyaroslavl Salt Production).
As it surfaced later, both bidders were related to Artem Chaika, and the link with Maloyaroslavsky Solepromisel was even more clear. The company belonged – via EXPRODPROM Limited Liability Company – to a lawyer Elizaveta Berezina, a shareholder of Axio Legal Company, who had purchased her share from Igor Chaika.
The Maloyaroslavl company lost the bid, and Tiretsky Salt Mine acquired rights on the rich deposit. New owners held a grand opening ceremony during which presented a new top-of-the-line Kaluzhskaya Salt brand under which the salt from Vorobievskoe deposit will be sold.
On the left: Artem Chaika, son of the Prosecutor General. A ceremony of placing the first brick in the foundation of soil mining and processing plant in Vorobievo village. Source: PR service of the Government of the Kaluga Region.
Since Solidarnost’ Company privatized the mine in 2010, Tiretsky Salt Mine has doubled both its income and net profit (income reached 1.17 billion rubles, while net profit – 320 million rubles).
In 2013, the income dropped by 15% to 988.8 billion rubles, while the net profit almost halved to 171.8 million rubles. Nevertheless, the company decided to increase its share on the Russian market and obtained a license to develop Vorobievskoe deposit.
Since 2015, the situation is favorable for Russian salt producers. “Recently Ukrainian salt was banned, then Turkish salt; and now Russian salt sticks to credible patriotic hands. And I was wondering what was wrong with Turkish salt, since it’s not considered food? But this is what has happened,” – Dmitry Gudkov, an Independent Deputy, comments.
In fact, in January 2015, the Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor) suspended import of edible salt by Ukrainian Artemsol plant, whose production, as per Rospotrebnadzor, does not meet foreign substances limits criteria. The official Rospotrebnadzor website states that the violations have been proven by tests.
Artemsol management announced that they are going to submit a letter to Rospotrebnadzor requesting to explain the situation because they believe that the ban is a nonsense. According to the quality standards criteria published on the company’s website, Artemsol products meet both Ukrainian and Russian quality requirements as well as international standards.
In 2014, the share of imported salt at the Russian market was 59%, while the domestic salt share was 41%. Out of this amount, 33.4% belonged to Russol and 7.6% to Tiretsky Salt Mine whose beneficiary is believed to be Artem Chaika. Another ban followed soon: sanctions imposed on Turkish food products by the Russian authorities due to the crash of Su-24 bomber in November 2015.
As a result, in 2015 the share of Russian producers doubled, while the company belonging to the Prosecutor General’s son increased production by 81%, the Association of Producers and Suppliers of Food Products (Rusprodsoyuz) reports.