Anonymous letter worth $3 billion. Who turned in Aleksei Khotin and other suspects in ‘Ugra case’?
The amount of damages in the criminal case instituted in relation to the bankruptcy of Ugra Bank has suddenly increased by almost 27 times – from 7.5 to 200 billion rubles ($113.3 million – $3 billion). This happened after the testimonies of detained Nina Chernova, Director of the Moscow Branch of Ugra Bank. Unlike the other suspects in this case placed under home arrest, Chernova was remanded in custody – supposedly, to extract from her the required confessions. However, at least two more persons could testify against Khotin – detained FSB colonel Kirill Cherkalin and Valery Miroshnikov, ex-First Deputy General Director of the Deposit Insurance Agency (DIA). The defense team of the former owner of Ugra Bank vehemently denies any ties between Khotin and these people, which raises even stronger suspicions. Interestingly, the name of general Viktor Voronin, who was in charge of “K” Directorate of the Economic Security Service of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation for 12 years, is not mentioned in this case. Could the former boss of Cherkalin testify against Khotin? And what schemes were used to obtain statements incriminating him?
The total sum of damages has drastically increased in the case pertaining to embezzlements from bankrupt Ugra Bank. New charges have been laid against all suspects, including Aleksei Khotin, the former owner of the bank: embezzlements totaling not 7.5 billion rubles ($113.3 million) as it was initially – but whopping 200 billion rubles ($3 billion). Some sources close to the investigation claim that this happened because of the criminal case instituted on June 10 against Nina Chernova, ex-Director of the Moscow Branch of Ugra Bank. The investigators allegedly consider Chernova an intermediary between the borrowers and bank management. The Head of the Moscow Branch had granted “knowingly unrecoverable loans” being fully aware that the debtors won’t be able to pay out the principal balance and interest. Chernova has been charged under part 4 of Article 160 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (misappropriation or embezzlement on an especially large scale); on the same day, her case was merged with the main criminal case against Khotin, Nefedov, and Shilyaev instituted under the same Article of the Criminal Code.
On June 17, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow remanded Chernova in custody for two months. Officially, such a severe pretrial restriction was imposed because the Director of the Moscow Branch of Ugra Bank has applied for a Schengen Visa shortly before her arrest. The court decided that the suspect may abscond abroad and deprived her of that possibility. However, Kommersant newspaper reports, citing one of the lawyers involved in this case, that Chernova was locked up to extract from her required confessions. The plan of the investigators has worked out: on June 20, the total amount of damages in the criminal case increased to 200 billion rubles ($3 billion). Interestingly, the insolvency administration had estimated the ‘gap’ in the balance of Ugra Bank at the time of its bankruptcy (September 2018) at 106.9 billion rubles ($1.6 billion).
The sources also explain the appearance of four new suspects in this case by statements made by Chernova. On August 13, it became known that heads of enterprises controlled by Khotin – Dmitry Lebedev, General Director of Vostok (East) Limited Liability Company; Sergei Sumenkov, General Director of Building Group Limited Liability Company; Oksana Ermakova, General Director of Glavtekhkomplekt Limited Liability Company; and Vasily Dorokhin, General Director of Kapstroy Limited Liability Company – have been put on the wanted list. According to the investigation, all of them had taken out knowingly unrecoverable loans in Ugra Bank inconsistent with the financial capacities of their enterprises. Furthermore, two of the above-listed companies are currently undergoing liquidation.
Bank CEO Aleksei Nefedov
Interestingly, after the increase of the damages by almost 27 times, the investigation hasn’t addressed the court to tighten pretrial restrictions for other suspects. It is also necessary to note that in June, defense attorneys for Khotin, Nefedov, and Shilyaev had appealed the decision of the Basmanny District Court in an attempt to release their clients from home arrest – but then revoked the appeal. Apparently, this was done to avoid the imposition of more severe restrictions. One of the lawyers supposed that the investigation has sent Chernova to a pretrial detention facility to make it clear for primary suspect Khotin that he may share her fate. The former owner of Ugra Bank and its top managers got the message and opted not to provoke the court. This is the only possible explanation for the withdrawal of the appeal. Furthermore, Kommersant newspaper reported, citing a source close to the investigation, that the suspects have already compensated damages in the amount of 16 billion rubles ($241.7 million), which is more than twice the amount initially incriminated to them.
Many experts and media outlets have linked the increased damages in the ‘Ugra case’ with testimonies of Chernova. However, at least two more persons could provide the crucial evidence – colonel Kirill Cherkalin, ex-Head of the ‘banking’ department of “K” Directorate of the Economic Security Service of the FSB, and Valery Miroshnikov, ex-First Deputy General Director of the Deposit Insurance Agency (DIA). Defense attorneys for Khotin vehemently deny any ties between their client and these people, which raises even stronger suspicions.
RBC Group was the first to link the names of Khotin and Cherkalin together. In late May, it reported, citing two sources close to the investigation, that Khotin has testified against the former Head of the Banking Department of “K” Directorate. The banker claims that he had paid the FSB colonel for ‘patronage’ for several years. “The duties of the Head of the Banking Department included the resolution of issues associated with criminal cases instituted against structures and persons affiliated with Khotin,” – RBC Group wrote. According to its source, Cherkalin had instructed his subordinates to contact their colleagues in the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) and Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) to obstruct the institution of such cases or take control over their investigation. Three sources familiar with the suspects in this case confirmed the information published by RBC Group: the statements made by Khotin have triggered the arrest of Cherkalin in April 2019 – even though the Internal Security Directorate was aware of the unlawful deeds committed by the FSB colonel long before the banker’s confessions. After the testimony of the former Ugra owner, Cherkalin has been charged under Article 290 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (bribe-taking) – he received $850 thousand within 1.5 years “for actions or inaction in the interests of the bribe-giver and commercial structures and also for general patronage”.
After the publication of RBK Group, Igor Mardirosov, a defense attorney for Khotin, said that his client had never testified against Cherkalin and could not do so. Khotin “had never given any remuneration to governmental officials or law enforcement officers, including FSB servicemen; therefore, he could not make any statements in this regard,” – Mardirosov explained. Lawyer Valery Zastrozhin told RIA Novosti that the defense team has already submitted to the police a complaint against RBK Group asking to investigate this matter and institute a criminal case under part 2 of Article 128.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (slander).
Unabashed by these threats, journalists of RBC Group have published on July 15 another article stating that Khotin had ties not only with Cherkalin – but also with Miroshnikov, First Deputy General Director of DIA. On the day when the FSB colonel was arrested, Miroshnikov has fled the country – officially, to receive treatment abroad. However, the hasty escape could not save him from suspicions. “According to our sources, the investigator handling this case has reviewed the telephone correspondence between Cherkalin and Miroshnikov and decided to check whether the latter one had provided any preferences to Aleksei Khotin, the former majority stakeholder of Ugra Bank, in the course of its bankruptcy,” – RBC Group wrote. The investigators believe that Miroshnikov and Cherkalin had offered to ‘solve’ problems in exchange for remuneration not only to Khotin – but to other banks as well. Shortly before his escape from Russia, Miroshnikov was summoned for questioning as a witness – but failed to attend it.
The defense team of the former Ugra owner rushed to refute this information. On July 17, Gr-Sily.ru portal reported that Khotin has again requested to prosecute RBC Group for slander. His lawyer submitted another complaint to the MIA General Administration for the City of Moscow asking to institute a criminal case under part 2 of Article 128.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Lawyers of Khotin insist that any references to the ties between their client and Cherkalin are “fantasies having no factual proof” and “aimed to discredit Aleksei Khotin”.
However, it is hard to believe that the lawyers of the banker are right – while journalists wrong – in this dispute. Since the first publication – the one that had outraged the defense team of Khotin, – numerous facts indicating that he had ties Cherkalin have popped up. For instance, on May 31, Proekt.Media and The Bell portals have published results of their joint investigation stating that Cherkalin had ‘covered up’ the banking sphere for years and “had close contacts with heads of nearly all Russian banks”. The bankers – victims of extortion – claim that the scheme involved, in addition to FSB officers, shady cashiers, lawyers, and troopers of Alfa and Vympel special force units, while Aleksander Zheleznyak, a former co-owner of Life Financial Group, states that Miroshnikov was the ‘right hand’ of Cherkalin.
On June 12, disgraced banker Sergei Pugachev has openly accused Cherkalin and Miroshnikov of extortion. According to the owner of International Industrial Bank, after his refusal to deal with Miroshnikov, Cherkalin has contacted him, notified about the pending criminal case, and offered to put it on the shelf in exchange for $20 million. Pugachev has refused again – so, Cherkalin and Miroshnikov have joined their efforts, and the banker became a suspect in a criminal bankruptcy case and had to flee Russia.
On August 19, Pasmi.ru has published results of its investigation exposing the role of Cherkalin and Miroshnikov in a number of high-profile criminal cases against bankers resulting in convictions of innocent persons. Copies of the documents indicate that one of their victims was Sergei Osipov, ex-Head of CapitalBank, charged with swindling in the amount of 700 million rubles ($10.6 million).
Criminal complaint against Osipov
The current whereabouts of Miroshnikov are unknown, while Cherkalin is locked up in the pretrial detention facility. His colleagues do not show any grace to the colonel. On August 21, the Prosecutor General’s Office requested to seize assets worth 6.3 billion rubles ($95.1 million) from the family of Cherkalin. According to the watchdog agency, the value of the suspect’s assets – that officially belong to his relatives – is 360 times higher than the income received by the FSB officer for all the years of his service. Therefore, the Prosecutor General’s Office requested to seize for the benefit of the state 5 apartments, 2 country homes, 6 land lots with a total area of 7116 square meters, 14 nonresidential premises, and 2 cars – as well as 800 million rubles ($12.1 million), $72 million, and €8 million in cash found in the course of searches in the residence, car, and office of Cherkalin. Would the colonel continue keeping silence under the threat of losing his ‘hard-earned’ wealth – or opts to make a plea deal and testify against Khotin and other bankers who had enjoyed his ‘patronage’? It is quite possible that Chernova hasn’t provided to the investigators any explanations or information justifying the drastic increase of the sustained damages. Lawyers of Ugra top managers confirm this: all suspects, including Chernova, insist on their innocence and refuse to testify on the merits of the case.
Who else could provide to the investigation information making it possible to increase the damages to 200 billion rubles ($3 billion)? After the arrest of colonel Dmitry Zakharchenko, the media suggested that the money had belonged not to him – the officer could be just the ‘treasury keeper’. Cherkalin has beaten the record of Zakharchenko: the operatives seized from him 12 billion rubles ($181.8 million) – i.e. 3 billion rubles ($45.5 million) more than from Zakharchenko. Pavel Salin, Director of the Political Research Center of the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, believes that Cherkalin also could be the keeper of the pooled cash fund of some group. “Cherkalin is the ‘cashier’ of an elite group currently pressurized from all directions,” – Salin said.
Immediately after the arrest of Cherkalin, experts suggested that Viktor Voronin, who was in charge of “K” Directorate of the Economic Security Service of the FSB for 12 years, could not be unaware of the criminal activities of his subordinate. A couple of days ago, The CrimeRussia wrote that Aleksei Bazhanov, ex-Deputy Minister of Agriculture, who is currently hiding from the Russian law enforcement authorities in London, submitted letters to the ICR, Prosecutor General’s Office, and Presidential Executive Office accusing Voronin of raidership. In the past, the former official had blamed Arkady Fosman, owner of Blago Group, for the raiding takeover of his business – but now Bazhanov claims that the FSB general had patronized the seizure and was one of its beneficiaries. According to VChK-OGPU (@rucriminalinfo) Telegram channel, after receiving guarantees that he won’t be remanded in custody, Voronin returned to Russia and was questioned in the framework of the criminal case against Cherkalin. The former Head of "K" Directorate said that he is not aware of any wrongdoings committed by his subordinates. Was The CrimeRussia right supposing that the investigators, dissatisfied with the refusal of Voronin to testify against the suspects, decided to put pressure on him via Bazhanov? Or perhaps, the FSB general refused to talk only about his subordinates and shared with the operatives some important information about the ‘Ugra case’, which made it possible to increase the damages to 200 billion rubles ($3 billion)?