Sour business. Escape of bifidok’s ‘father’ Igor Vainshtok 

Sour business. Escape of bifidok’s ‘father’ Igor Vainshtok
Vainshtok is ‘visiting friends’ Photo: The CrimeRussia

The story with the arrest of Igor Vainshtok, creator of famous bifidok, in absentia and his escape is pretty confusing. The company founded by him still remains the largest probiotics producer in Russia and generates multimillion profits – however, somehow it was declared bankrupt. An international warrant has been issued against Vainshtok for non-payment of salaries – while the businessman calls his prosecution an element of the raiding takeover of his company that was already recognized a raidership victim in the past. Concurrently, employees of Partner Joint Stock Company created by Vainshtok claim that he has stolen not only millions of rubles from the base bank of Roscosmos – but, more importantly, the bifidok inventorship. So, whom has Vainshtok fled from?

On November 19, 2018, the Presnensky District Court of Moscow has arrested in absentia and put on the international wanted list Igor Vainshtok, co-owner and former General Director of Partner Joint Stock Company and inventor of a popular fermented milk product – bifidok. The investigation has charged the businessman under Article 201 (abuse of authority) and Article 145.1 (non-payment of salaries, wages, pensions, stipends, benefits, and other payments) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The motion to arrest Vainshtok in absentia was filed by the Main Investigations Directorate in the City of Moscow of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR).

According to Kommersant newspaper, two partners of Vainshtok have also been charged in the framework of this criminal case. The first suspect is Sergei Ivanchenko, a co-owner of Partner and the Chairman of its Board of Directors. Some sources claim that he is under home arrest, while others say that he was remanded in custody. The second suspect is Nikolai Zagorodnkiov, co-owner of Partner and member of its Board of Directors. He had to sign a written pledge not to leave the city. Both of them have been charged under Article 145.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (non-payment of salaries, wages, pensions, stipends, benefits, and other payments).

ваиншток2.jpg

Fugitive Igor

Searches have been carried out at the enterprise and in the apartment of Vainshtok. “I was at work; after the search, relatives called me and said that operatives are sitting in a car parked near the entrance to my home. I understood that the policemen were waiting for me and, instead of going to Matrosskaya Tishina Pretrial Detention Center under their escort, took a taxi and went to the airport,” – the businessman told journalists on November 3. Vainshtok also said that he has already fled Russia “to visit friends”. However, the businessman hasn’t named the country of his staying. The issuance of an international warrant against him enables the investigators to request Interpol to add the Russian businessman into its search base. 

интерпол.jpg

Partner Joint Stock Company, the leader of the domestic probiotics market, is currently experiencing hard times. It has accrued significant tax arrears and credit indebtedness. In February 2018, one of the creditors, Fondservisbank, has filed a bankruptcy lawsuit against it with the Moscow Arbitration Court. In May, the monitoring procedure has been imposed on Partner; Aleksander Kostyunin was appointed the Acting Insolvency Administrator. In October 2018, the Moscow Arbitration Court has declared Partner Joint Stock Company bankrupt in the framework of the lawsuit filed by Fondservisbank. The company of Vainshtok failed to repay a debt of 1.07 billion rubles ($16.2 million) to that bank. The total amount of creditors’ claims is much higher than the above sum. According to the court, two more debt collection proceedings – for 936 million rubles ($14.1 million) and $450 thousand – are currently ongoing. 

Acting Insolvency Administrator Aleksander Kostyunin says that company's assets are not sufficient to satisfy all creditors' claims. Their total amount exceeds 2 billion rubles ($30.2 million); a half of that sum has already been included in the creditors' register. The mandatory top-priority payments include over 35 million rubles ($528.9 thousand) in salary arrears and over 250 million rubles ($3.8 million) in tax arrears. According to the Insolvency Administrator, out of the assets worth 1 billion rubles ($15.1 million), over 800 million rubles ($12.1 million) are loans contracted by Vainshtok and three other individuals. The rest of the assets have been pledged to banks.

Such a skeptical vision of the financial state of the leading probiotics producer raises doubts.

Partner Joint Stock Company could pay out its debts both to the tax authorities and creditors – it firmly stands on its own two feet. "The sales for the year of 2017 have reached almost 1 billion rubles ($15.1 million). It is not a big company by standards of the Russian pharmaceutical market, but its name and portfolio are well-known," – Sergei Shulyak, General Director of DSM Group Marketing Agency, says. The sustainability of the company is confirmed by official reports: at last year-end, its revenues were 516 million rubles ($7.8 million), while the net profit – 23 million rubles ($347.5 thousand). 

After the court ruling to arrest Vainshtok in absentia, Kostyunin has also confirmed that the largest domestic probiotics producer could avoid bankruptcy. According to the Acting Insolvency Administrator, to survive, the enterprise has to gain revenues in the amount of 900 million rubles ($13.6 million) within a year, which is a reachable goal. Since the bankruptcy administration imposition, Partner has shipped products for more than 55 million rubles ($831.1 thousand) and should produce goods worth additional 70 million rubles ($1.1 million) by the end of the year. There’s no shortage of customers – materials for Bifidok production are currently shipped to more than 80 enterprises. Kostyunin also noted that the salary arrears in the amount over 30 million rubles ($453.3 thousand) have already been paid out. The Insolvency Administrator believes that, subject to efficient anti-crisis management, the company may pay off all its debts in 3–5 years. Experts share his optimism and consider the current state and perspectives of Partner Joint Stock Company pretty good. 

In that context, it is difficult to understand, why the company of Vainshtok was unable to come to terms with Fondservisbank – that had credited Partner for a long time and opened to it a credit line totaling some 3 billion rubles ($45.3 million). According to Vainshtok, after the change of the bank management, the credit organization somehow decided that its collaboration with Partner has resulted in losses amounting to 42 million rubles ($634.6 thousand). Why has Fondservisbank addressed the law enforcement structures and initiated a criminal case for abuse of authority against Vainshtok instead of settling the matter with its loyal client? 

Maksim Osadchy, Head of the Analytics Department at the Corporate Finance Bank, also considers this situation pretty weird. The expert cannot understand why has Fondservisbank submitted a criminal complaint to the police and filed a bankruptcy lawsuit over a relatively low sum. “The loss amount, some 40 million rubles ($604.4 thousand), is small in comparison with the credit line provided by Fondservisbank to the partners – 3 billion rubles ($45.3 million). Therefore, this is probably not about a bad debt – but about lost profits. The interest rate could be artificially low, below the market rates”. 

Employees of Partner Joint Stock Company confirmed the expert’s conclusion that the problem was not in the debt amount – but in the credit terms offered to Vainshtok. Fondservisbank has granted to the former General Director of Partner a personal loan in the amount of 800 million rubles ($12.1 million) at an interest rate of 6%. Vainshtok used for this purpose the credit line opened to Partner with the assistance of Aleksander Volovnik, former owner of Fondservisbank. The privileged terms were provided to Vainshtok because of his family ties with Volovnik – according to the Partner personnel, they are cousins.    

воловоник3.jpg

Aleksander Volovnik

Vainshtok failed to repay a portion of the debt in time. He could settle this in a family way – but Volovnik himself has got in trouble. For more than 10 years, Fondservisbank had been the base bank of the Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities. The state corporation has deposited there almost $800 million. Then it became known that 7.5 billion rubles ($113.3 million) have somehow disappeared from the credit institution. A criminal case was instituted, and the bank owner became one of the suspects. In spring 2017, Volovnik was arrested and charged under part 1 of Article 210 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (creation of a criminal community (criminal organization) and participation therein) – the investigators consider him the leader of an organized criminal group that had embezzled clients’ funds from the bank for several years.

воловник.jpg

After the institution of a criminal case against Volovnik and two dozen other people, Fondservisbank has been transferred for recovery and resolution to Novikombank subordinate to Sergey Chemezov’s Rostec. Large-scale audits have been carried out at Fondservisbank; it became known that Partner Joint Stock Company had not only received unbelievably privileged credits – but also failed to repay a portion of its debts. Vainshtok told journalists that the bank estimates its losses a 42 million rubles ($634.6 thousand). However, a well-aware employee of Partner Joint Stock Company claims that Vainshtok failed to repay to the bank a significantly larger amount – 113 million rubles ($1.7 million). In any event, this outstanding debt has resulted in the criminal complaint and institution of a criminal case for abuse of authority

Vainshtok vehemently denies any guilt. He told journalists that the criminal case is an element of the raiding takeover of Partner Joint Stock Company. And many people have swallowed this. For instance, Sergei Shulyak said as follows: “This is weird because all pharmaceutical companies use credits. Apparently, somebody became displeased with something. Or quite the opposite – somebody put the eye on that company”.

Our
notes

Partner Joint Stock Company was founded in 1992. It was among the first private enterprises in Moscow; its registration number is 134. Vainshtok, a physicist by education, has launched, jointly with his partners, the production of medicines based on bifidus bacteria. In the mid-1990s, Vainshtok added bifidus bacteria to kefir, thus, creating a popular fermented milk product – bifidok. Partner is one of the largest probiotics manufacturers in Russia and the CIS. Up until recently, Vainshtok's company had controlled 61% of the Russian bifidobacterial medicines market. Its three enterprises in Moscow and the metropolitan area produce medical and veterinary products, including those developed by its own research team: Probifor, Bifidumbacterin forte, Hepafor, etc. Some of these products are included in the essential drug list approved by the Government of the Russian Federation. Partner Joint Stock Company is the leading domestic manufacturer of probiotic substances required for the production of medicines and dietary and prophylactic foods. In addition, Partner develops and produces food products under the Bifidok trademark and controls their production at more than 200 dairy enterprises.

Vainshtok hasn’t named the masterminds behind the alleged raiding takeover. Therefore, journalists suggested their own version that seems pretty logical. The recent problems of Partner Joint Stock Company were linked with Fondservisbank currently subordinate to Rostec State Corporation. Its subsidiary companies include Microgen Research and Production Association that also produces probiotics. However, this is not the main specialization of the pharmaceutical giant. The probiotics manufacturing may be delegated to a private entrepreneur – for instance, to Marina Sechina, ex-wife of Igor Sechin, who has experience both in collaboration with Rostec and foodstuff production. According to The Moscow Post, Marina Sechina is a shareholder of RK-Telecom. This fact enables the company to contract loans in Novikombank and ensures good relations with the credit organization. The Chemezov’s bank is not suing RK-Telecom – although the company owes it over 300 million rubles ($4.5 million) while its financial parameters are worse in comparison with Partner. The weird grace of a structure subordinate to Rostec may indicate that the final beneficiary of the raiding takeover of the company belonging to Vainshtok is Marina Sechina.

сечина.jpg

Marina Sechina

There is also another circumstance making it thinking that Partner Joint Stock Company was indeed a target of a raiding attack. Back in 2009, the court has recognized the company of Vainshtok a victim of raiders. According to the investigation, a few years before the attack, its co-owners Igor Vainshtok and Aleksander Zaltsman became friends with Oleg Bel’kov, President of Renalt Media advertising agency, and his deputy Andrei Pylinsky. In 2008, Partner had experienced financial difficulties due to the crisis, and the advertising agency provided loans to its co-owners at interest rates of 3–5%. One of these loans was not paid out in time. The creditors took advantage of this and started demanding 50% of company’s shares. In exchange, they had promised to make investments into the business development and run a large-scale campaign on federal TV channels advertising products manufactured by Partners. The advertisers have estimated this campaign at $10 million. The parties had signed a preliminary agreement – but Vainshtok and his partners have neither received the money nor the promised promotional campaign. Later, in the course of the investigation, it became known that the promo videos had been produced – but their cost was several times lower than the declared price, and they were broadcasted only in three regions.

In February 2009, the advertisers launched decisive actions. Bel’kov and Pylinsky came to the headquarters of Partner Joint Stock Company in Berlin Hotel accompanied by two guards armed with pistols. They entered the office of General Director Vainshtok; the following top managers were inside it at that time: Nikolai Zagorodnikov, Deputy General Director for Construction; Financial Director Aleksander Zaltsman; and Sergei Ivanchenko, Chairman of the Board of Directors. Threatening with weapons, the raiders forced Vainshtok to sign the transfer of Partner’s shares to them and three loan agreements totaling €14.2 million. Operatives of the Investigations Directorate in the City of Moscow of the ICR have later noted that the Partner top managers were elderly people, and it was not too difficult to intimidate them.

A few months later, Bel’kov and Pylinsky came again to the office of Partner and demanded Zaltsman to surrender to them company’s incorporation documents and over 655 million rubles ($9.9 million) – allegedly, to pay out outstanding debts. However, this time, the Financial Director has rejected the demands of the raiders. Then they have forged a decision of the shareholders' meeting appointing a new General Director – some Valery Dmitrakov, a mutual acquaintance of Bel’kov and Pylinsky. Dmitrakov came to the Tax Office № 46 and registered these changes. In December 2009, Bel’kov and Pylinsky have seized, with the support of officers of a private security company, the headquarters of Partner Joint Stock Company.

Vainshtok addressed the law enforcement authorities for assistance, an investigation has been launched. In 2011, Bel’kov was arrested in Sheremetyevo International Airport upon arrival from the USA. Dmitrakov came to meet with the operatives in a hope to settle the matter and was arrested. Pylinsky has voluntarily surrendered to the police. Shortly after that, he has been released under a written pledge not to leave the city – his defense attorneys had presented medical certificates confirming that their client has a serious cardiovascular disease. Immediately after the release, Pylinsky has absconded. His name was on the wanted list for more than five years. Pylinsky has been arrested only in 2015 – after returning to Russia with a Ukrainian passport.

During the investigation, severe pressure was put on the victim party. Vainshtok was cruelly beaten, while Senior Engineer Pavel Veretennikov was bludgeoned to death with knuckles. In both cases, the assailants were never found. The investigator handling the case was threatened several times over the phone.

In June 2013, the Zyuzino District Court of Moscow found Bel’kov and Dmitrakov guilty of extortion on an especially large scale (part 3 of Article 163 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). Bel’kov, the mastermind behind the crime, was convicted to 5 years in a maximum security penal colony. Dmitrakov was conditionally sentenced to 3 years in a penal colony.

However, employees of the Vainshtok’s company have doubts that Bel’kov, Dmitrakov, and Pylinsky were raiders, while the top managers of Partner – their helpless victims. They say that the story was very complicated and involved mutual breaches of obligations by both parties.

For instance, the daughter of Candidate of Sciences Nikolai Abramov, ex-Head of the Research Group at Partner and company’s cofounder, claims that the relations between the future opponents were much closer than the investigation thought. The advertisers had never put pressure on the ‘victims’, not to speak of inflating or chasing up the debts. For instance, Vainshtok had often joked that Pylinsky had a ‘debt’ to Partner – because his future wife used to be a subordinate of Vainshtok. After the first conflicts between the former partners, Bel’kov and Pylinsky were the first to seek justice in court. And the court delivered a judgment in their favor – although this was forgotten later.

ваиншток3.jpg 

For instance, the daughter of Candidate of Sciences Nikolai Abramov, ex-Head of the Research Group at Partner and company’s cofounder, claims that the relations between the future opponents were much closer than the investigation thought. The advertisers had never put pressure on the ‘victims’, not to speak of inflating or chasing up the debts. For instance, Vainshtok had often joked that Pylinsky had a ‘debt’ to Partner – because his future wife used to be a subordinate of Vainshtok. After the first conflicts between the former partners, Bel’kov and Pylinsky were the first to seek justice in court. And the court delivered a judgment in their favor – although this was forgotten later.

Company employees believe that Vainshtok is currently ‘visiting’ his old friend Aleksander Zaltsman, former Financial Director of Partner Joint Stock Company.

Zaltsman could not stand the threats of Bel'kov and Pylinsky and relocated to Israel eight years ago. Similarly with Vainshtok, prior to the departure, Zaltsman has borrowed hundreds of millions of rubles from individuals under the guarantees of Partner Joint Stock Company. The probiotics manufacturer has to pay out these debts included in the creditors' register. In addition, now the enterprise has to repay personal loans of Vainshtok.


Discuss

Recommended

1 / 3