Who is interested in ruining the case against fugitive banker Bedzhamov?
Larisa Markus, ex-President of failed Foreign Economic Industrial Bank (Vneshprombank) made a deal with the investigation and named her brother Georgy Bedzhamov the mastermind behind the embezzlements and siphoning off funds from the bank. Was there an arrangement between the relatives–bankers on who shall demonstratively go to jail and who shall take the blame for all the crimes and abscond abroad with stolen billions of rubles? Vneshprombank co-owner Georgy Bedzhamov is currently beyond the reach of law enforcement structures and creditors. Perhaps, it is now time for everybody to forget about the fugitive banker? Especially taking that, according to The CrimeRussia sources, some persons are interested in ruining the case against Bedzhamov.
Georgy Bedzhamov disappeared from the media space and from the sight of law enforcement structures a while ago. In May 2017, the court has delivered, under a special procedure, sentences to Larisa Markus, ex-President of Vneshprombank, and her deputy Ekaterina Glushakova, Director of the Credit Department.
The Khamovnichesky District Court of Moscow sentenced them to 9 and 4 years behind bars respectively. Later the Moscow City Court has examined the appeal and reduced the term for Markus to 8.5 years, while upholding the sentence imposed on Glushakova. Both of them have completely admitted their guilt on swindling and embezzlements (Articles 159 and 160 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation) totaling 113.5 billion rubles ($1.8 billion).
Larisa Markus and Ekaterina Glushakova
The investigation established that Markus has created, jointly with her brother and factual head of the bank Georgy Bedzhamov, an organized criminal group involving Vice President Glushakova and other unidentified persons to embezzle monetary funds from Vneshprombank.
Since May 2009 and until December 2015, the accomplices had approved knowingly unrecoverable loans, withdrawn funds from clients’ accounts, including VIP clients, without their knowledge, and granted multimillion credits to companies belonging to dummy persons.
The operations of Vneshprombank resembled a classic financial pyramid: funds of new clients were used to settle accounts with old ones, while the accounting records were forged. There were plenty of officials, Deputies, and major businessmen among the bank clients. Rosneft, Rosneftegaz, Transneft, Russian Olympic Committee, Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), Ministry of Defense, and Russian Orthodox Church used to keep their savings in Vneshprombank. By the time of license revocation, the total amount of money stored on accounts of its private clients was over 20 billion rubles ($317.3 million).
The court has declared VTB Bank a victim party in the criminal case and recognized its right to seek compensation for damages sustained due to the crime through civil litigation. Then the Moscow Arbitration Court has satisfied a claim filed by VTB Bank and declared Larisa Markus and her husband Lazar Markus bankrupt.
Lazar Markus was a guarantor for the loan granted to his wife by VTB Bank in October 2015 – just before the collapse of Vneshprombank. Larisa's brother Georgy Bedzhamov was the second guarantor. In December 2016, the Meshchansky District Court of Moscow has ordered to collect from the borrower and her two guarantors some 320 million rubles ($5.1 million) for the benefit of the bank. According to Larisa’s lawyer, in addition to the apartment pledged as a loan security, whose value is insufficient to pay out the debt, Markus has “significant assets”. But the court has also included the debt to Vneshprombank exceeding 1 billion rubles ($15.9 million) into the list of creditors' claims. Obviously, she won’t be able to pay out this amount while serving the prison term.
The show trial of Larisa Markus held under a special procedure was an attempt of the MIA investigators to draw a line under the ‘Vneshprombank case’ – i.e. calm down its clients by demonstrating that the fraudsters have been punished and the creditors lined up.
In reality, private clients of Vneshprombank have got only the statutory 1.4 million rubles ($22.2 thousand) each. There is no more money to repay debts to the depositors. The investigators found out that many top managers of Vneshprombank, including its ex-President Larisa Markus and former co-owner Georgy Bedzhamov, had transferred their assets to relatives and confidants. A series of searches have been carried out in their residences; title deeds on expensive real estate and large savings, including those in foreign currencies, were found. In addition, a box full of jewelry was seized from one of the Vneshprombank managers.
Courts imposed conservatory attachments on shares, real properties, and equipment of two glass factories belonging to Bedzhamov. This refers to Bun’kovsky Experimental Plant in Noginsk, Moscow Region and a plant in Ruzaevka, Republic of Mordovia. The latter one is a town-forming enterprise producing beer, wine, and vodka bottles and cans for baby foods. After the collapse of Vneshprombank and escape of Bedzhamov, the plant was shut down. Bedzhamov owns only 30% of shares in Bun’kovsky Experimental Plant – but the court has seized all the 100% of its shares.
Other known assets include Wine Palace Monte-Carlo – a luxury wine boutique in Monaco belonging to Bedzhamov. In France, he runs FOSH 26 company specializing in real estate leases. It is located in Paris, not far from Place Charles de Gaulle.
In April 2016, Georgy Bedzhamov was arrested in Monaco but later released on bail; the amount of this bail remains unknown. It is known however that he never signed a written undertaking not to leave the city but was placed under so-called ‘judicial supervision’. The Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia failed to extradite Bedzhamov – even though its request included guarantees that his detention conditions in Russia would meet the world standards. Perhaps, the long-term relations between Albert II, Prince of Monaco, and Bedzhamov, ex-President of the Russian Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation, could affect the decision of the Monaco authorities. Albert II is a member of the International Olympic Committee; he participated in bobsleigh tournaments in five Olympics in 1988–2002. It is necessary to keep in mind that normally Monaco promptly satisfies such requests – in the last few years, several suspects were extradited to Russia. Prince Albert II just had to personally endorse the court decision – but he did not.
Albert II, ruling Prince of Monaco
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, foreign authorities satisfy some 40% of extradition requests. The most cooperative states are Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Montenegro. According to Aleksander Prokopchuk, Head of the National Central Bureau of Interpol, struggle against extradition became a profitable business for lawyers. To delay the final decision, they request political asylum, file lawsuits with the European Court of Human Rights, and even attempt to sue Interpol.
The extradition of Aslan Gagiev (Dzhako), head of a gang of killers, is a vivid example of such protractions. He was put on the international wanted list in 2014 and arrested in Austria in 2015. It took a few years to settle all the formal issues with his extradition. But in the Vienna International Airport, the defense for Dzhako presented a medical certificate stating that Gagiev has contracted a rare form of aerophobia in the Austrian jail and may not survive a flight to Russia. While the Ministry of Justice and Interpol were dealing with the document, the attorneys have appealed in court all the earlier decisions made in relation to Dzhako. Still, in June 2018, he was brought to Russia by an airplane and remanded in custody.
Aslan Gagiev (Dzhako)
In mid-2016, it became known that Bedzhamov has relocated to London – a traditional asylum for fugitive Russian kleptocrats and fraudsters. The Tverskoy District Court of Moscow has arrested the banker in absentia and put him on the international wanted list for swindling on an especially large scale (part 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). In February 2018, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia requested London to extradite the co-owner of bankrupt Vneshprombank. The British Home Office traditionally refused to comment on this extradition request.
The CrimeRussia found out that bankers Larisa Markus and Georgy Bedzhamov are children of famous criminal ‘authority' Avdysh (Aleksander) Bidzhamo also known as ‘Alik Assiriisky'. Since the Soviet period, Bidzhamo was a member of an ‘Assyrian' criminal group also involving ‘thief-in-law' Vyacheslav Sliva (Sliva (Plum)) and criminal ‘authority' Mark Milgotin (Marik). Initially, the gang had specialized in racketeering of shoe shiners and meat vendors and petty home burglaries. By the mid-1990s, the criminal group has got enough power to enter such criminal spheres as oil trade, arms and drug trafficking, and casinos.
Vyacheslav Sliva (Sliva (Plum)) on the left, Mark Milgotin (Marik) on the right
The huge ‘gap’ in the bank was discovered accidentally. In November 2015, the Central Bank of Russia has carried out a routine audit of Vneshprombank on suspicion that loans over 10 billion rubles ($158.7 million) were granted to dummy companies. It became known that the bank’s own capital has reduced in a month from 27 billion rubles ($428.4 million) to 19.5 billion rubles ($309.4 million). The Bank of Russia ordered Vneshprombank to increase its reserves by 6.2 billion rubles ($98.4 million). Boris Mints, owner of Q1 Group, was involved in this story as well. Shortly before the above issues, he had provided a subordinated deposit in the amount of 3 billion rubles ($47.6 million) to Vneshprombank. In addition, Q1 Group invested 7 billion rubles ($111.1 million) into the bank’s shares. Then the Bank of Russia has found out that the liabilities of Vneshprombank exceed its assets by some 210.14 billion rubles ($3.3 billion).
It is necessary to note that Boris Mints has taken every effort to get rid of his Russian assets this year and then fled to London with children and their families. The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) has launched a pre-investigation probe into the deals made between oligarch’s Q1 Group and Bank Otkritie Financial Corporation (Otkritie FC Bank) currently undergoing a resolution. According to the sources, the inquest has been launched following an application from Mikhail Zadornov, President and Chairman of the Management Board of Otkritie FC Bank. The investigators might be interested to find out how have the bonds issued by Q1 Group Finance (a subdivision of Q1 Group) ended up on the bank’s balance sheet. The company has placed bonds worth 25 and 40 billion rubles ($396.7 and 634.7 million) in August 2017, shortly before the resolution of Otkritie FC Bank. Out of this amount, 30 billion rubles ($476 million) were used to pay out loans granted by Otkritie FC Bank to structures subordinate to Q1 Group. A link can be tracked between actions of Boris Mints and issues experienced by the banks. But unlike Vneshprombank, the regulatory body decided to rescue Otkritie FC Bank.
It is unknown yet whether Mints was directly involved in the embezzlements and siphoning off funds from Vneshprombank or not. Was he aware of the forthcoming problems? Has he intentionally invested the funds? And if this was not a coincidence, what could be his purpose?
Bedzhamov also tried to get rid of his assets, including several yachts named Ester after his daughter. In November 2016, Ester II yacht was sold for €14 million (the name of its new owner is unknown) and renamed to Emerald. Earlier Bedzhamov had another small yacht – Ester I. It was also sold and renamed to Chox. The largest and most luxurious Ester III yacht was sold pursuant to a verdict of the Gibraltar Supreme Maritime Court to pay out debts of €79.5 million to BNP Paribas. The buyer – John Henry, owner of Boston Red Sox – has renamed it to Iroquois.
The court has launched the initial bankruptcy procedure – debt restructuring – against Bedzhamov in September 2017 following an application filed by VTB 24 Bank. At that time, the court included the Bedzhamov’s debt to the bank in the amount of some 320 million rubles ($5.1 million) into the list of creditors' claims. Later the claims of Vneshprombank in the amount of some 3.4 billion rubles ($53.9 million) were included into that list as well.
The first attempt to declare Bedzhamov a bankrupt was dismissed by the court. But on July 2, the Moscow Arbitration Court has finally recognized the former co-owner of Vneshprombank a bankrupt. The asset disposition procedure has been launched against him – but somehow, the court obliged Bedzhamov himself to provide the list of his assets to the insolvency administrator. According to the verdict, “the debtor shall provide, within 15 days, documents required to clarify the financial situation of the debtor, namely, information on his assets, location of these assets, his liabilities, creditors, and other information pertaining to the bankruptcy of the citizen”.
According to The CrimeRussia sources, such clumsy attempts to recover the stolen funds expose the desire to hush up this case as soon as possible. An inexperienced investigator of the MIA Investigation Department was put in charge of a large-scale embezzlement case.
In late June, businesspeople Evgeny Oras (a cofounder of Gulagu.net human rights community), Genrikh Maly, and Olga Mulina have been arrested and charged with complicity in embezzlements from Vneshprombank. Official charges have been laid against them under part 4 of Article 160 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (misappropriation or embezzlement committed on an especially large scale).
As it turned out, for several years already, Oras, Maly, and Mulina have been suspects in another criminal case instituted under Article 172 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (illegal banking activity) and pertaining to the period of 2013–2014. It was investigated by the MIA Administration for the Southern Administrative District of Moscow but never submitted to court. Then this case was transferred to the MIA Investigation Department where the “illegal banking activities” of the suspects have been ‘merged’ with operations pulled off by Bedzhamov.
Evgeny Oras was the General Director of Novafinans Limited Liability Company providing accounting and consulting services. According to the investigation, it had served a number of companies used by Bedzhamov, Markus, and Glushakova to siphon off funds embezzled from Vneshprombank.
However, the Tverskoy District Court hasn’t satisfied the motion to remand the suspects in custody brought by the investigation and limited their pretrial restrictions to written undertakings not to leave the city. The court has ruled that the evidence presented by the state prosecution was insufficient.
Interestingly, none of Bank of Russia’s officers responsible for financial monitoring of credit organizations were punished. None was held liable for accepting and endorsing phony reports submitted by Vneshprombank for years. Apparently, this organization is also interested to forget about the collapse of Vneshprombank as soon as possible.
It is necessary to note that Larisa Markus, who has made a plea deal, named her brother the mastermind behind the embezzlements and siphoning off funds from the bank. Was there an arrangement between the relatives–bankers on who shall demonstratively go to jail and who shall take the blame for all the crimes? Now Georgy Bedzhamov is beyond the reach of law enforcement structures and creditors – especially taking his ‘bankrupt’ status – and has nothing to care about.
Initially, the defendants in the case had been charged with embezzlement through swindling in the amount of 225 million rubles ($3.3 million). In the final version of the indictment, the article was changed to 1.5-billion-ruble ($22.45 million) embezzlement.