Bronka: The price of freedom. What assets billionaire Mikhalchenko would be willing to spare?
The fate of once-almighty businessman Dmitry Mikhalchenko is currently of interest not only for the business community. Although most people are interested not in personal circumstances of Mikhalchenko but rather in the future of the Port Bronka. One of the versions states that the story of smuggling elite alcohol is only an official cover for a much larger game where the Port Bronka with a Center for Electronic Customs Declaration are on stake. The CrimeRussia managed to obtain exclusive details showing that this version is pretty realistic.
Big Center for Electronic Customs Declaration
The Center for Electronic Customs Declaration in the Port Bronka is a true bonanza for a seaport owner – in fact, this is a lever allowing to control most stevedore companies. Last winter this lever was almost in the hands of Dmitry Mikhalchenko. In February 2016, the Federal Customs Service of the Russian Federation in the person of Andrei Belyaninov has expressed its firm intention to stop the provision of freight customs clearance services in terminals of the St. Petersburg port that are located in the center of the city. The Baltic Customs Office was about to lose some of its powers and focus only on cargo processing and examination – while all the customs paperwork had to be produced at one site: on Bronka terminals and in Ust-Luga.
After the high-profile statement by general Belyaninov, some influential port businessmen – including Vladimir Lisin, the owner of the Container Terminal of St. Petersburg Closed Joint Stock Company and Seaport of St. Petersburg Limited Liability Company, and Vitaly Yuzhilin and Andrei Kobzar, co-owners of Global Ports, – have allegedly plotted a conspiracy. The initiative by patrons of Dmitry Mikhalchenko would mean a drastic redistribution of spheres of influence in the seaport business of St. Petersburg. The businessmen stated that they are outraged by the Belyaninov’s initiative and promised to “take actions”.
Photo: Vitaly Yuzhilin, the co-owner of Global Ports
Shortly after the statement about taking actions, high-profile media exposures and scandals have started. It is unknown whether these are related to each other in any way or not. Well-informed people keep silence and only note that the arrest of the around-the-clock Governor of St. Petersburg and downfall of his patrons are links of the same chain, which is clearly visible for those who are in the game. According to the business community, the growing appetites of Dima Krikun (Dima the Crier) – one of the nicknames of Dmitry Mikhalchenko – have displeased not only the merchants, but also the authorities. Multibillion financial flows of his Forum Holding Company and friendly relations with high-ranked Moscow officials reportedly allowed him to ignore requests even from the St. Petersburg Administration.
In fact, the sphere of influence of Dmitry Mikhalchenko was much broader than the above-mentioned Port Bronka. According to some sources, the businessman was able to provide green corridor to Russian importers not only in Bronka terminals, but in other St. Petersburg ports as well. Therefore, the informed sources call the arrest of the businessman a full-scale port war involving governmental authorities.
Welcome to promenade
Rumors that Dmitry Mikhalchenko is in trouble started circulating back in spring. Media discussed his possible arrest. The co-owner of Forum had refuted this information with a laugh – and how wrong he was! In powerful business circles, such rumors published by major media outlets are traditionally considered an invitation to escape. Only one organization in Russia makes such gentle hints. And the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) made no secret from its warning: It is time to flee the country.
Mikhalchenko thought that the risk of his arrest was minimal. He did not consider the criminal perspectives seriously because not only the Port Bronka with its huge opportunities, but other juicy marine projects and expansion to new markets were at stake. For example, in the Crimea. It is not a secret that Mikhalchenko had visited Simferopol in the end of February 2016 and discussed with Sergey Aksenov, the Prime Minster of the Republic of Crimea, his participation in the implementation of the Federal Dedicated Program “Socio-Economic Development of the Crimea and Sevastopol until 2020”.
Photo: Dmitry Mikhalchenko, the owner of Forum Holding Company
It would be silly to waste such opportunities and Mikhalchenko believed that his connections would allow his to rebuff any attack. But then the situation has spiraled out of control. As the CrimeRussia had reported earlier, troubles have begun in the middle of March 2016 – when the Investigations Directorate of the FSB started investigation of a criminal case related to embezzlement of budget funds allocated to the Ministry of Culture to restore the Izborskaya Fortress in the Pskov region. Vladmir Medinsky, the Minister of Culture, seemed to be in the center of the corruption scandal – but ultimately other people have been arrested: Grigory Pirumov, the Deputy Minster of Culture; Aleksander Kochenov; and Dmitry Sergeev, the Manager and General Director of BaltStroy Joint Stock Company – a subsidiary to Forum Holding Company belonging to billionaire Dmitry Mikhalchenko.
The so-called case of restorers was initiated due to an embezzlement of funds during the implementation of a governmental contract for preservation of cultural heritage of the Pskov region. The key suspects in this case were: Grigory Pirumov, the Deputy Minster of Culture; Boris Mazo, the Head of the Department for Property Management and Investments Policy; and Oleg Ivanov, the Head of the Tsentrrestavratsia Federal State Unitary Enterprise subordinate to the Ministry of Culture.
It is necessary to note that BaltStroy and its affiliated structures were the contractors performing works under the Federal Dedicated Program “Development of the Russian Culture until 2018”. It would be weird to suppose, however, that Department K of the Economic Security Service of FSB (providing counterintelligence support for the national credit and financial system) would suddenly become interested in such an unrelated matter as restoration. Apparently, the FSB operatives were just fishing. They were trying to catch a big fish – Dmitry Mikhalchenko – in the muddy water of contracts, bricks, and restoration using his detained subordinates as live bite.
Another red flag for Mikhalchenko was involvement of Sergey Novikov, an investigator of the Main Investigations Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) into this case. He became well-known during the investigation of a high-profile criminal case related to creation of a criminal community by Denis Sugrobov, the former Head of the General Administration for Economic Security and Combatting the Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation (MIA). Apparently, the billionaire should have become concerned at that point – but he has not. The businessman was confident of his invulnerability until the very end.
Allegedly, not only competitors had a grudge against Mikhalchenko – but his fellow co-owners of Forum as well. Nikolai Negodov, the General of FSB, could also be involved – because there are no former officers in such organizations.
This is consistent with the version stating that the around-the-clock Governor of St. Petersburg has become a victim in the struggle for power between law enforcement agencies.
Interestingly, but Mikhalchenko, Evgeny Murov, the former Head of the Federal Protection Service, some twenty other high-ranked officers of the Federal Protection Service, and personally Nikolai Negodov had been relaxing not a long time ago in nearby cottages of an elite settlement on the lakeshore of the Valdayskoe Lake in the Novgorod Region.
The above is an accurate record of my statement
Today the fate of Dmitry Mikhalchenko directly depends on the Port Bronka. Specifically – how swiftly can he spare this asset in profit of the state.
RBC Information Systems had made such suggestions immediately after the arrest of the businessman. In particular, sources of the media portal mentioned that the opportunities of Bronka are so huge that not only Mikhalchenko, but a couple of deputy ministers can be easily eaten in this struggle as well. In view of this, the staffing war between enforcement agencies seems truly formidable.
Photo: Vladimir Lisin, the owner of the Container Terminal of St. Petersburg Closed Joint Stock Company and Seaport of St. Petersburg Limited Liability Company
There are lots of indications that Bronka is an enormous prize. First of all, after the launch of its terminals, the transshipment of containers in St. Petersburg, including Ust-Luga, has decreased by 30% in the year of 2015. Competition sharpened on the stevedore market – which is steadily declining due to the crisis. Igor Pukhov, Commercial Director of the Container Terminal of St. Petersburg Closed Joint Stock Company (Vladimir Lisin’s Universal Cargo Logistics Holding) has said this openly.
Under such uneasy conditions, the Port Bronka has got a license to transport dangerous and particularly dangerous cargo – both by maritime and railroad transport, including a properly equipped railroad station. What is dangerous and particularly dangerous cargo? Not only oil, hazardous substances and accompanying products – but also nuclear and chemical waste and, of course, weapons. Not only special terminals are required to store such cargo, but a military base regime as well. It is known that the port has been built on the basis of such a military base. In other words, Bronka is not only a source of huge profits from export and import, but also a strategic point on the Russian Northwest.
No one was happy with the perspective to concentrate such opportunities in the hands of a single person (even though a creature of certain structures) with a questionable reputation of around-the-clock governor of St. Petersburg. According to the sources, backroom negotiations dedicated to the transfer of Bronka to safe hands had been carried on with Mikhalchenko long before his arrest.
It was obvious that Dima Krikun would never surrender the port voluntarily. But the billionaire has been put into a pretrial detention facility, charged with serious crimes – and the negotiations have resumed. And this time the talks were much more meaningful. Mikhalchenko was allegedly offered a deal: he transfers Bronka to the right person and gets a half-ticket to the freedom – exits the prison and goes under home arrest.
Famous businessmen Rotenberg brothers have been named among possible new owners of Bronka. The brothers openly express interest to the seaport business. Back in 2008, they planned to purchase 10% of the Novorossiisk Sea Port. Gennady Timchenko, the largest oil trader in Russia, was also named among Bronka contenders.
Some sources say, however, that the billionaire has already signed Bronka away – but the captors cheated him. His detention period has been extended until December 2016. Apparently, the investigators need Mikhalchenko to testify against certain high-ranked people. Should the businessman keep silence, many old criminal cases can be taken from the archive: murder of the director of a spinning–filamentary factory later acquired by Mikhalchenko; mysterious death of two previous Bronka owners; and death of Roman Tsepov, the Director of Baltic Escort private security agency. Under such circumstances, the around-the-clock Governor has good chances to suffer the same fate as his predecessor Vladimir Kumarin – the night Governor of St. Petersburg – and never get out of jail.