Downfall of Cherkizon owner
The empire of Telman Ismailov, once one of the most influential and rich Russian oligarchs, collapses like a house of cards. A series of criminal cases has followed the loss of his wealth – and now the entire clan Ismailov is to face the consequences. Furthermore, Turkish secret services suspect the owner of Cherkizon of complicity in the murder of thief-in-law Rovshan Lenkoransky.
It all started way back in 2009, when Russia has switched to a crisis mode and the oligarch were urged to pour some cash into the Olympic projects. Telman Ismailov has ignored this request and built with fanfare seven-star Mardan Palace Hotel in Antalya. According to various sources, this hotel had cost the businessman some $1.5 billion. Gold foil was used for its interiors, and 500 tons of Egyptian alabaster sand that does not burn feet have been laid on the beach. The lobby featured a stairs made according to a project by Leonardo da Vinci, chandelier 8 m in diameter made of Swarovski crystals, and portrait of businessman’s father Mardan Ismailov. The grand opening of Mardan Palace has taken place on May 23, 2009 and was attended by many celebrities, including Sharon Stone, Richard Gere, Monica Bellucci, Tom Cruise, and Mariah Carey.
But a few days after the Turkish triumph of Ismailov, the command “go!” has been given in Russia at the highest political level. The first blow to the oligarch’s family business was delivered by the media that started unanimously criticizing his main asset – Cherkizovsky market in Moscow. Vladimir Putin, then-Prime Minister, has reprimanded the enforcement services for their ineffective struggle against smuggling and counterfeit products.
“Smuggling is a separate matter; it seems that the struggle is ongoing, but there are very few results. The struggle must result in the imprisonment of perpetrators. Where are the imprisoned perpetrators?” – Putin asked Rashid Nurgaliev, then-Minister of Internal Affairs.
Then other enforcement agencies have joined the campaign. The Investigations Committee of the Prosecutor’s Office has initiated a criminal case under Article 238 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (production, storage, carriage or sale of goods and products, fulfillment of works or rendering of services which do not meet safety standards). By July 30, the market has been temporarily closed.
“The Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor) had repeatedly issued orders to rectify violations of sanitary and trade standards identified there. The number of those is so large that it is impossible to tolerate this cesspit anymore. Nikolai Evtikhiev, Prefect of the Eastern Administrative District, has made a decision to suspend it,” –Vladimir Malyshkov, Head of the Department of Consumer Market and Services of the City of Moscow, has reported.
However, the gates of Cherkizon (this is how the market was nicknamed by the public) never opened again. Even the warm relations with Yuri Luzhkov, then-Mayor of Moscow who had called Telman his “friend for life”, could not help the market owner.
This was the end of the clan Ismailov’s monopoly on the Moscow markets. Businessmen from Cherkizovsky have been relocated to various marketplaces in the capital and metropolitan area.
One of such markets was Abramtsevo located in the Balashikha district of the Moscow region. It was controlled by authorities from Lyuberetskie gang and businessmen having ties with this criminal group. Initially, the Ismailov family had agreed to start a joint business with the market owner. Officially, the market belonged to Merkury-R Limited Liability Company belonging 100% to Rafik Ismailov, a brother of Telman. Sergei Gavryushin, the right hand of Rafik, was appointed its General Director. For the last 15 years, he was a member of the inner circle of clan Ismailov, handled the economic activities of the family, was, in fact, a shadow of Rafik Ismailov, and often witnessed straight conversations between the brothers. Now Gavryushin is a witness in a number of criminal cases instituted against brothers Ismailov. According to his testimonies, there were increasingly frequent conflicts between the businessmen and Lyuberetskie gang over the distribution of revenues.
Abramtsevo market in Balashikha
In that period, the leaders of the organized criminal group – many of whom have legitimized by that time and became businessmen or even Deputies – suddenly began dying from gunshots. The investigators found out that musclemen of brothers Ismailov had come to a criminal authority living in Tomilino village of the Moscow region and gunned him down – but the victim managed to survive. In addition, Gavryushin has testified that the family was involved into the murder of Andrei Lobanov (Loban), one of the leaders of Koptevskie organized criminal group and concurrently Vice President of Alkor Closed Joint Stock Company. The authority had controlled Lianozovsky market that seemed very lucrative for brothers Ismailov. Garri Belotserkovsky, another close associate of clan Ismailov, has confirmed this as well. He has made a plea deal and told that in December 2000, two Rafik’s thugs had gunned down Lobanov and his bodyguard on Dmitrovskoe highway. The criminal authority has succumbed to the injuries, while his bodyguard was heavily wounded.
This was not the end of the ‘market war’. According to the operatives, at least seven member of Koptevskie gang were killed in five years. In October 2005, the market had been set ablaze – the investigation believes that the Ismailov family was behind this arson. Only after that, the organized criminal group has accepted the conditions set by the oligarch’s clan.
The investigation possesses information that the family of the former owner of Cherkizovsky market was involved into the murder of Vladimir Savkin, owner of Stroy-Market trade center, and Yuri Brilev, founder of Lyublino Motors, in May 2016. Their bodies were found in May 2016 near the 32nd kilometer of Novorizhskoe highway. The victims were shot dead from a Toyota Land Cruiser SUV.
In November 2016, Mekhman Kerimov and Rafik Ismailov were arrested on suspicion of murder. Kerimov was hiding in the Moscow apartment of his fellow countryman Vagif Ismailov, a former officer of the General Administration of Criminal Investigation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation and another brother of Telman Ismailov. “Kerimov immediately started making confessions and told that he had committed a double murder over business disputes,” – a source of RBK Group told. “The Investigations Department in the Krasnogorsky District of the Moscow Region of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) hasn’t found any grounds to detain Rafik Ismailov at that time and released him,” – a source of Life.ru in law enforcement structures said.
Although Kerimov claimed that he had killed Savkin and his friend over an old debt, the investigation failed to identify any traces of financial obligations of the victim to Kerimov. It was found, however, that Savkin used to be a business partner of Rafik Ismailov – they had jointly owned a large trade and entertainment center in Moscow. Later the center has been sold for $10 million, but Ismailov was unwilling to part with the share of Savkin and after extensive negotiations, ‘settled’ the issue in a different way. Apparently, Brilev, killed together with Savkin, was an occasional victim.
Only three months later, Rafik Ismailov was arrested again and charged under part 2 of Article 105 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (murder of two or more persons).
Concurrently with increasingly stringent claims of the creditors, Telman Ismailov was actively selling out his Russian assets. Some of those he had tried to hide in offshore territories. According to Vedomosti newspaper, Dutch company Tropicano Finance B.V. acting in his interests has used $55 million received in the Bank of Moscow to purchase 100% of shares in Ergon Incorporate Ltd., Tigerim Holdings Limited, and Tounderwide Holdings Ltd. (all these companies have been incorporated in August 2013 in the British Virgin Islands) from Tounder Holdings Limited also incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. These offshore companies, in turn, became the owners of Prague Restaurant, Tropicano Business Club, and AST Trade Center in Izmailovo. Other assets have been transferred by Ismailov to his sons Alekhper and Sarkhan and nephew Zaur Mardanov. Two multi-room apartments on Kutuzovsky avenue with the total living space of 292 square meters have been donated to his 12-year-old grandson – a full namesake of Telman Mardanovich Ismailov. But despite all the attempts to hoodwink the creditors, they have uncovered the schemes used by the businessman and requested to seize the assets on account of debt repayment.
At some point, AST Group belonging to Telman Ismailov had united some 30 companies whose total annual turnover was estimated at $3 billion by the businessman.
In March 2017, Ismailov was declared bankrupt following a lawsuit filed by VTB Bank whom the businessman had owed 17.4 billion rubles ($291.9 million). The court has noted that the total value of Ismailov’s assets, “on an optimistic estimate” was not much than 696 million rubles ($11.7 million), which had evidenced his insolvency. VTB Group has rejected the debt restructuring plan proposed by the businessman. The bank representative has named this plan in court a “worthless piece of paper”. Then the creditor has seized the main residence of clan Ismailov – Prague Restaurant, as well as Tropicano Business Center, and AST Trade Center.
In the meantime, the Bank of Moscow has focused on foreign assets of Ismailov. The lawyers have addressed Nicosia District Court in Cyprus with a request to a number of Cypriot banks to disclose financial transactions of Vesto Trading Limited incorporated in the Seychelles and belonging to Ismailov. Based on that information, the bank managed to seize, via a Nevada court, Craig Valley Plaza in Las Vegas. It turned out that the trade center consisting of five one-storey buildings with the total space of some 7 thousand square meters has already been transferred to Marker Craig LLC and Marker LLC controlled by Nailya Sadykhova, a relative of Telman Ismailov.
Craig Valley Plaza
It also became known that the family of the businessman has recently withdrawn from the founders of AST-International Environment – one of the largest Russian alcohol distributors. Earlier the two sons of Ismailov and his nephew had owned in total 80% of the company.
Concurrently the foreign creditors have also put pressure upon the disgraced oligarch. Back in spring 2015, some media outlets had reported that the main source of pride for Telman Ismailov – Mardan Palace – may be sold by auction. However, the businessman had categorically stated that he doesn’t even consider the possibility to sell the hotel. According to the oligarch, there was a group of people in Turkey willing to “drive him out of the country” and spreading misinformation. By that time, the Turkish creditors have filed 67 debt enforcement lawsuits against him; the main creditor of Ismailov was Halkbank.
Ultimately, Mardan Palace has been sold below its real cost. Halkbank has purchased the luxury hotel at an auction for mere $124 million. Regular power outages in the hotel due to hydro arrears had preceded that deal. A week ago, it was reported that the elite hotel has been damaged by some vandals no one is willing to search for. The media claimed that the Ismailov’s mansion on hotel grounds has also been sold by auction. It is known, however, that clan Ismailov had lived there until recently.
Ismailov’s villa in Mardan Palace
Shortly after that, the fugitive businessman had to hastily flee from this sanctum. After the arrest of Rafik Ismailov and his testimonies, the Russian law enforcement authorities have launched an active inquest against the oligarch’s clan. On November 11, Telman Ismailov has been charged with masterminding two murders in Russia (paragraphs “a”, “g”, and “e” of part 2 of Article 105 and part 3 of Article 222 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). Then he has been put on the Interpol wanted list. A few days later, Basmanny District Court of Moscow has satisfied a motion brought by the investigation and arrested in absentia Vagif Ismailov, another brother of Telman Ismailov. Vagif has been charged in absentia under Article 222 (illegal storage of firearms) and Article 105 (murder) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.
Clan Ismailov, wary of being deported to Russia by the Turkish authorities, has relocated to France. The oligarch has a villa there and spends New Year holidays in it on a regular basis.
This is confirmed by a careless post of Azerbaijani singer Xayyam Nisanov. The singer has posted the following caption to the photo: “Dear and respected Telman Mardanovich, thank you for the invitation and warm hospitality. For two consecutive years now, I get an opportunity to spend the first days of the New Year near you; it is always a great honor for me to be near you”.. The post dated January 16, 2016, is geotagged: France, Nice. After the publication of the photo showing smiling Telman Ismailov in the media, the singer has edited his post; however, the screenshot still can be found on the Internet.
However, The CrimeRussia has found out that the main threat to Telman Ismailov in Turkey was the increasing interest of the local police to his person. The oligarch managed to fall foul of influential criminal authorities as well. Furthermore, he is suspected of complicity in the high-profile murder of thief-in-law Rovshan Dzhaniev (Lenkoransky) committed in Turkey in August 2016.
Gunned down SUV of Rovshan Lenkoransky
Большую часть из наследия «Черкизона» в итоге принял на себя рынок Ultimately, Sadovod (Gardener) market belonging to old enemies of Ismailov, Azerbaijani businessmen God Nisanov and Zarakhl Iliev, has assumed the major portion of the legacy of Cherkizon. At some point, they could not divide with Ismailov smuggling flows going to Cherkizon. They also own Food City wholesale food distribution center launched with the support of Sergei Sobyanin, the new Mayor of Moscow. It has replaced Biryulevskaya vegetable warehouse marred by violence outbursts in October 2013. Initially, Ismailov had hoped that Food City project fails and its owners sustain losses – especially taking that they had to purchase the trade center designed not for vegetable trade from brothers Rotenberg at a very high price. The wholesale food distribution complex with the total area of 85 ha located on Kaluzhskoe highway near the Moscow Ring Road was not too popular among the customers. Mosselprom-Domodedovo warehouse belonging to brothers Aleksei and Dmitry Anan’yev and also known as Four Seasons wholesale distribution center was located nearby. Initially, Four Seasons had considerably surpassed Food City in infrastructure and logistics.
However, Sergei Sobyanin has made another major favor to Nisanov and Iliev in September 2014 by signing in Baku an agreement with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to ship Azerbaijani foods to Moscow.
The control over vegetable warehouses was always considered a very profitable venture in the criminal world. Ripe fruits and vegetables normally conceal illegal migration, smuggling, shadow revenues, and drug and weapons trafficking. Dozens of people were killed in the last years in the struggle for vegetable warehouses.
After numerous criminal skirmishes, Rovshan Dzhaniev, one of the leaders of the Talysh diaspora (Talysh are an Iranian ethnic group living in Azerbaijan), started herding traders to Food City. He has convinced greenery and vegetable traders under his control to move to Food City. By that time, Rovshan Lenkoransky has already relocated to Turkey and settled there. Representatives of his old enemy Nadir Salifov, also known as thief-in-law Guli, had worked together with the businessmen on the nearby warehouse in Domodedovo. Amid the loss of profits, Guli and Lenkoransky had a feud.
The Turkish law enforcement authorities suspect that Telman Ismailov had conveyed, via a brother of thief-in-law Guli, the information on the whereabouts of Rovshan Dzhaniev, which has resulted in his murder. The thief-in-law was gunned down with automatic weapons overnight into August 18, 2016 in Istanbul. Nadir Salifov, who has been recently released from a penal colony, has two brothers – Mushvig and Namik Salifov (Namik is a thief-in-law as well) – living in Turkey for several years already. Guli has moved to them immediately upon his release.
Намик, Namik, Nadir, and Mushvig Salifov
The intent of Ismailov remains unclear. Apparently, the murder of Dzhaniev was linked with the war for wholesale vegetable markets waged in Moscow. Dzhaniev had actively assisted the enemies of Ismailov in that war. On the other hand, the murder of Rovshan Lenkoransky has deprived Nisanov and Iliev of an important ally.
Ismailov has received the valuable information on the whereabouts of Dzhaniev from some high-ranked officer of Turkish secret services who had often visited Mardan Palace and received tokens of appreciation from Telman. After the failed military coup, the Turkish authorities are actively searching for traitors and corrupt officers in the law enforcement structures. Therefore, by making a favor to the enemies of his enemies, Ismailov has attracted the attention of the Turkish secret services.
Nisanov and Iliev are obviously eager to deal the final blow to clan Ismailov. In the meantime, there are fewer and fewer places in the world where the former owner of Cherkizon may quietly grow old – especially taking that his villa in France has been mortgaged.
After returning to Russia, Telman Ismailov likely won’t have much choice but to turn in all his partners and patrons.
After scaring Dagestan with inspections, arrests, and searches, the interdepartmental commission of the Prosecutor General’s Office and ICR has identified key priorities for the regional watchdog authority. After the crackdown on the old clan-based system, the management reforms became more constructive – however, another wave of criminal cases, terminations, and arrests is expected in the republic. The CrimeRussia was figuring out what other Dagestani officials are currently at risk.