‘Laundromat’ for primary contractors of Russian Railways and Gazprom
The investigators continue unraveling a tangle of criminal ties exposed after the arrest of MIA colonel Dmitry Zakharchenko. Recently, the operatives have uncovered a new network created by a Ukrainian citizen to launder funds received from Russian Railways and Gazprom under governmental contracts. The damaged sustained due to the operations of this ‘laundromat’ may reach 300 billion rubles ($4.5 billion).
In mid-August, operatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) have performed searches in the framework of an inquest into embezzlements of monetary funds from Russian Railways. It became known that a criminal community was running illegal banking operations, including cashing out and siphoning off money abroad. The main beneficiaries of this ‘laundromat’ were Boris Usherovich and Valery Markelov, owners of The 1520 Group of Companies, and their partner – Moldavian politician Renato Usatîi.
The ‘laundromat’ had rendered its ‘services’ not only to the primary contractor of Russian Railways – but also to Bashkortostan-based Peton company that has received hundreds of billions of rubles from Gazprom under governmental contracts. Both The 1520 Group of Companies and Peton were ‘covered up’ by law enforcement officials – Dmitry Zakharchenko from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation and Kirill Cherkalin, Dmitry Frolov, and Dmitry Senin from the FSB. Currently, all of them are in custody, which has enabled the investigators to expose the money laundering structure.
To refresh background: The 1520 Group of Companies was established at the initiative of businessman Andrei Krapivin, a friend of and advisor to Vladimir Yakunin, then-President of Russian Railways; in 2018, it has topped the ‘Kings of Governmental Orders’ rating – the total amount of contracts awarded to it was 218 billion rubles ($3.3 billion).
Initially, it was a network of independent legal entities – offshore structures, dummy companies, and banks used to siphon off budget funds received under governmental contracts abroad or legalize those in Russia through various businesses, including development. The real subcontractors actually performing works for Russian Railways had received only small portions of these sums. Ten years later, in 2014, more presentable The 1520 Group of Companies was established on the basis of this network.
Krapivin had always avoided publicity – his son Aleksei and businessmen Valery Markelov and Boris Usherovich were officially in charge of the company. Krapivin was mostly responsible for high-level contacts; Markelov supervised business affairs; Usherovich, who was familiar with leaders of Solntsevskie and Lipetskie organized criminal group, handled illegal activities; while Ivan Stankevich, who was a member of the Board of Directors of Novoye Vremya (Modern Time) Bank up until recently, was in control of financial operations.
Sergei Mendeleev, Boris Usherovich, and Valery Markelov
The funds seized from Zakharchenko belonged to the following four banks: Novoye Vremya, Baltika, Yenisei, and InterProgressBank. The bills were kept in bundles packed in the Federal Reserve System of the USA – with codes and seals; this made it possible to identify the receivers of the money.
The clouds started piling over this criminal group in 2015: first, Krapivin senior died in Switzerland, and a few months later, Yakunin was removed from office.
A year after, in September 2016, the company has lost its ‘cover’: colonel Dmitry Zakharchenko, Head of “T” Administration of the MIA Main Directorate for Economic Security and Combating the Corruption, was arrested, and 1.5 tons of dollars and euros in cash equal to 8.5 billion rubles ($128.8 million) have been seized from the apartment of his sister. Later, over €300 million were found on foreign accounts of his father. The family of Zakharchenko had owned 13 apartments and 14 parking spots in elite neighborhoods of Moscow and a fleet of expensive cars. In June 2019, the former colonel was sentenced to 13 years behind bars and fined 177 million rubles ($2.7 million) for bribe-taking and obstruction of justice.
Initially, Zakharchenko had tried to fool the investigators claiming that the seized funds were earned by his sister and father running construction and agricultural businesses – or just planted during the search. However, after the arrest of his common-law spouse Anastasia Pestrikova in September 2017, Zakharchenko started collaborating with the investigation.
After his sentencing, it became known that the ex-colonel is a suspect in two more cases investigated by the ICR. The first case pertains to bribes received from owners of The 1520 Group of Companies and financiers affiliated with them (Zakharchenko had received $150 thousand per month for ‘patronage’ and earned some 2 billion rubles ($30.3 million) in the period from 2007 to 2016). The second case was instituted in relation to a criminal community involving law enforcement officials and businessmen.
Then the investigators have finally approached the primary contractors of Russian Railways. Markelov, suspected of bribe-giving, was detained in October 2018 in Sochi. Yuri Obodovsky (another co-owner of The 1520 Group of Companies) and Stankevich were put on the wanted list – by that time, they have already relocated to the USA. Usherovich and his assistant Dmitry Motorin, a former officer of Inkredbank, have fled to Cyprus. Later, Usherovich was spotted in Israel; according to our information, he is currently settling in the UK.
The investigation continued. It was found out that the money laundering scheme involved not only contracts awarded by Russian Railways. In April 2019, colonel Kirill Cherkalin, Head of the Banking Department of “K” Directorate of the FSB was detained; 12 billion rubles ($181.8 million) were seized from him – this is 3 billion rubles ($45.5 million) more than the sum seized from Zakharchenko. Two former officers of the same department were arrested together with Cherkalin – Dmitry Frolov (a predecessor of Cherkalin dismissed from the FSB with dishonor) and Andrei Vasiliev. Unlike Cherkalin, Frolov and Vasiliev have been charged with swindling.
Banker Sergei Mendeleev, President of the Moscow Ice Hockey Federation and successor to Stankevich in Novoye Vremya Bank, became aware that the investigators are going to question him in the framework of the criminal case against Cherkalin – and hastily fled Russia.
After his escape, the operatives have looked closely at this financial institution.
According to the official information, Novoye Vremya Bank was established in November 2008 by a group of Ukrainian businessmen running a business affiliated with Naftogaz of Ukraine. They needed a bank to serve their interests in Russia. However, five years later, in 2013, its initial shareholders, including Ukrainian citizens Valery Razdorozhny, Oleg Gubanov, Oleg Balanda, and Oleg Chip, have withdrawn from the bank’s capital. As a result, Valentina Stankevich, who had owned 41.17% of shares in the charter capital, became the primary shareholder of the credit organization that had operated until 2018.
Ivan Stankevich and Anna Semenovich
Stankevich had close ties with Razdorozhny – who was a former Director of the Moscow Branch of Naftogaz and concurrently ran a banking business in Ukraine (for instance, Yevrohazbank and Bank Sich are associated with his name). In Moscow, Razdorozhny was known as the Chairman of the Poltava Community and sponsor of Ukrainian cultural events.
In addition, this person owns in Russia TK Esta Limited Liability Company (wholesale trade), Interprim Limited Liability Company (real estate sales), StroyTekh Limited Liability Company (sales of automotive machinery), and Eurasian Energy Company Limited Liability Company supplying equipment to Gazprom.
One of the annual reports of Novoye Vremya Bank produced under the rule of Razdorozhny mentions “increased expectations of the implementation of investment programs of Gazprom Open Joint Stock Company (almost 200 billion rubles ($3 billion)) and Russian Railways Open Joint Stock Company (45 billion rubles ($681.8 million))”.
The CrimeRussia became aware that the operatives investigating the criminal case instituted under Article 210 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (creation of a criminal community (criminal organization) and participation therein) have established that Razdorozhny, some Oksana Bodrova, and other unidentified persons had gained banking experience during the management of Novoye Vremya Bank and, being its beneficiaries and employees, have established in early 2011 an organized criminal group with the purpose to launder and siphon off funds abroad.
More than 200 dummy companies and at least six foreign legal entities – that, in fact, had not performed any economic or financial operations – were involved in the criminal scheme. Under the disguise of service provision and sales of goods, this network was making banking transactions having no required licenses and, thus, avoiding the state control.
After the searches carried out on August 14, one person was detained, another one – placed under home arrest, and at least four people – released under written pledges not to leave the city. Unfortunately, the investigators failed to capture Razdorozhny and Bodrova, the factual heads of the ‘laundromat’; so, they are currently questioning employees of the above-mentioned structures.
An accountant of one of the dummy companies said that the scheme had operated in the utmost secrecy – a special online portal and e-mail were used for the document flow and interactions between departments and employees. The majority of the people had direct contracts only with their department heads and knew other colleagues under nicknames. The companies had continuously changed addresses by moving to new offices; some employees were working from home. The criminal network had its own security service, including information security.
According to the case file, the dummy companies had received bank transfers – and cash was paid to the clients. The received funds were either cashed out or transferred abroad. A commission starting from 1% of the transaction amount was charged for such ‘services’.
Zakharchenko (3rd from the right) and Kurnosenko (5th from the right)
The investigation established that the criminal community had operated from February 2011 to January 17, 2019, and its creators have ‘earned’ in total 5.4 billion rubles ($81.6 million). Keeping in mind that this is only 1% of the funds legalized through this scheme, it is safe to assume that the group has laundered at least 500 billion rubles ($7.6 billion). Taking into account the sums received from Russian Railways and Gazprom under governmental contracts, the owners of their primary contractors could siphon off some 300 billion rubles ($4.5 billion).
Shortly after the publications about embezzlements from Russian Railways and searches carried out in residences of co-owners of The 1520 Group of Companies by The CrimeRussia and other newspapers, including Kommersant and Vedomosti, some Telegram channels have published refutations and accused us of prejudice. By the way, The CrimeRussia had never stated that investigative actions and searches were performed in offices of The 1520 Group of Companies. This company continues winning governmental contracts as if nothing had happened, which should be of utmost interest to the investigators.
The point is that the only person who managed to get off the hook in this situation (aside from Yakunin who was never summoned for questioning even as a witness) is Aleksei Krapivin. Oleg Belozerov has succeeded Yakunin as the President of Russian Railways – and The 1520 Group of Companies passed under the control of Igor Rotenberg, son of oligarch Arkady Rotenberg close to Belozerov. Apparently, the company has just changed the ownership and continued its operations using the time-tested scheme.
According to Rucriminal.info, the ‘laundromat’ was used not only by the primary contractor of Russian Railways – but also by Bashkortostan-based Peton company that has received hundreds of billions of rubles from Gazprom under governmental contracts. It had topped the ‘Kings of Governmental Orders’ rating in 2017 – a year before The 1520 Group of Companies; the total sum of its contracts at that time was 176 billion rubles ($2.7 billion).
Eduard Gasanov, Oleg Polyakov, Vladimir Zaitsev, and Igor Mnushkin are considered the official owners of Peton – but much more powerful figures stand behind them, including Ali Uzdenov, Vice President of Sistema Financial Corporation and years-long ‘gas king’ of the Rostov region. Interestingly, Dmitry Zakharchenko is also a native of this region. During his service in the MIA Main Directorate for Economic Security and Combating the Corruption, Zakharchenko established close ties with FSB officer Dmitry Senin; together, they had wielded major influence on Kirill Seleznev, then-Vice President of Gazprom. This enabled Uzdenov to amalgamate retail subsidiary companies of Gazprom operating in the region under his control.
Uzdenov started securing large-scale contracts for small Bashkortostan-based Peton Research Institute when Bashneft was a part of Sistema Financial Corporation. Then it was decided to make Peton the primary contractor of Gazprom. It cannot be ruled out that, after reviewing documentation seized in the course of the searches on August 14, the investigators would like to ask some inconvenient questions to Uzdenov and other beneficiaries of Peton.
As The CrimeRussia wrote earlier, Peton owes its successes inter alia to Andrei Kurnosenko, ex-Deputy Head of the MIA for the Republic of Bashkortostan; in 2014, he was transferred to Moscow and appointed a Deputy Head of the MIA Main Directorate for Economic Security and Combating the Corruption. Interestingly, Ali Uzdenov was familiar both with Zakharchenko and Kurnosenko – he has established ties with the former one in Rostov-on-Don and with the latter one – in Ufa.
Furthermore, Uzdenov has introduced them to each other. According to the insider information, Zakharchenko knew Razdorozhny personally (they had attended the same gym); therefore, the role of the former MIA colonel in the money laundering scheme may go far beyond the trivial ‘cover-up' – Zakharchenko could use his extensive connections for coordination of various members of the criminal community. This is why the investigators continue working closely with him.