How CentrObuv survived two crises but could not outlast raiders
Vladimir Palikhata entered CentrObuv in a classic raider genre – in a suit of generous investor, who was ready to put about 4 billion rubles into the company’s rehabilitation.
Soon Russian middle-income consumers may be left off a possibility to buy inexpensive, but fancy shoes. The sad story of the largest shoe holding CentrObuv is being actively discussed today. Recently society has learned that the bright stores with nice prices will soon disappear. Once prosperous company met with many suits from payables, its debts estimate at 35 billion rubles. One of its stockholders Sergey Lomakin may take the punishment. An informed source shared with the CrimeRussia exclusive specialities of what is going on inside the company. He also told why do the raiders and speculators need a «fire», where they can burn the evidences.
The history of the shoe empire creation started in the mid 90-s – two USA citizens Dmitry Svetlov and Anatoly Gurevich decided to create a shoe holding. In 2000-s they jointly founded and entirely controlled CentrObuv Company. They created a business model, based on which the company was conducting all its activities for many years. The successful company attracted attention of investors and in the same mid 2000-s the list of the holding’s stockholders was replenished by entrepreneurs Leonid Makaron and Vladimir Leviy. In 2008 it also included Sergey Lomakin and Artem Khachaturyan. At the same time, the controlling bloc of stock (more than 55%) was always in the hands of the empire founders.
Photo: list of the company’s stockholders. Later the bloc of stock held by Andrey Nesterov was bought back by the company
The business processes were organized so Trading House CentrObuv Joint Stock Company (JSC) was only trading operator, selling the products in Russia, Ukraine and Poland through a network of retail stores, while CentrO Limited Liability Company (LLC) conducted procurements. The LLC purchased items in China (80%) and from domestic producers (20%). Andrey Nesterov controlled the process in law and in fact.
After surviving the crisis of 2008 with dignity, CentrObuv began actively develop in the period from 2009 to 2013. Of course the holding, as many other companies, used bank financing. Less than in 5 years, starting from 2009, CentrObuv multiplied its outlets 4 times.
All connections with China were tied with the company’s founders. Moreover, Gurevich’s son also took part in the shoe business. He was a director of Hon Kong-based company Sinai Trading – a main intermediary (70% of supplies) between CentrO LLC and Chinese suppliers.
For 8 years stockholders were more than satisfied by the general manager Nesterov’s work – the company’s financial results grew every day. In 2010-2011 CentrObuv even started to prepare for IPO. Although an implementation of this decision was laid aside because the stockholders could not obtain consensus. In the same 2010-2011, stockholders allocated among each other dividends worth about $90 million.
In 2011 Andrey Nesterov was even rewarded as a talented manager by a block of stock of the company.
Back then, the business’ owners were happy to make such a successful investment. But they did not know, that Nesterov was a skillful accountant’s falsifier. Even British-based audit and consulting company Ernst & Young could not discover violations in Nesterov’s activities during its quarterly checks. The company was included in a «big four» of audit and consulting companies, but it could not found anything against Nesterov, let alone the stockholders, who in fact don’t need to thoroughly orientate in all details of business process.
After Nesterov’s demission the general manager’s post was in law held by Tokazh Marchin Rafal and then – Evgeny Peshkun, but in fact the company was controlled by all stockholders, who shared their responsibilities on – management, logistic, purchases and suppliers, finances, company’s development and so on.
It worse to mention, that after Nesterov left, the company started to rehabilitate oneself and showed, that it could successfully work without the credits, which were necessary for the former general manager.
In 2014 the company experienced on itself a shoe market’s drop and contraction of customer spending. Due to this, the company’s debts to suppliers and contracting parties began to accumulate. A new competitor occurred on the market – network Kari. It had enough finances (from the selling of part of the main stockholder in Eldorado network) to take the leading position.
Company stopped taking new credits. Experiencing financial problems it still continued to honor obligations under the loans they already had. Company’s lenders (Sberbank, MKB, VTB, Gasprombank, Raiffeizenbank) knew that the shoe holding experienced hard times. But the company’s reputation and stockholders activities played their role. Then, Sergey Lomakin managed to reach an agreement with the lenders for payments’ prolongation under personal pledge to repay. This saved the company in such a hard period.
According to the CrimeRussia’s source information, after Nesterov was dismissed form CentrObuv he got in with a scandalous Russian entrepreneur Vladimir Palikhata.
Till very 2015, CentrObuv existed experiencing small difficulties, but they could be solved in the regular course of business.
The crisis, which then led to a sad demise, appeared in 2015. To save the company, Dmitry Svetlov invited Andrey Nesterov. No one could imagine back then that his second appearance in CentrObuv would lead to the beginning of the end.
Nesterov clearly did not waste his time during his absence. According to the CrimeRussia’s source information, after Nesterov was dismissed form CentrObuv he got in with a scandalous Russian entrepreneur Vladimir Palikhata. It is not hard to guess what could a man with a totally criminal reputation, who was seen almost in all high-profile raider scandals, offer Nesterov.
Vladimir Palikhata entered CentrObuv in a classic raider genre – in a suit of generous investor, who was ready to put about 4 billion rubles into the company’s rehabilitation. But the true aims of the investor revealed later, when he took the company under his control. According to the CrimeRussia’s source, besides Andrey Nesterov, Palikhata managed to buy or sweet-talk the company’s founders Dmitry Svetlov and Anatoly Gurevich into destroying their own holding. It seems that Svetlov and Gurevish were motivated by the fear of the lenders who did not care how the company was going to pay their debts. For example, stockholders could pay them form their personal finances, but who want to loose their money, especial at such large amounts? The main speculator Andrey Nesterov, in his turn, went by desire to destroy evidences of his old sins (a lot of them) in a fire.
To organize an illegal seizure and withdraw the assets left in the dying company, Vladimir Palikhata demanded to allocate a new general manager Leonid Venzhik, his childhood friend. It means that the company is currently under control of the raider Palikhata’s placeman. Thus the game is played by the Vladimir Palikhata’s rules, he is the main puppeteer. Venzhik under his boss’ instructions is actively withdrawing all «alive» leftovers from the operating accounts to the structures of his chief. There is also one small but significant detail – Palikhata’s protégé already had a criminal conviction over hazing (art. 206 para. 2, art 244 subpara. b, art. 244 subpara v of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). This fact logically completes his look.
Starting from October 2015 Palikhata started to withdraw cash assets of the company and transfer all finances from the operating accounts to BINBANK, the bank on which he had influence. Then, he used CentrObuv’s money to pay personal expenses and award «obedient» managers, who were covering the many millions embezzlements.
After Venzhik’s allocation, Palikhata tried to liquidate CentrObuv on a voluntary basis twice, aiming to embezzle the company’s property and escape meeting the lenders’ requirements, - the CrimeRussia’s source told. However, his plans were intervened by the Moscow Tax Inspection, which saw an embezzlement attempt in the company’s direction’s activities. Starting from October 2015 Palikhata started to withdraw cash assets of the company and transfer all finances from the operating accounts to BINBANK, the bank on which he had influence. Then, he used CentrObuv’s money to pay personal expenses and award «obedient» managers, who were covering the many millions embezzlements.According to the source, one of the companies on which CentrObuv’s assets are being sent is Fashionshoes LLC. Earlier the information source conducted a test purchase, according to which all CentrObuv’s outlets were simply re-executed on Fashionshoes LLC. Moreover, the source handed the CrimeRussia a rental contract, which testifies that the illegal seizure was carefully thought-through and prepared. It occurred that in the documents dated October 2015, raiders’ company is written as a subtenant of the establishments rented by CentrObuv, but already in April it became a direct lessee.
At the same time, experienced Palikhata tried to press on the former stockholders and using his connections in the central bodies and Federal Security Service demanded to close bank credits of the company and hand him CentrObuv’s assets officially, without waiting for final settlements. Under the control of Venzhik CentrObuv took many millions credits from Sberbank of Russia, Moscow Credit Bank, VTB, Gasprombank. The total sum of the debts estimated at about 35 billion rubles. This huge sum allegedly went for items’ purchasing and other needs - while in fact it all went into Palikhata’s structures. It is interesting, that now activities of Fashionshoes are regulated from the head office of CentrObuv, which is situated at the address: Moscow, Second Khutorskaya street, 29. It demonstrated that the top-management of the company knows about Palikhata’s speculations.
It is worse mentioning that the process of the company’s liquidation is conducted with throwing mud at one of the stockholders Sergey Lomakin. Why was Lomakin chosen as a whipping boy and a person, shill articles about whom will destroy the company’s reputation? Only raiders headed by Palikhata know the answer. However the CrimeRussia’s source believes that he was chosen on purpose. Lomakin was the one who spent all summer 2015 in negotiations with the bank-lenders about restructuring their debts. However the banks did not agree with the company’s offers. Lomakin was the one who tried to save CentrObuv till the very end, considering possibility of paying additional money from his own pocket, being afraid that someone may think of him as of a bad entrepreneur. And exactly Lomakin became the main villain, after the society learned about the shoe empire’s fall.
Today’s affairs in CentrObuv show that Palikhata’s plan was successfully implemented with the help of attracted stockholders and top-management’s members. A number of self-employed entrepreneurs and legal bodies hand in bankruptcy petition for Trading House CentrObuv JSC. The court introduced a monitoring procedure against CentrO and Trading House CentrObuv. A large network with more than thousands of stores ended up with only 200 outlets. The investigation is currently checking the version of illegal money withdrawing with the help of artificial transactions.