Sasha Gollandets’s blazed trail 

Sasha Gollandets’s blazed trail
Sasha Gollandets slipped away from Russia again Photo: The CrimeRussia

In late January, an attempt to return fugitive Russian citizen Aleksander Panesh to the motherland has ended in a fiasco. This person, known in criminal and commercial circles as Sasha Gollandets (Sasha the Dutch), has been charged in Russia with swindling and bribe-giving: a few years ago, Panesh had promised to purchase a real property abroad for his acquaintance, received €5 million for that purpose, but failed to fulfil his promise. To avoid returning the money, he gave a bribe to operatives of the Moscow Criminal Investigation Department to frame-up a criminal case against his creditor and fled abroad.

Sasha Gollandets (Sasha the Dutch) has been put on the international wanted list in early 2016. Since then, he has been hiding in Europe. On November 21, 2017, Panesh was arrested in the airport of the Danish capital while returning from Lithuania to France and detained by the Copenhagen Court pursuant to the international warrant. Since then, the Russian authorities had been negotiating with Denmark his extradition – but ultimately, the request was denied. It turned out that Panesh had earlier applied for political asylum in France. According to the Danish legislation, it is impossible to extradite a person seeking asylum until a decision on his application is made. As a result, instead of a pretrial detention facility in Russia, Sasha Gollandets has relocated to France where he owns a villa. The extradition negotiations have been postponed pending a decision of the French Government whether to grant asylum to a person charged with a number of crimes or not. If Panesh manages to prove that he is a victim of political repressions in Russia, while the accusations against him are politically charged, his chances to be extradited would be neglectable. If a country provides asylum to a foreign citizen, it undertakes a responsibility not to extradite him and protect against any persecution from abroad.

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Fugitive Aleksander Panesh (Sasha Gollandets)

Panesh justifies his reluctance to return to Russia by political factors – allegedly, he was in fear of political repressions since 2015 because of his ties with Alexey Navalny: Sasha Gollandets claims that he used to be a lawyer for the oppositionist. However, people from the close circle of Navalny claim that they had never heard of a person with such name.

A former officer of the Federal Customs Service, Aleksander Panesh is known in Russia as a smuggler, fixer having ties in power structures, person able to siphon off funds from the country, and scammer – but not an oppositionist at all.

Up until recently, Panesh had managed to get off the hook every time and avoid deeds punishable by severe prison terms. He has got the reputation of a ‘rip-off artist’ in commercial circles 15 years ago. According to well-aware sources, Panesh had started from point zero at least thrice and every time earned millions on criminal schemes. He was completely broke three times as well – after interventions of law enforcement structures into his ‘business’. And like fabulous Phoenix, he had risen from the ashes. A graduate of a law school, Sasha Gollandets had started his career as a customs officer – this allowed him to learn everything about smuggling. At that time, he has established a channel to traffic flowers from the Netherlands. But the scheme was busted (according to Panesh, a truck driver transporting the contraband had framed-up him) and the smuggler spent two years in a Dutch prison. He has emerged from jail fluent in Dutch and nicknamed Sasha Gollandets (Sasha the Dutch).

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Being a customs officer, Panesh became proficient in smuggling

Then Panesh became a member of the Board of Directors in Moscow-based Marketingbank. In 2005, he was appointed, with the support of his banking ‘patrons’, the Head of the Borovsky District of the Kaluga region. This appointment was made for a reason. According to sources in the local authorities, Moscow business partners of Panesh had economic interests in the Borovsky district. Sergei Lobarev, the owner of Marketingbank, and Oleg Skripachev, member of its Board of Directors, have purchased large parcels of agricultural lands there, re-zoned these lands, and incorporated into Komlevo and Nikolaevka villages – although the lands were not adjacent to these settlements. 

These manipulations have raised the cost of the former agricultural lands by several times and made it possible to build there cottage communities for sale. The bankers had purchased the lands for 4–8 thousand rubles ($139–278 at the exchange rate of 2005) per ha and sold those for up to $80 thousand per ha. Of course, such land speculations depriving the district budget of huge amounts of money could cause public outrage. Therefore, the bankers have assigned, in coordination with the Governor, their henchman to rule the district and crack down on any social unrest. But Panesh was in charge of a district in the Kaluga region not for long. According to some information, if everything were going in accordance with the initial plan, this position could become a starting point for the governmental career of the former customs officer. The Marketingbank management had reportedly intended to lobby his appointment a deputy minister in a federal agency.    

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Interview of Aleksander Panesh, Head of the Borovsky District of the Kaluga Region

In late 2005, Anatoly Artamonov, Governor of the Kaluga region, has included 31-year-old Aleksander Panesh into an official delegation making a visit to Serbia. On the second day of their visit, it became known that the Prosecutor General’s Office and the General Administration for the Central Federal District of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation have performed searches in Marketingbank and the office of Panesh in the Borovsky District Administration. A criminal case was instituted against Sasha Gollandets under Article 285 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (abuse of official powers) – and Panesh decided not to return back. Later he has notified Governor Artamonov about his resignation by fax sent from Royal Mougins Golf Club closed community where he has a villa. After that, the regional head had to make a statement that the Regional Directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation hasn’t thoroughly checked the candidacy of Aleksander Panesh prior to his appointment (apparently, referring to his criminal record in the Netherlands). The Governor has emphasized, however: “I have no claims against him as a municipal official”.

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Anatoly Artamonov, Governor of the Kaluga region

Why was Sasha Gollandets put on the wanted list for the first time? In December 2005, the MIA General Administration for the Central Federal District has instituted a criminal case over smuggling of household and office appliances into Russia. The smuggling scheme worked as follows: Mezhotraslevoy Promyshlenny Bank (Intersectoral Industrial Bank) was providing credits to the smugglers to purchase goods. Members of the criminal syndicate were buying consignments of appliances, clothes, and cigarettes in the Netherlands, Belgium, and U.K. Then the goods were transported to Russia by cars via Belarus and Lithuania. Local customs officers had allowed the trucks to cross the border either without any registration or based on false documents. Upon arrival to Russia, both the license plates and accompanying documents were replaced: allegedly, the goods had been purchased in Russia by a dummy company and, thus, were exempt from customs duties. Then the smuggled-turned-legal goods were delivered to Izumrudny Gorod (Emerald City) wholesale company affiliated with Marketingbank with a deferment of payment. The dummy company was cashing the received money in above-mentioned Marketingbank and then self-liquidating. In the framework of that investigation, a criminal case was instituted in Belarus against customs officers assisting the smugglers and allowing their trucks with goods to cross the border. In total, some 50 people were charged in that case. 

During the first search in Marketingbank, the operatives have seized some one billion rubles ($34.7 million at the exchange rate of 2005) laundered through the above scheme. In January 2006, both ‘high patrons’ of Aleksander Panesh – Sergei Lobarev, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Mezhotraslevoy Promyshlenny Bank, and Oleg Skripachev, member of the Board of Directors of Marketingbank – have been arrested after the second seizure of documents. The bankers have been charged under Article 188 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Contraband). Although the detained financiers had denied the allegations, the Prosecutor General’s Office had enough reasons to suppose that they were not only aware of the smuggling schemes but also directly involved into those. In total, the criminal syndicate had existed for at least six years. The investigators have concluded that Aleksander Panesh had personally created the contraband trafficking scheme from the Netherlands and back while being a customs officer. Furthermore, he was included into the Board of Directors of Marketingbank after serving a term in a Dutch prison because of his personal involvement into the creation of smuggling flows. During the investigation, Sasha Gollandets was hiding in Europe. In a few years, he managed to ‘solve’ the problem remotely – the charges against him were dropped – and then returned to Russia. In 2010, Panesh has established a law firm and enhanced his reputation of a person able to solve any issue in circles of power and banking industry – both in Russia and abroad. 

Another high-profile scandal involving Sasha Gollandets and resulting in his another exodus from the motherland occurred in 2012. At that time, famous Russian judoist Dmitry Khodanovich, currently the General Director of Favorit (Favorite) Limited Liability Company, decided to open an account in a European bank in order to pay for the international education of his children. His acquaintance Aleksander Kabanov, co-owner of Kedr (Cedar) and Pushkino banks, has introduced Panesh to the athlete referring him as a “solid businessman having connections in European banking circles”. Being unaware of the past adventures of Sasha Gollandets, Khodanovich has taken these recommendations on faith.

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Judoist and businessman Dmitry Khodanovich

Panesh promised to assist Khodanovich in opening an account in Crédit Agricole but asked €20 thousand in cash – allegedly, the money were intended for the bank security service to deal with formalities as soon as possible. Khodanovich gave him the requested amount. Shortly after that, Panesh invited his new friend to France – to his home located in Royal Mougins Golf Club closed community not far from Cannes. Khodanovich was so excited with the location that decided to buy a villa there. Aleksander Panesh quickly found a seller and provided the price – €3.2 million. The problem was: how to transfer such an amount to Europe with its strict financial regulations? Sasha Gollandets suggested a brilliant scheme to Khodanovich: Panesh sells his villa worth €6 million and located in the same community to judoist Khodanovich, they settle the accounts in Russia, produce the required documents, and then Khodanovich sells his villa to someone in France, officially receives the money for it, purchases the desired home, and deposits the rest of the funds on his account in Crédit Agricole. Thus, the money would be officially cashed out in France. The scheme seemed pretty lucrative – although Panesh has warned from the very beginning that the villa officially belonged to his Luxembourg-based Albagama company and the deal would involve the acquisition of that company by Khodanovich. Panesh asked Khodanovich to pay him in cash and, in exchange, reduced the price by €500 thousand. In 2013, Khodanovich has paid €5 million to Panesh in several installments €300–600 thousand each. 

In 2014, Khodanovich has signed some obscure documents he could not understand – but did not receive the ownership certificate for the villa. Instead, Panesh raised its price to €6.5 million. After that, Dmitry Khodanovich started demanding his money from Aleksander Kabanov who had introduced the scammer to him. Kabanov said that he would deal with Panesh and that Khodanovich should forget about the villa in France – but instead of it, he may receive Matsestinskaya Dolina (Matsesta Valley) Health Resort located not far from Sochi and worth some €5–6 million. Because the judoist has paid that amount to Panesh, he may take the health resort instead of the French villa. In exchange, Kabanov asked Khodanovich to write off his personal debt in the amount of €350 thousand and return his promissory note. The businessman, who has learned the painful lesson, started checking the details and found out that he was about to be cheated again: Matsestinskaya Dolina was in the middle of a fierce litigation; its former owners claimed that the new owners had seized it through a raiding takeover. However, Kabanov said that the health resort would cost much more without legal issues with its former owners. Khodanovich understood that he was blatantly defrauded of €5 million and received in exchange a piece of paper confirming that he owns some HDA company. The millionaire has addressed his colleague – martial artist Mikhail Lednev (Misha Ledenets (Misha the Lollypop)). In the 1990s, this person was well-known to law enforcement operatives as an ‘authority’ from Solntsevskaya organized criminal group. Sasha Gollandets has quickly invented how to use the ties between Khodanovich and Lednev for his own benefit and take the lead. 

As a result, when Dmitry Khodanovich was finally about to address the police for help, it turned out that he was a suspect in a criminal case pertaining to a theft of Urwerk-103 watch worth 5 million rubles ($87.5 thousand) from banker Kabanov. Shortly before the theft, Kabanov had complained to everybody, including the police, that some unknown persons were threatening him. Then these ‘unknown persons’ have attacked him, beaten, and seized the watch. Later the Urwerk-103 was found in the apartment of Khodanovich. However, the attempt to frame-up Khodanovich failed – some unexpected circumstances have interfered into the scenario carefully choreographed by Sasha Gollandets.

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Police officers pulled off the fraud with Urwerk-103 watch

To implement this scenario, Aleksander Panesh had addressed his old friend Sergei Abrosenko, an officer of the MIA General Administration of Criminal Investigation specializing in inquests against criminal leaders. Mikhail Lednev was perfectly falling under that category. Abrosenko requested €1 million in cash from Panesh and Kabanov plus $80 thousand “for operative expenses”. He and his colleagues Stanislav Maksimov and Dmitry Alferov have carried out a search in the apartment of Dmitry Khodanovich and found the Urwerk-103 watch. The operatives were not aware, however, that the apartment was equipped with security cameras that have recorded one of the officers planting the watch. The policemen have been charged with Exceeding Official Powers and Falsification of Evidence (Articles 286 and 303 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). All of them, as well as Aleksander Kabanov, have already been sentenced to 3–9 years behind bars. But Aleksander Panesh, the mastermind behind this frame-up, managed to abscond abroad. The Main Investigations Directorate in the City of Moscow of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) has recently instituted against Sasha Gollandets and Aleksander Kabanov, former co-owner of Kedr and Pushkino banks, another criminal case under part 4 of Article 159 (Swindling on an especially large scale) and Article 291 (Bribe-Giving) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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Sergei Abrosenko, officer of the MIA General Administration of Criminal Investigation, in court   

By the way, the defense of the former customs officer believes that the charges laid against him are groundless. According to Panesh’s attorneys, the story with €5 million had a completely different background and had nothing to do with real estate acquisitions. Allegedly, Dmitry Khodanovich specializing in sales of used cars wanted to siphon off this sum abroad and gave the money to intermediary Maksim Likhanov – who was arrested (and already convicted), while the funds were seized. Lawyers working for Panesh claim to have documentary evidence of that. Only the trial of Alexander Panesh may answer the question whether this version is true or not. But the very possibility of this trial totally depends on the decision of the French authorities who may either grant political asylum to Sasha Gollandets or deny it.

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