It has become known to The Bell that the former owner of Mezhprombank, Sergei Pugachev, wrote a letter to Vladimir Putin as early as in December 2014, to inform the President of blackmail attempts and threats received from ex-deputy head of the Deposit Insurance Agency Valery Miroshnikov, and from the latter’s subordinates. In the course of the past week Miroshnikov resigned from his post and left Russia, following the arrest of FSB colonel Kirill Cherkalin; Cherkalin was arrested in April with 12 billion rubles in cash in his possession.
Letter to Putin. Pugachev’s letter to Putin (made available to The Bell) is part of the materials of the case examined by the International Arbitrage Court at The Hague, in which Sergei Pugachev is the claimant. Indeed, in September 2015 Pugachev filed a 12 billion rubles claim before The Hague Court against the Russian Federation. The first hearing took place on 13 February 2017. The ex-banker accuses the Russian authorities, inter alia, of having forced him to enter unprofitable deals and expropriated his assets.
- In his letter Sergei Pugachev mentioned the now former deputy head of DIA (Deposit Insurance Agency) Valery Miroshnikov as the “main agent” of the campaign launched against Pugachev after his former bank Mezhprombank lost its banking licence in 2010 and was put under DIA’s management.
Quote: “I have authentic information on violations committed by him [Miroshnikov — editor’s note], Pugachev wrote. The most blatant abuse was the extortion of 350 million dollars from me, attempted by an organised group of DIA’s staff members and their accomplices, under threats of physical harm and criminal pursuits against myself and my children, which they proposed to initiate thanks to their corrupt contacts within the Investigation Committee.”
- In his letter Pugachev cited “crimes previously committed for personal profit” by Miroshnikov as the motive for the latter’s actions.
- In his interview with The Bell Pugachev confirmed having written the said letter, which was then handed over to Putin at the end of 2014 through an intermediary appointed by the President. According to the former banker the letter was delivered to Putin personally.
- The Kremlin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov did not wish to comment in response to The Bell’s enquiry.
“350 million is not such a high price to pay for your life”. Who threatened Pugachev, and how.
Threats to Pugachev are described in a different claim (also available to The Bell), lodged with the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris. In that claim Pugachev set forth facts including “kidnapping, death threats, extorsion and fraud”. The former banker named several people as responsible for these crimes, among whom Miroshnikov, along with former DIA employee Alexandr Dunaev and one Mikhail Bashmakov, who allegedly was connected with DIA too.
- This document provides an account of Pugachev’s first encounter with Bashmakov and Dunaev onboard a yacht off the coast of France. The meeting took place on 3 June 2011, that is after Mezhprombank’s licence had been withdrawn and Pugachev had to flee from Russia.
- According to Pugachev, in the course of that meeting the people from DIA threatened him, saying that “350 billion is not such high price to pay for your life and the life of your loved ones”.
- “This was by no means a civilised conversation, but real threats, Pugachev said to The Bell. They promised to send my son’s finger to me to that very yacht. They called Miroshnikov on the phone in my presence, calling him by his small name, Valera, which showed that they were closely connected.” Pugachev also reported that in the course of the conversation Bashmakov and Dunaev repeatedly mentioned having close ties with the FSB.
- “You probably imagine that you are out of reach, just because your children live abroad, in Monaco, London and Paris”, Pugachev quoted one of the men who came onboard the yacht.
- In the same claim it is stated that Pugachev was threatened with assassination, if he refused to pay 350 million dollars to Miroshnikov and Roman Trotsenko (the then chairman of the State United Shipbuilding Company (Obedinennaia Sudostroitelnaia Kompaniia), which was in the process of acquiring from the Central Bank of Russia shipyards that had belonged to Mezprombank). At the moment when this article is going to press, Trotsenko still has not answered phone calls and text messages from The Bell’s corresponden
- This is how Pugachev himself explained the above-mentioned request in his interview with The Bell: he said that he had previously concluded an agreement with the Central Bank and the government on the selling of his shipyards. Various options were considered: for instance, it was suggested that he could buy a small bank, which would then receive a loan from the CB for an amount corresponding to the value of his shares; the small bank would default on the loan and the deal would be successfully completed. But eventually the plan changed: it was decided that the loan would be issued to Mezhprombank instead, and that Pugachev would act as guarantor, pledging his shipbuilding assets as collateral for the loan. The shipbuilding assets were valued diversely, with the final agreed valuation being 3,5 billion dollars.
- Almost immediately after the deal was concluded, Mezhprombank lost its banking licence. A number of legal proceedings were initiated, further to which the assets pledged were assessed against Pugachev. According to Pugachev, the 350 million dollars mentioned earlier were supposed to be a compensation to Miroshnikov for DIA’s accepting to challenge the above deal. Pugachev refused to pay, claiming that “they had to challenge that deal in any case, it is their job”. He said that if the deal had been challenged and reviewed, some of the shares would have remained with the Central Bank as payment for Mezhprombank’s liabilities, but the remaining part would have been added to the bankruptcy estate and he would have at least party “recovered it as guarantor”. “To my ears their proposal sounded like: you have a flat with furniture for a hundred thousand dollars; you give us 10 percent of the furniture’s value and then we won’t set you flat on fire”, said Pugachev. “In other words, they were not offering a deal, they did not guarantee anything, they just wanted the money.”
- In the interview with The Bell Pugachev said that he found out who Miroshnikov actually was only a year before the meeting on the yacht; their paths had never crossed before that. After Mezhprombank’s licence had been revoked, people from DIA began to get in touch with him, offering to organise a meeting with Miroshnikov.
- Pugachev said that he never responded to any of these “cooperation proposals”.
In 2012 Bashmakov and Dunaev faced indictment in a major legal case that involved the selling of historical houses in the centre of Moscow. The overall amount of misappropriation was estimated at 10 billion rubles. Bashmakov, then employed by DIA, and Dunaev, Director General of the management company Proekt, allegedly misappropriated over 120 buildings and pieces of real estate, 28 of which were of historical importance. Initially all the indicted individuals were arrested, while a search warrant was issued against some, including Dunaev. Two years later, however, in 2014, the court returned the case to the Procurature, and the indicted persons were released. As to Alexandr Dunaev, he was nevertheless arrested in 2014 in Israel, further to an international arrest warrant.
Yet another emissary from Miroshnikov: a conversation in Paris
Yet another man figures in the materials of the cases examined by the High Court of London and the Paris Court: a businessman named Gore Khechoyan, whom Pugachev calls an “emissary from Miroshnikov”. According to the former banker, it was the ex-deputy mayor of Moscow and a member of the Russian State Duma at the time, Vladimir Resin, who suggested in a telephone conversation that Pugachev should meet Khechoyan. It was Khechoyan who organised the memorable meeting on the yacht in France; in May 2011 he flew to France and promised Pugachev that he would organise a meeting with Miroshnikov. But on the arranged date it was Dunaev and Bashmakov, as well as Khechoyan himself, who showed up in place of Miroshnikov.
Pugachev and Khechoyan met again in January 2012, this time in the Paris hotel George V, a fifteen minutes’ walk away from the Arch of Triumph. Khechoyan, on behalf of DIA, took up the subject of the 350 million again. The transcript of that conversation is part of the materials of the case opened against Miroshnikov in France. Below is an excerpt for that transcript:
— Sergei Pugachev (SP): Look, I have a first question. <…> This Misha here, who is he?
— Gore Khechoyan (GKh): Bashmakov; his nickname is “Bashmak”, actually.
— SP: And who is he exactly? He works there [DIA], too?
— GKh: Yes, he is an official. <…> The second one present is Sasha Dunaev. Dunaev is their shell company, so to speak, used to divert assets. <…> It’s a regular practice <…> they kind of screen the banks in advance, for what I can understand, and then they may pick one or the other for embezzlement.
— SP: Yes, I see, something of a business they’ve set up.
— GKh: So we have the protagonists: this is Marina [Zinovina, the then deputy head of DIA] and Valera [Miroshnikov], right?
SP: And these guys [Dunaev and Bashmakov] are they under Valera, or aren’t they?
GKh: Yes, they are Valera’s, that’s right.
“The people can quickly become ‘identified’”. Enter FSB colonel Cherkalin.
Presently Khechoyan, who was recently declared bankrupt, is at the head of the Dynamo basketball club (traditionally linked with the FSB). Dynamo’s board of trustees includes Nikolai Patrushev (former FSB head – translator’s note). But Pugachev believes that Miroshnikov’s connection with the FSB is not limited to the above. As early as in 2012, after the meeting that took place on the yacht, Pugachev’s representatives in Moscow were contacted by members of the “K” section of the FSB. According to Pugachev, Kirill Cherkalin and Dmitry Frolov were among those (both Cherkalin and Frolov were arrested in April in a case involving large-scale fraud and corruption). As soon as Cherkalin was arrested, Miroshnikov left Russia.
Quote: “At that time criminal proceedings were initiated against an unidentified group of persons for misappropriation of Mezhprombank’s funds, and I was made to understand clearly that the ‘unidentified’ persons could very quickly be identified and that I could become one of them”, said Pugachev.
- Pugachev’s representative, Pugachev said, was shown a “draft criminal case, in which only the date and the signature were missing”. The people from FSB wanted 20 million dollars for that draft not to be set going.
- Pugachev said that he refused to pay, as a result of which he did indeed become one of the persons indicted in the criminal case on Mezhprombank’s bankruptcy. In his conversations with Pugachev’s representatives Cherkalin actually mentioned Miroshnikov, referring to him as “Valera and I”, and making it clear that they knew each other well, but were also able to act independently if need be.
- In the interview with The Bell Pugachev added that such ‘offers’ on Cherkalin’s part continued to reach him until very recently.
“Pugachev’s testimony contains not a gramme of truth”. What Miroshnikov said in court.
Miroshnikov was called to testify before the London court (testimony available to The Bell). He notably said that “Pugachev’s testimony contains not a gramme of truth”. According to him, he did indeed meet Khechoyan to discuss “the potential acquisition and utilisation of the assets added to the bank’s bankruptcy estate under DIA’s management”. These meetings, however, bore no relation to Pugachev, Miroshnikov stated. He also said that he was acquainted with Bashmakov and Dunaev, but claimed that DIA had never sent Bashmakov on assignment abroad (where the meeting on the yacht took place); as to Dunaev, Miroshnikov said that he had not been in touch with him for “over two years”. Testifying in court in October 2014 Miroshnikov thus claimed to have known nothing about Bashmakov’s and Dunaev’s talks with Pugachev.
After 11 July, when Miroshnikov resigned and left the territory of Russia, he remained unreachable by phone. According to Kommersant magazine he is concerned by the criminal case opened against FSB colonel Kirill Cherkalin, who was arrested in April with 12 billion rubles in his possession and is accused of large-scale fraud.
Mezhprombank’s bankruptcy and accusations made against Pugachev
- Mezhprombank’s licence was withdrawn in 2010 and Pugachev fled from Russia.
- According to the investigation, 32 billion rubles of loans issued by the Central Bank were stolen from Mezhprombank using a string of offshore companies (Pugachev, however, claims that he merely transferred his own funds from the correspondant account at VTB Bank, and for a slightly different amount).
- Further to a claim filed by DIA, the Moscow Commercial Court ruled that Pugachev and the bank’s former top managers be brought to subsidiary liability for Mezhprombank’s debts, in the amount of 76 billion rubles.
- The investigation Committee accused Pugachev of large-scale misappropriation and abuse of authority. A search warrant was issued against him and an arrest was ruled in absentia.
- Further to a claim filed by DIA before the High Court of London, the latter issued in 2014 a freezing order for 2 billion dollars against Pugachev’s worldwide assets. Some of the assets have already been sold. Thus in 2018 the court ordered the seizure of Pugachev’s London house, which is valued at circa 9 million pounds sterling. DIA affirms that the product of the sale was added to the bankruptcy estate.
- The English court also forbade Pugachev to leave the territory of England and Wales, but Pugachev was able to leave England for France. He explained that staying in Great Britain put his very life in danger. The English court also condemned Pugachev in absentia to two years of emprisonnent for contempt of court.
The “French” case against Miroshnikov and other DIA representatives is currently being examined by the juge d’instruction (equivalent to an investigator in the Russian judicial system), says Pugachev. According to him, in September 2019 the judicial commission shall decide whether the case is to be sent for trial before the court. If so, Miroshnikov might be qualified as suspect in that case, Pugachev says.
- At the end of his letter addressed to Putin, Pugachev wrote that, given their long-term acquaintance, his appeal is the “only means to have a fair investigation conducted in Russia”. But the letter did not make any difference in actual fact, Pugachev said to The Bell during the interview. He did not receive any reply. The next hearing at which The Hague Court will examine Pugachev’s claim against the Russian Federation is scheduled for November 2019.
Anastasia Stogney, with Valerya Pozychaniuk