THE FEDERAL RESERVE(S) An enquiry into how the FSB is ‘sheltering’ banks

 

PROEKT — ‘Corruption fights’ cycle

THE FEDERAL RESERVE(S)

An enquiry into how the FSB is ‘sheltering’ banks

By Anastasia Stogney and Roman Badanin, with Irina Malkova.

31 July 2019

Compiled jointly with The Bell

 

1 – How retired FSB officers become bankers

 

2 – How the FSB works along with ‘cashiers’

 

3 – ‘Bank-grabbing’ by official authorities

 

4 – Internal wars between special services

FSB officer Kirill Cherkalin and his former colleagues, who were recently arrested with 12 billion rubles in cash in their possession, were but a small part of a much larger ‘shelteringscheme targeting the Russian financial sector [known in Russian as kryshevanie: a form of criminal racket — translator’s note]. According to bankers who fell victim to the above, the scheme involved top managers of the DIA (Deposit Insurance Agency), legal specialists linked to the special services and dubious ‘cashiers’ [‘obnalshchiki’: entities offering to divert companies’ assets and cash them out illegally — translator’s note], who operated on an equal footing with high-ranking FSB officers.

 ‘We had an appointment at Café Vogue in Moscow. Cherkalin (Kirill Cherkalin, colonel of the FSB — editor’s note) arrived in a chauffeur-driven Range Rover. He wore plain clothes and had a Rolex on his wrist. I remember him paying the bill in full, which is rather unusual for those guys’, recalls Alexander Zhelezniak, former co-owner of the financial group Life. Zhelezniak, along with Life’s other shareholders, has been living abroad for four years now — ever since their banks’ licences have been withdrawn and criminal pursuits have been initiated against the banks’ shareholders and top managers.

The meeting with Cherkalin took place in the summer of 2014. Over lunch, the FSB officer proposed simple collaboration arrangements: Probiznesbank, one of the pillars of the Life Group, would appoint a retired FSB officer as vice-president, who would be paid an annual salary of $120,000 and would enjoy an office, a personal assistant and a company car with driver [information contained in Zhelezniak’s affidavit, which Proekt/The Bell were able to consult]. This was a precondition for a broader agreement to transfer a significant stake in the Life Group to a commercial entity, which would be sharing dividends with senior officials at the FSB and the Procurature.

In 2019, Zhelezniak, who was then in the United States, signed an affidavit to be produced before international courts, in which he described in detail the events around the Life Group [the former shareholders of Life have filed several lawsuits in Europe and the United States against Russian creditors. The editors were able to consult Zhelezniak’s affidavit and the statements of several other managers of the Life Group]. His affidavit as well as the accounts of other bankers have shed some light on how the FSB and other official authorities are ‘sheltering’ banks in Russia.

 

Excerpt from Alexander Zhelezniak’s affidavit

Mr. Cherkalin, a long-time civil servant, arrived at the meeting in a luxury car with driver, sporting a Rolex watch on his wrist. He confirmed that my letter to the FSB had been countersigned, and said that he was taking the case under his personal control. We then briefly discussed some logistical aspects. PRBB was to pay an annual salary of US$120,000 to the Vice-President of the Bank appointed by the FSB, who would also have a personal office, a company car with driver and a personal assistant.

 

Rickety-rackety-racket

‘Very bright, very intelligent, knowing the trade to a tee… I would have hired him without hesitation, were it not for all that happened…’ This is how one of the major Russian bankers describes Cherkalin. ‘But all these boys are profit-minded, their generation is like that’, he adds.

When the 38-year-old colonel was arrested in April of this year for corruption and fraud, he had already had made a fine career with the Economic Security Service of the FSB (SEB). When his meeting with Zhelezniak took place, he was already Head of Section ‘K’, which practically had all of the financial sector under its supervision: banks, pension funds, insurance companies.

During the search conducted at the colonel’s home, the police found 12 billion rubles (189.6 million dollars) in cash and valuables [according to another version, the 12 billion rubles were found at the homes of the three suspects]. This is an absolute record for property confiscated from a Russian official accused of corruption.

‘You know the famous principle, don’t you? When you are up against something that you cannot fight, then your best bet is to lead it’, explains an interviewee, who has personally known Cherkalin and many of his colleagues, speaking of the time when the FSB was seeking to establish its dominion over the banking market. This was in the early 2000s, when the ‘cashing-out’ market in Russia was booming.

 

Section ‘K’ had two modes of informal interaction with banks, according to a source close to the FSB: levying a commission of c. 0.1-0.2% on cashed out funds; collecting fixed bribes and pay offs for specific offences. ‘Cashiers’, i.e. banks that helped to cash out funds illegally, were required to set up a ‘subscription’ with section ‘K’, says a former co-owner of a major bank, whose licence has been withdrawn.

In order to receive its percentage in due course, the FSB would ‘out-post’ its man to the ‘shelter’: usually a retired FSB officer, who was most often appointed head of the bank’s economic security department. The ‘seconded’ officer was thus able to control all the financial flows, while ‘keeping it in the family’. He was furthermore usually responsible for collecting up-to-date information on the market [according to the same contact person].

The system was not closed: it would have been impossible to control the entire banking sector on one’s own. To control the ‘cashing-out’ market it was necessary to find cash, explains a source close to the FSB. To do this, Section ‘K’ had to collaborate with the regional sections of the FSB. In the regions, particularly in southern Russia, where the ‘grey’ market is quite large, it has always been cheaper and easier to obtain cash, according to the same source. ‘Let’s say a Moscow bank has a network of remote regional subsidiaries; the latter are responsible for accumulating cash and transferring it to the head office. The head office has access to bigger customers, to whom it sells that cash; part of the profit is then shared with the regional subsidiaries, since they have few customers of this calibre in the regions’, says our interviewee.

The transport of cash within Moscow was carried out thanks to the FSB’s special sections ‘Alpha’ and ‘Vympel’, whose members took on their working hours to give a hand. ‘They would take sick leave, and the transport vehicle was allegedly sent for technical revision’ [as indicated by a source close to the FSB, describing the logistics of the scheme]. Of course, it was also necessary to find an agreement with the FSB’s Internal Oversight Service, which was well aware of the business their colleagues were running.

 

What could it have to do with Navalny?

In May 2019 members of civil society came to visit colonel Cherkalin in his cell in Lefortovo prison, where he was held in pre-trial detention. The colonel, who greeted the visitors dressed in a Givenchy tracksuit, had meanwhile transformed his prison cell into a ‘monastic cell’, having covered every wall with icons [according to Kommersant magazine].

The FSB’s Economic Security Service (SEB)

SEB is one of the most influential services within the FSB. It is behind almost all the high-profile cases of recent years, from the arrest of Aleksei Uliukaev and of the Magomedov brothers to the ‘Argentine cocaine’ case. And the position of Head of SEB has been an outstanding career springboard for many.

 

Successive directors of the SEB

 

1998 Alexander Grigoriev

Member of the KGB section for the city of Leningrad since 1975. He served there alongside Vladimir Putin, with whom he was good friends, according to the media. Died in 2008.

 

1998 Nikolai Patrushev

Head of the Ministry of Security of Karelia (where Zaostrovtsev used to work). Head of the FSB from 1999 to 2008. Currently Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation.

 

1999 Viktor Ivanov

Member of the KGB section for the city of Leningrad since the 1970s. In the mid-1990s, Head of the Directorate of Administrative Bodies at Saint-Petersburg’s Mayor’s Office (Putin was then deputy to the Mayor of Saint-Petersburg, A. Sobchak). Headed the FSKN (Anti-Narcotics Service) until 2016.

 

2000 Yury Zaostrovtsev

Graduate of the KGB School of Leningrad. Worked at the Ministry of Security of Karelia in the early 1990s (which was headed at that time by Patrushev). Acquainted with Putin (cf. Kommersant), who at the time when Zaostrovtsev worked in Karelia was head of the external relations committee at the Saint-Petersburg’s Mayor’s Office.

 

2004 Alexander Bortnikov

Director in office of the FSB since 2008.

 

2008 Yury Yakovlev

Left SEB almost at the same time as Voronin (RBK). Currently Vice-President of Rosatom in charge of security.

 

2016 Sergei Korolev

Acting Director of SEB. Lobbied to have Tkachev appointed [according to data from the Investigation Management Centre (TsUR)].

 Section ‘K’

One of the main sections of SEB. In charge of supervising banks, insurance companies and pension funds.

 Up to 2016

Viktor Voronin

Resigned when one of his subordinates became involved in a case of smuggling. Included in the ‘Magnitsky Act’. Gave the green light to launch criminal proceedings against Hermitage Capital. In 2019 was appointed Deputy Director General in charge of the Interaction with State Bodies at a contractor of Rosatom’s.

 

As of 2016

Ivan Tkachev

Acting Head of Section ‘K’. Did his military service in the border guards in Karelia, together with Oleg Feoktistov, former deputy director of the Internal Oversight Service of the FSB [according to  data from TsUR]. Before being appointed to Section ‘K’, he headed the 6th Office of the FSB Internal Oversight Service, known as ‘Sechin’s commandos’ [nickname given by the TSUR and Proekt/The Bell interviewees]. He personally issued the order to have Uliukaev’s vehicle intercepted.

 

Banking department

Part of Section ‘K’

 

Up to 2013

Dmitry Frolov

The newspaper Novaia Gazeta discovered that his family owns an undeclared house as well as four plots of land in Italy. Shortly before the article went to press Frolov was discharged for ‘loss of confidence’.

 

As of 2016

Kirill Cherkalin

Succeeded Frolov. ‘Cherkalin was, effectively, raised by Frolov’ [according to an interviewee of Proekt/The Bell]. Arrested in spring 2019.

Until then, Cherkalin did not give the impression of being a particularly religious man to those who met him. On the few photos to be found on Telegram channels, he looks more like a bon viveur, posing in European resorts, dressed in well-cut clothes and carrying bags from expensive shops. ‘He knew how to be affable, but he was the type of person with whom you would immediately want to cut off any connection’, Zhelezniak recalls today. When former co-owners of the Life group and childhood friends Alexander Zhelezniak and Sergei Leontiev met Cherkalin, the result was very bad indeed. After the meeting at Café Vogue in 2014, the partners agreed to a ‘secondment’ to their Probiznesbank. Zhelezniak himself sent a letter to that end to Viktor Voronin, who at the time was head of Section ‘K’. According to Zhelezniak, he did so upon the advice of one Kamo Avagumian, co-owner of the Avilon car dealership, a VIP client of the bank and a long-standing acquaintance of Zhelezniak’s [the editors have sent an information request to Avilon, which has remained unanswered so far]. The said letter, so Zhelezniak claims, was countersigned by Voronin [Proekt/The Bell sent a request for information to the postal address of Fizpribor, where Voronin is currently employed, having left the Service in 2016. We have not received any answer so far]. But the owners of Life refused to give away stock.

 

Zhelezniak claims that at the time when these events occurred the group’s banks were financially stable, even though in 2014 the Life Group incurred losses of several billion rubles. Probiznesbank’s  figures for arrears on loans issued to natural and legal persons were very much above the national average [according to Vedomsti]. Towards the end of the year, the rating agency Finch cancelled Probiznesbank’s ratings. At the time Finch’s concerns were primarily related to the securities portfolio in which Probiznesbank had invested 47 billion rubles, that is nearly half of its total assets; the majority of these securities were deposited in Cypriot depositories. The crisis meant that the other banks were selling frantically to stay liquid, while Probiznesbank‘s portfolio was the only one to remain stalled [recalls Fitch analyst Alexander Danilov]. This also raised some questions at the Central Bank.

 

In September 2014 the banking regulator withdrew the licence of Bank24.ru, which belonged to the owners of the Life Group. The following year, it withdrew the licence of Probiznesbank itself. Bank24.ru allegedly lost its license for violating laws on money laundering, although at the time of the withdrawal the bank’s assets were 2 billion rubles in excess of its liabilities. According to Zhelezniak, the bank had no money-laundering activity; the regulator held it responsible because of ‘a mere five banking transactions, of which the bank failed to notify the Central Bank in due time’. According to the information provided by the regulator, Probiznesbank invested funds in ‘low quality assets’ and ‘lost all its capital’; furthermore the subsequently appointed bankruptcy managers claimed to have uncovered large-scale transactions showing signs of misappropriation. The regulator ultimately estimated that the ‘hole’ in Probiznesbank‘s accounts amounted to nearly 35 billion rubles. ‘Today’s Russia is not yet ready for a group like Life’, Leontiev wrote in the company’s internal blog. ‘It seems that the time has not yet come for companies like Life in this country. This is why for the next fifty years I am going to build a Life elsewhere on the globe.’ Neither he nor Zhelezniak have ever returned to Russia since.

 

In his testimony, Zhelezniak claims that their banking business withered away for political reasons. In 2012 Life’s directors invited Alexei Navalny to a strategy session designed for managers. At that time Bank24.ru, which belonged to the group, proposed to support the opposition leader by secretly launching the ‘Navalny credit card’, whereby 1% of the amount of each purchase made with the card was donated to Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund. [Navalny’s spokesperson Kira Iarmych indicated that this idea had indeed been discussed with the FBK Fund, but has never been put into practice and no transfers have ever taken place.] The promotional action did not remain secret for very long: as soon as the media heard of it, Alexei Pliakin, former head of department at the Central Bank, warned Zhelezniak that such kind of collaboration would raise ‘numerous questions’ at the Central Bank and at the Procurature [so Zhelezniak claimed in his testimony; the Central Bank’s press service did not wish to comment on this episode]. The idea of supporting Navalny had to be abandoned, but ‘the Kremlin did not forget the incident’ [so Zhelezniak said in his testimony].

 

The banks’ licences were thus withdrawn, but Leontiev’s and Zhelezniak’s problems were just beginning.

 

The FSB and the ‘cashing out’ activity

 

The system which the Life group allegedly fell victim to, had obviously taken years to take root. Banks had to live with it, particularly those that were making money on ‘cashing out’ activities [according to Proekt/The Bell’s contacts in the financial sector].

 

For Mikhail Zavertiaev, former chairman of the board of Intelfinans bank, which perished in 2008, interaction with Section ‘K’ began with a meeting with Evgueny Dvoskin. Dvoskin, one of Russia’s most odious bankers, had once been designated by Bloomberg as ‘one of the key figures in the “cashing out” business’, with alleged links to the FSB and the mafia.

 

In early December 2007 two individuals entered Zavertiaev’s office; oddly enough, they had arrived at the bank’s headquarters in an ambulance. The first of the two was Dvoskin, the second was his bodyguard. ‘Walked in with a maffioso gait, then said: “So, which one here doesn’t know how to talk to people politely? That one?”’, this is how Zavertiaev remembers Dvoskin’s sidekick. The day before their visit, the banker reports having caught his chief accountant in a blatant attempt to grant a loan to a shell company, supposedly affiliated with Dvoskin.

‘Dvoskin came up to me and slapped me. I gave him an elbow strike. He collapsed. The only thought that crossed my mind at the moment was: he fell next to my briefcase, which contained important documents; he will take them and run away. I leaned over to move the case, but I was hit with a pistol’s butt and lost consciousness’, this was Zavertiaev’s version of the events.

According to Zavertiaev’s estimate, nearly 11.7 billion rubles were withdrawn from the bank in the course of the following two months (out of which 10 million were finally charged to Intelfinans’ chief accountant, who was sentenced to three years’ suspended imprisonment). During the same period, unknown persons set fire to the car belonging to Zavertiaev’s wife. The banker was forced to transfer his family to his country house and hire bodyguards to protect them [according to him].

Zavertiaev claims that the funds were misappropriated by means of a forged signature, although he had personally, while in hospital, ‘informed the Central Bank that the bank was being robbed, and requested a licence suspension in order to prevent acts of fraud’. But the regulator did not want to accede to his request: ‘Central Bank Vice-President Guennady Melikian explained that they had never been confronted with such requests and did not know how to act in these circumstances’ [said Zavertiaev]. Melikian then told the newspaper Vedomosti that ‘in the case of Intelfinans the reaction was actually very prompt, especially given that everyone was on holiday until 10 January’. When the licence was withdrawn, the Central Bank stated that the bank’s managers and employees had ‘effectively put an end to the bank’s activities, which resulted in a situation likely to harm the interests of the bank’s creditors and depositors’.

About six months after the incident Zavertiaev had a meeting with two members of Section ‘K’: Frolov and Cherkalin. Moreover, the former banker claims that the FSB’s first deputy head, Sergei Smirnov, was also present.

The meeting took place at the restaurant Palazzo Ducale on Tverskoi Boulevard. ‘What will you have? Maybe a small salad? Only water? Come, at least have a small salad!’ — the people on the other end were wonderfully considerate, recalls Zavertiaev. According to him, the interview had two objectives: to understand whether he had any evidence of Dvoskin’s visit, and if so, what kind of evidence; and, on the other hand, to convince him to renounce any attempt to recover the embezzled money. It seemed to him that the FSB officials knew Dvoskin very well. ‘Come on, stop worrying! We have already thrown him out’, Smirnov would say trying to reassure Zavertiaev and speaking of Dvoskin’s bodyguard. At the end of the interview, the FSB people allegedly offered the banker monetary compensation for ownership of his business.

Zavertiaev recounts having launched legal proceedings against everyone, and especially against Dvoskin, with the relentless determination of a desperate man. But in the end, he did not win a single case. Dvoskin was able to prove that he could not have assaulted Zavertiaev, because he was at that time testifying in another criminal case, in which he was a claimant. His statements were confirmed by investigators and by the call logs from his mobile phone. In answering questions from Proekt and The Bell, Dvoskin said that Zavertiaev had made it all up, that the alleged episode with the fight never took place, and that they first met during the judicial confrontation.

Dvoskin was under FSB protection, said two sources close to two distinct public authorities. In the interview with Proekt and The Bell Dvoskin reminded that he was wanted abroad [Dvoskin’s bank is known to have fallen under foreign sanctions because of its presence in the Crimea]; when asked if he did indeed enjoy FSB protection, hung up the phone. ‘The Service has always kept “cashiers” on hand; it turned them into informants, to avoid having to put them in prison’, explained one of our interviewees. Among the ‘cashiers’ he mentioned the former co-owner of Kreditimpeksbank Alexei Kulikov, who was sentenced several years ago to nine years’ imprisonment for fraud. At first glance, Kreditimpeksbank made a poor impression: a half-empty main room, about twenty poorly furnished offices and a grim-looking guard. But in the mid-2000s, this bank held a significant share of the ‘cashing out’ market, according to an interviewee close to the FSB. As in many other banks, the security department was headed by a retiree of Section ‘K’. His commission was 0.2-3% on all transactions carried out by the bank. Several times the Central Bank had expressed concerns about Kreditimpeksbank, but the FSB’s banking department had managed to resolve the issue [according to a Proekt/TheBell interviewee]. At the moment when the bank’s licence was withdrawn, missing funds were estimated at 229 million rubles; nearly two million rubles were found at Kulikov’s home.

It would seem that the supposed covert activities of the FSB’s banking department were not limited to controlling the ‘cashing out’ market. Cherkalin was in close contact with the managers of almost all major banks in Russia. Aleksei Khotin, the former owner of the recently bankrupt Ugra Bank [according to RosBiznesKonsalting, Khotin was placed under house arrest in the case concerning the misappropriation of Ugra funds], testified in court that for three years he had been paying a commission to Cherkalin in exchange for his protection [this information was published by RosBiznesKonsalting, but Khotine’s defense counsel denies it and affirms they have filed a complaint against RosBiznesKonsalting].

The protection of the FSB, as shown by the example of Ugra, was in no way a guarantee of the bank’s continued survival. Especially if one considers that for the members of Section ‘K’ the bankruptcy of a bank was just another opportunity to make money.

 

A case of dough or DIA (Deposit Insurance Agency)

‘$350 million is not such a high price to pay for your own life and that of your loved ones’, this was the proposal made to former Mezhprombank owner Sergei Pugachev in 2011 by subordinates of the DIA’s former Deputy Director Valery Miroshnikov. [This is what Sergei Pugachev himself told us. Sergei Pugachev’s lawyers have been telling this story before various courts since 2014, when the DIA began hunting down the former banker’s assets. Miroshnikov has already responded to these complaints, including in court, where he refuted all of Pugachev’s accusations and stated that Pugachev had himself threatened him with death via third persons].

The DIA deals with banks that have already gone bankrupt: the agency’s primary role is to collect the funds that have got ‘stuck’ in these banks. However, in order to do this, it is necessary to draw from the State’s pocket. The DIA came into existence in 2004. In fifteen years of liquidating and restructuring Russian banks, $500 billion have somehow left the banking system [information published by The Republic based on the Russian balance of payments]; furthermore the Agency itself received an additional 1 trillion rubles (nearly $16 billion) [according to the DIA’s own data] for the purpose of restructuring failed banks. Such amounts leave quite some room for manoeuvring…

The testimonies of Zhelezniak and of another banker show that Miroshnikov knew Cherkalin well. Zhelezniak remembers a meeting at which both were present. Without any embarrassment, the two officials discussed in front of their interlocutor ‘which bankruptcy manager they were going to appoint to which bankrupt bank’.

Miroshnikov was called as a witness in the Cherkalin case: this decision was taken by the investigator after examining the telephone correspondence between the two men [according to RosBiznesKonsalting]. But immediately after Cherkalin’s arrest, Miroshnikov left Russia never to return (according to his entourage, he first went to Australia, then to Germany ‘to receive medical treatment’). Two months later, the Agency announced his resignation, without giving any reasons.

Pugachev, for his part, even wrote a letter to Vladimir Putin to complain of DIA officials who allegedly tried to extort $350 million from him. In return for that money, Miroshnikov’s representatives offered their services to preserve a part of Pugachev’s assets not linked to Mezhprombank, but pledged as collateral. According to Pugachev, Cherkalin’s men were acting in tandem with those of the DIA. The proposed agreement was extremely simple. ‘Back then, following the bankruptcy of Mezhprombank, a criminal investigation was opened against X, and I was clearly told that this circle of “unidentified” people could quickly become “identified” and that I could easily become one of them’, says Pugachev. The FSB men reportedly asked for $20 million to prevent this from happening. Pugachev says he refused to pay.

Pugachev certainly has at least one reason to hold a grudge against the Agency and, possibly, to slander it: after he left Russia, the DIA managed to obtain a freezing order against his assets for nearly $2 billion. But Zhelezniak’s testimony, too, provides very similar details on the collaboration between Cherkalin and Miroshnikov.

In 2016 Probiznesbank lost its license and its owners left Russia. Soon after Zhelezniak was reportedly contacted by Miroshnikov, who suggested that he should get in touch with a certain Artem Zuev [Zhelezniak showed the editors the corresponding SMS sent from Miroshnikov’s number]. Miroshnikov described Zuev as a partner in Quorum Group, but Zhelezniak told the court in his statement that Zuev was ‘a well-known corporate raider’. The other Quorum partner [according to SPARK registry data] is the lawyer Andrei Pavlov, made famous by the part he played in Sergei Magnitsky’s case, as a result of which he fell under US sanctions. Pavlov, according to Novaia Gazeta’s publications, was closely linked to some members of law enforcement agencies.

The meeting with Zuev was scheduled to take place at Zurich airport in Switzerland. Zuev insisted that the interview be conducted face-to-face and Zhelezniak’s lawyer had to wait at a distance. Zuev informed Zhelezniak that he had a mandate to act on behalf of Quorum, which had been appointed bankruptcy manager of Probiznesbank. According to Zuev, his mandate had received the approval  of Miroshnikov and Cherkalin. Their emissary therefore proposed a deal: Leontiev and Zhelezniak would make a complete list of their assets, return to Moscow and cooperate with the Russian authorities. They would be sentenced to three to four years’ house arrest, after which they would be paid  a compensation from the mass of recovered assets, of which Quorum was going, of course, to  have its share. Zuev promised that if they did not comply, Zhelezniak and Leontiev would be ‘persecuted globally’. ‘You will not have a minute of peace, imagine the kind life it will be!’, he is alleged to have said. After this meeting in Zurich, Zhelezniak phoned Miroshnikov and asked him what the purpose of that meeting had been. ‘We want to help you’ Miroshnikov answered [from Zhelezniak’s affidavit].

The owners of Life rejected this ‘help’; Quorum is still tracking their assets around the world. Recently, the former managers of Probiznesbank were sentenced to real prison terms: from three to seven years’ imprisonment [according to Kommersant]. It was Miroshnikov himself who sent Voronin a request to initiate criminal proceedings against Life [Proekt/TheBell are in possession of this document].

 

Struggles within the species

The amounts for which Cherkalin and his fellow FSB men were sentenced to prison are out of proportion with the scale of their activities and with the 12 billion in cash found at their homes. Cherkalin was charged with receiving a bribe of 50 million rubles; the other two men under investigation were accused of seizing assets belonging to Sergei Gliadelkin, a prominent Moscow promoter, for a total amount of 499 million rubles.

The man in question is not widely known, but he has been for a long time one of the major players on the very select real estate development market in Moscow. The newspaper Ekspress-Gazeta, where his photos pop up from time to time, thanks to his wife Evgenia Kriukova, an actress of the Mossovet, describes him as ‘a workaholic, who has made millions sweating his brow’. Before 2005, Gliadelkin was head of the state-owned company Moskva-Tsentr, where he was in charge of supervising the construction in Moscow’s city centre; among other things, he was responsible for distributing land in the Ostozhenka district, located within the famous golden triangle, where the price per square meter reaches unrivalled levels.

Cherkalin’s arrest is not the first case due to Gliadelkin. In 2010 a criminal investigation was launched at his request against Moscow’s Deputy Mayor Alexander Riabinin. When the lawyer defending Riabinin — whose client had just been sentenced to three-years’ suspended imprisonment — asked Gliadelkin at the hearing how long he had been working for the FSB and whether he had received official recognition for his work, Gliadelkin replied: ‘I will not answer these questions because I have signed a non-disclosure agreement’.

In addition to real estate development, Gliadelkin has some profitable activity in other areas. In 2017, the telephone number of Avenue Group, one of Gliadelkin’s companies, could be seen on the ‘golden’ public paying toilets, installed throughout the capital to replace the old blue cabins, which were judged obsolete and ‘outdated’. Gliadelkin is also said to have carried out joint projects with Igor Chaika, the son of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, Yuri Chaika. [In 2013, Chaika and Gliadelkin registered a company called Tekhno-R-Region, whose proposed activities involved waste collection and treatment. Chaika declared in 2017 that he has never taken part in any waste treatment activities, and after the investigation conducted by the Anti-Corruption Fund, Chaika’s holdings sold their shares in Tekhno-R-Region to Gliadelkin’s managers. Nevertheless, Chaika subsequently acquired a stake in one of the largest companies in the waste recycling sector, Khartia. One of the waste treatment plants had been previously run by the owner of the company that won the tender for installing the infamous ‘golden’ toilets.]

Chaika Sr. is also mentioned in Zhelezniak’s affidavit. According to the banker, the share of Life‘s capital they tried to obtain from him was intended for the ‘two birdies’, who in exchange would have been able to halt the proceedings initiated against the group’s shareholders. The ‘two birdies’ was a way to refer to Prosecutor General Chaika, on the one hand, and to the Head of the FSB’s economic security service Voronin, on the other hand [according to Zhelezniak] (‘Chaika’ means ‘seagull’ in Russian and ‘Voronin’ is a name derived from ‘crow’ — translator’s note). The Procurator General’s Office did not wish to comment or answer Proekt/The Bell’s questions.

Voronin’s former position as Head of Section ‘K’ is now held by General Ivan Tkachev, famous for his role in investigating most of the major corruption cases of recent times. He already had Cherkalin in his sights when he was still with the FSB Internal Oversight Service [according to RBK]. The media reported that Tkachev and his supervisor Sergei Korolev, the current Head of SEB, were in conflict with the men of Voronin and his friend Smirnov, deputy head of the FSB — that very same man who, according to banker Zavertiaev, attended the interview at the Palazzo Ducale restaurant. [The conflict between the two groups within the FSB had been described, among others, by Open Media.]

It is a struggle within the species’, laconically concluded an entrepreneur enjoying a good relationship with law enforcement authorities. A perception corroborated by a leading Russian banker who knew the arrested officers well.

In just over two years’ time the current head of the FSB Alexander Bortnikov will celebrate his 70th birthday, reaching the age limit for his position. It means that the clan that will take the upper hand in the fight for Bortnikov’s chair ‘will have it all under control’[says a leading Russian banker, who knew Frolov and Cherkalin well].

Miroshnikov is ‘a very rich person according to his entourage. We reviewed his real estate assets only the properties he owns in Russia. Miroshnikov’s son Maxim, barely 22 years old, owns a 400m2 house and a plot of land in the village of Fominskoe, not far from Troitsk. According to official documents, it was a gift from Valery Miroshnikov’s mother, Tatiana Miroshnikova. Mrs. Miroshnikova is 68 years old and has never had any economic activity (according to the SPARK register), which does not prevent her from owning three apartments in the centre of Moscow: two in the Imperskii Dom residence in Yakimanka Street, with a total surface area of over 500m2, and one 200m2 apartment in the Ostozhenka Park Palace residence. Miroshnikov himself owns a luxury apartment on the 6th floor of the La Defence residence in the Khamovniki district. The whole could be worth more than a billion rubles.

 

 

Former banker Pugachev complained to Putin of threats received from runaway Miroshnikov

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.

 

What next?

 

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

Russia seeks to seize Russian billionaire’s property on the French Riviera… Oligarch takes the upper hand in legal battle

By Christophe Perrin, 30 January 2019. 6.30 a.m.

 

On Tuesday 29 January, the Civil Court of Nice, France, rejected as void the claim filed against the 56-year-old Russian billionaire Sergei Pugachev by the Deposit Insurance Agency (DIA), a State agency of the Russian Federation. DIA notably requested the seizure of the oligarch’s property on the French Riviera.

Sergei Pugachev, former owner of the French luxury grocery brand Hediard and of the daily newspaper France Soir, currently owns the Château de Gairaut in Nice, a chalet in Valberg, a yacht, as well as real estate in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.

The once almighty business tycoon, formerly known as ‘Yeltsin’s banker’, today complains that he has been put on President Putin’s black list.

Since the Mezhprombank bank, founded by Pugachev in 1990, went bankrupt in 2010, the Russian justice has been claiming from Sergei Pugachev the payment of 1.14 billion dollars. The Moscow Commercial Court hopes to have its decision executed in France.

 

Russian agency’s claim rejected by court

It seems that proceedings have come to a halt as the Nice Court of the first instance rejected DIA’s claim. According to Sergei Pugachev’s lawyer Anne-Jessica Fauré, ‘DIA is a governmental agency. It has no authority to represent a bank under bankruptcy proceedings!’. She is adamant that ‘the Agency is not entitled to undertake legal action against my client in France’ and describes DIA as a ‘weapon’ in President Putin’s hands.

 

‘An illegal decision of the Russian court’

The Parisian lawyer insists that the case is clearly a political one. ‘Mr Pugachev is sued for the bankruptcy of Mezhprombank, whereas he withdrew from the Bank’s leadership in 2003. The person accusing him of being de facto involved in the bank’s management has not only been set free by the Russian court, but has also been given a job in a different bank. Strange coincidence, isn’t it?’

In a press release published on Tuesday night, the oligarch’s press service made a strong counter-statement: ‘All legal proceedings launched by the Russian authorities against Sergei Pugachev are nothing but attempts to prevent the examination of the case filed by Mr Pugachev’s against the Russian Federation before the International Court at The Hague.’

 

‘Blatant procedural violations’

Pugachev’s press service also stressed that ‘the decision condemning Mr Pugachev to pay over one billion dollars was rendered by a single judge, instead of a panel of three judges, which constitutes a blatant violation of the law. The decision is, therefore, illegal in Russia and can have no legal consequences outside the territory of the Russian Federation.’

On 21 September 2015 Sergei Pugachev, who now lives in Nice, initiated legal proceedings against the Russian Federation for ‘expropriation of assets by the Russian authorities, that began in the early 2000’.

The law firm Betto Seraglini filed a claim for over 10 billion euros on behalf of the oligarch.

A legal battle has just come to an end in Nice, but the war between Pugachev and Putin is far from being over yet.

 

Ex-Kremlin banker: Billionaire Pugachev wins French reprieve from $1.5B fine

By Agence France-Presse

Former oligarch Sergei Pugachev won Tuesday a French ruling against Russian judicial proceedings that might save him from having to pay a 1.3 billion euro ($1.5 billion) fine.

Pugachev had petitioned a civil court in Nice, southern France, where he now lives, to block the execution of a fine for fraudulent bankruptcy that stemmed from the failure of his Mejprombank in 2010.

Once considered the Kremlin’s “banker,” Pugachev was ordered by Russian judicial authorities in 2015 to pay 1.3 billion euros and turn over assets, for fraud and embezzlement.

But the French court said in a ruling seen by AFP that a Russian lawsuit against Mejprombank had to be validated every six months after being examined by several judges, whereas up until July 15, 2016 decisions on prolongation were handed down by the Moscow trade court presided by a single judge.

The French court “recognises that the initial ruling, illegal in Russia, cannot be legal in France or anywhere else,” Pugachev told AFP.

Following the failure of Mejprombank in 2010, he fled first to Britain and then to France, which had granted him French nationality in 2009.

He lives in a chateau in hills overlooking the Mediterranean city, which along with a yacht, a ski chalet and a second residence in the nearby coastal town of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, had been seized preventively in 2016 to serve as collateral in case of a ruling favourable to the Russian authorities.

Source…

The War between oligarch Pugachev and Putin is imported to nice

This may exacerbate the outflow of capital from Russia.

“Today, Russia is threatening the entrepreneur with confiscation of all his property in France,” writes the newspaper Le Figaro, Vincent-Xavier Morvantalked to Sergey Pugachev in nice (translation – inopressa.ru).

“The name of the 55-year-old Sergei Pugachev sounded again on November 29, the Tribunal de Grande instance of nice,” writes Le Figaro, Recalling that the decision of the Moscow court on April 30, 2015, he was sentenced to pay the liquidator lost his license and bankrupt Bank Mezhprombank considerable amounts to 75.6 billion rubles, which is approximately 1 billion euros. It’s been two and a half years, Russia is seeking to implement this solution in France, the procedure of “exequatur” (execution of a judgment rendered in another state) .

“Counter the appeal of the defenders of Pugachev, filed in the court of nice, intended to avoid consideration of the merits, which could result in the confiscation of all his property in France. The first decision is expected on 29 January,” – says the journalist.

“Russia is trying to move to France its completely paradoxical decision, which was recognized as politically motivated. I believe in the French justice and that it is unable to believe in such unreasonable decision”, – says Sergey Pugachev who received French citizenship in 2009.

“Today, all his attention focused on another process launched in 2015 in the Hague court. Sergei Pugachev, who at the time of its luster dominated the industrial Empire, which consisted of shipyards and coal mines, where he worked for nearly 350 thousand people filed this arbitration court the claim to Russia in the amount of 12 billion euros, to which she allegedly was robbed,” – said in the article. “I hope that there will be obtained a decision before the end of 2019”, – calculates Pugachev, highlighting his French citizenship.

“The amount may seem huge, but if Russia does not pay, it runs the risk that all foreign investors it will go away, because they have no more guarantees to feel protected”, – said Sergey Pugachev.

In his opinion, there is no doubt that the alleged attempts to interfere in the country’s West should be seen hand of the current owner of the Kremlin. “When you talk about Skripal’s case or to intervene in the American or French policy, it is necessary to understand that dozens and dozens of people come to Putin with ideas about destabilization, “you can do it do it”, Putin still reasoning at the secondary level KGB officer responds like a true businessman, trying to see what is its benefit,” – says a former confidant of the Russian President.

“Putin is only interested in what concerns him personally. If we talk about Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader, zastresenom next to the Kremlin, it is obvious that the Germans could not make a revolution and change the existing order of things, but he had the gall to explain how Putin is a miserable and dangerous, and it concerned him personally”, – said Pugachev between two SIPS of Sancerre white wine. The French President is also not in favor of Putin. “No leader of such a scale didn’t talk to him as it did him during their first meeting. Putin never will not forgive him. Even if the Makron will hug him and give him half of France, it will not change anything, he touched him”.

Source

S. Pugachev talks about Khodorkovsky’s arrest, the roots of the Russian business in the UK, & the High Court of London

“I advised him to leave Russia with the money”: Sergei Pugachev, former advisor to Putin, talks about Khodorkovsky’s arrest, the roots of the Russian business in the UK and the High Court of London

15 years ago, on 25 October 2003, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested. Back then, in 2003, Sergei Pugachev was not yet an émigré in exile, as he is today, but Vladimir Putin’s trusted banker and a close acquaintance of his. This week, the London court has ruled that Pugachev’s London mansion be sold to repay creditors, whose interests are represented by the Russian Deposit Insurance Agency (DIA), i.e. that very same State to which Pugachev was once so close. Mikhail Fischman asks Pugachev about the trial, the current status of the Russian oligarchs in the West and that historical day of 25 October 2003.

 

Sergei, how are we to understand the court’s ruling, after all? Was there or wasn’t there a ruling? Was your London house confiscated, or wasn’t it? Did the claimants from Russia, i.e. the DIA, win the case, or didn’t they? Please do explain.

Good evening, Mikhail. Currently, at this particular moment in time, there is no final ruling, no official ruling exists. Something was announced at the hearing, but I was unfortunately unable to take part in it, because I was debarred participation by the judge. For about a couple of hours the judge and the court, who had the obligation to provide a video link, had been telling me of some technical issues. Some time later it was finally announced that the judge refused that I be heard by the court, even though I am the first defendant in that case.

And so? What happened eventually? Who won, in the end? Who is currently winning? Are you losing?

Well, it is complicated: I wish to reiterate that there is no decision. The important question here is not whether we are winning or losing – I don’t know what will eventually happen, I don’t know what the final decision will be – but the important fact is that the DIA, which is representing the Russian Federation, continues with the expropriation, which began fifteen years ago (it is a memorable date) with the expropriation of YUKOS’s assets. So, in short, the process goes on steadily, except that today it has taken on a different form, now it is based on a manipulation of the Western judicial system, especially of the British one. Because the High Court of London, is favoured – well, I wouldn’t quite say by the Russians – but certainly by the Russian Federation.

I will ask you the question later, specifically, but you too, in fact – in your statement of defence, which I have here before me – you bluntly state that pursuits against you are politically motivated in Russia, that your assets are being expropriated on political grounds – i.e. property is being taken, which, in one way or another, belongs to you. Logically, today one would expect the West and Britain, the British justice in this specific case, to take your side. Yet it seems that this is not what is happening.

I do not quite agree. The point is: what is happening in the media, the mutual accusations at the highest state level, it does not affect the judicial system at all so far, nor does it affect the middle levels or the business world – nothing.  You have to understand that especially in Britain, in the realm of common law – as opposed to France, for example, with its civil law – you have the most expensive lawyers of all, it is a gigantic business, worth billions. And it not a system that one can break on the grounds of foreign policy matters, because of relations between Russia and the UK. I think it will take years, even decades.

So, if I understand correctly – and you are welcome to comment – these two processes are running parallel to each other, as it were. On the one hand we have political declarations made by the British government about increased pressure on the business connected with Vladimir Putin’s entourage, about looking for corrupt businessmen among those who have settled in Britain and making them… And in fact this process is already underway, as some decisions have demonstrated. On the other hand, claims against entrepreneurs such as yourself are being granted, claims in which the Russian Federation is a claimant, in one manner or another.

Yes, the Russian Federation is the claimant in this specific case. And one has to understand that those accusations being thrown at each other – even if you let aside the murder of British citizens in the territory of Britain – they will not have a prompt effect. We see, for example, that after the adoption of the law on checking the origin of funds above 50 thousand pounds, only three information requests have been sent, as far as I know.

Of course Great-Britain, because of Brexit and many other reasons, is interested in keeping the funds, and evidently is not interested in expelling the remaining investors, or simply those people who keep their assets in the UK, in the British banks, etc. Of course the real estate prices have gone down substantially and so on, so all this rhetoric has already brought about a number of consequences. But this has no influence whatsoever, of course, on legal proceedings and on the lawyers’ attitude.

The firm Hogan Lovells have a longstanding history with Russia, which they actually confirmed during a cross-examination. This is their only business, they will not manage to find some new clients by magic, and so they carry on. Here’s an interesting question asked by Justice Wilson to one of the partners of Hogan Lovells, Mike Roberts: how much he had earned for that hearing. Roberts said: 10 million pounds, to say the least. This is quite impressive; and the most interesting is that we were unable to find the corresponding line in the DIA’s budget, whereas this is supposed to be public information and the DIA is supposed to be financing this litigation.

This is quite intriguing. But in that same defence statement you write that attempts were made to kill you. There was attempted murder, so you are, essentially, on the same list with other enemies of the Russian political regime. But this does not affect the position of the British justice, this is not taken into account at all in those proceedings, or so it seems. 

It absolutely isn’t taken into account. When an attempt to kill me was made in the UK in 2015, it was investigated by the anti-terrorist section of Scotland Yard, quite independently from myself, criminal proceedings were started, which currently continue in France. So the investigation continues in France. The investigation process in Britain was stopped after I left Britain to return to France. The case was dropped, despite the fact that the crime had been committed in the territory of Great Britain. So, no, of course, it is not taken into account.

You also write, this is a direct quotation, you write that “the Russian regime is deeply rooted in the Western countries, including Great-Britain; about 300 thousand of the richest Russians either live or have their assets in Britain, which testifies to Putin’s considerable influence over that country” – end of quote. Is something changing in terms of this situation and Putin’s influence, as described by you? After all, much has happened, especially after the Skripal events  surfaced in March and became widely publicised. Do you see the situation evolving, or not at all?

I think not. I do not see the situation evolving. I think that actually it never changed, this is how it always was: you will recall the Litvinenko case and his widow needing some ten years to convince the courts to have his case heard publicly…

Yes, I remember it well. I even remember reading articles in the British press, which harshly criticised the British Home office, which was then headed by the current Prime minister. It was said that the investigation was impeded, and so forth… This was a notorious issue then.

Yes, but still, you have to understand that this throwing of unpleasant accusations at each other will of course continue, there is no doubt about it, because this is what politics are like, you have upcoming elections and all that. Yet the mundane level, if you can call it this, is not at all affected. Of course it isn’t. We know well that a huge number of Russian officials, of their children, whose fortunes amount to billions – they live in Britain, they own a lot of property, real estate property in Britain… so clearly no sensational revirement has taken place so far.

And the fact that Berezovky, earlier, and Khodorkovsky now, and maybe some others are still in Britain, this is pretty much exotic. This is quite small, compared to some 300 thousand Russians, among the wealthiest, who are of course drawing their income from Russia and spending it in Britain.

Yes, this I understand quite well. It just seems to me that you can see a difference today in political terms, between the Litvinenko case and its consequences – when the diplomatic relations were frozen, when some diplomatic consequences ensued, but the case was not investigated, as you have just reminded us yourself –  and the utterly different consequences of the Salisbury poisoning case, when Theresa May is leading the attack against Russia, when she is demanding sanctions and urging her European partners to follow suit, and so on and so forth. I think the difference is noticeable. And I imagine it should also manifest itself in an increased pressure on the corrupt Russian business in Britain. Or shouldn’t it?

It should indeed, yet it still hasn’t, in any manner. And I doubt we shall see anything of the kind in the near future. If we do, it would be a sensation. We know that Putin’s friends, people close to him, who have amassed enormous fortunes in Russia, live peacefully and happily in Britain and are even on good terms with the ruling elite. Here’s a recent article in The Times, writing that members of the British elite are lobbying for an improvement of relations with Russia. What this means is that Russia has considerably strengthened its foothold in Britain over the past twenty years, since Putin’s arrival to power. And this certainly is not going to be sabotaged by some declarations made by Theresa May, it is practically impossible.

You also mention – one more quote – that Putin personally told you about his intention to acquire the Chelsea football club, in order to increase his influence in Britain and improve Russia’s image, not only with the ruling class, but also with the ordinary British. I imagine you mean the early 2000s here, 2002-2003, I suppose. Do you?

Yes, just before the acquisition…

Yes, just before Roman Abramovich bought the Chelsea club. There are currently rumours that he might have to sell it. Sky News has just now contradicted it, but the rumours are flourishing, and apparently some potential buyers have come forth. So was it all a political scheme, right from the very beginning? Is that what you’re saying?

It certainly was. I think it was a sort of a special operation to infiltrate the British society, as it were. Except that is was not aimed at the ruling elite, but at the common British people. As Putin said, it was perceived as a means to improve Russia’s image with the ordinary British. Putin thinks the operation was a success and you have to grant him that: it actually went rather well, it was an infiltration based on common interests, as it were, because the English do love football. So it did work rather well.

Yes, but now we are facing the opposite situation when Abramovich is seemingly contemplating to part with Chelsea. What is you impression of it?

I think that it is, in the first place, linked with his personal situation, because he is still the owner, somehow. We know that he has had a number of problems, that he failed to have his visa extended, that he obtained Israeli citizenship, and so forth. This has most probably complicated communications with Britain, with the club. Then there is the financial situation, which also matters, inevitably. And Russia’s self-isolation policy also leads to the fact that Abramovich has started taking personal decisions. I don’t know how accurate the rumours are, whether he does indeed intend to sell, but it sounds logical to me. Today not even the ownership of Chelsea will help Russia to improve those relations… This is a public relations thing, and it will not help.

Coming back to my previous question about the big Russian business… Of course, there are officials, or just people, who have money in the West and who want to keep it there somehow. But the really big Russian businesses, the major companies – they are having a much harder time today in the West, business has become much more difficult, hasn’t it? Or is the situation still bearable and it is too early to think of going back home?

The situation has indeed become much more complicated for the big Russian business, the business that belongs to Putin’s closest circle, the major companies, whether public or private. Yes, of course the situation has worsened. It has also grown worse on the middle level. I talk to people quite a lot and I see that they cannot even open a bank account now, in some cases the accounts they already have are being closed, in spite of a 20-years’ flawless banking history. So, yes, on that level the situation is much worse now. I think this has to do with Russia’s self-isolation course, returning to Russia or the other way round, but this is a process that is actively underway.

You mentioned a kind of anniversary that we have: 15 years will have passed this week since Khodorkovsky was arrested on 25 October 2003. This was a point in time which I personally, and many others, too, hold to be a turning point. Not only for the relationship between the State and big business in Russia, but also a turning point for all of Russian politics and Russian life thereafter. Back then you were on the other side of the barricades, you were still an ally of Putin’s back then, if I understand correctly. Looking back today, do you think… What do you think of those days, of those times? And to what extent would you say that the difficulties and the self-isolation you have just mentioned are a direct consequence of those decisions taken fifteen years ago, a consequence of that arrest?

I absolutely agree, except for the fact that I was not on the other side of the barricades. I was on neither side of any barricade. I was involved in politics, it is true, I was Putin’s adviser, but this does not mean that I supported his position on YUKOS. Moreover, he did not inform me about it, this was a case managed by the special services, so everything was kept utterly secret. Moreover, when I met Khodorkovsky and we had a chance to discuss it, my advice to him was to leave the country with the money, so that he could later influence the situation somehow, perhaps support his former collaborators, who will have been facing difficulties (and this is what actually happened).

In that respect nothing changed. I still maintain that this was a turning point and a critical stage in Russia’s development. This is a fact. I remember how it all unfolded, I saw it from the inside, as it were, being still in close contact with Putin. Putin could not have acted differently, I mean that this was his perception of it. And it was not a political issue, it was not a matter of supporting Khodorkovsky, or the communist party or whatever. It was, purely and simply, a straightforward decision on expropriation of assets. And the same thing happened over and over again later.

The cases may not have been so visible and so important, but what definitely has changed… Why do we remember this case so vividly, I mean the YUKOS case? Because back then the courts were not yet so subdued, the judicial power had not become part of the President’s administration, so to speak. YUKOS’s lawyers, Khodorkovsky’s lawyers were not able to plead, to convey their position; the judges were trying to subtly twist the law somehow, but this was still happening within the existing legal framework. Now we see that this has been lost, that the situation has changed. If the YUKOS case happened today, I think that we would only have seen a couple of short articles in the press, hardly anything more…

No one would have paid any attention, I think. But even then, honestly, if you look at the accusations, starting from Lebedev’s arrest in July 2003  it all looked fairly ridiculous from a legal viewpoint. And all the independent observers realised it, of course.

Yes, but nonetheless it attracted the public’s attention. Today’s equivalent, to a certain extent, would be Serebrennikov’s case. It is very similar. But trust me, if the same had happened today with some other private businessman, a big company, no matter whether an oil company or some other, I think that you would have just briefly mentioned it in the news. Look at the Mamedovs’ case, it is a good example.

Yes, absolutely! It is much less written about. As far as you are concerned, there subsists the notion that you used to be on the other side, because you had good relations with Putin, because you were part of… Basically, your business began to flourish after Putin became president, your situation greatly improved. It was being said of you back then, if I am not mistaken, that you are on good terms with the siloviki of Putin’s circle, and this is why, back then… You were even largely demonised in fact, if I remember correctly. The press would say that the orthodox oligarch banker Pugachev is treading one the grounds of the old Yeltsin guard, and so forth.

Well, this is certainly mistaken. There were a number of corporate wars going on, it was something normal back then, it was a way of doing things. Nobody wanted to have someone else become closer to Putin than others, I mean the financial and industrial organisations. This is normal. But it is a different matter. The point is that I had contributed to Putin’s coming to power, because I belonged to Yeltsin’s team. So, saying that I was on the other side is utterly incorrect. Besides I still have good relations with Tatiana Diachenko and Valentin Yumashev. You have to understand that my active political career began in 1996, at the time of Yeltsin’s election. This is why saying I was on the other side is entirely inappropriate.

The other thing you mentioned: that my business began to expand after Putin came to power. This is not true, Putin had nothing to do with it at all. All I had, I had acquired by myself. I had never taken part in the privatisation process, I had bought everything for money, before Putin came to power. This applies to the largest shipbuilding yards in Petersburg, this applies to the licence I obtained in 1999 for the development of the world’s largest coking coal deposit, and to all the rest. On the contrary, Putin tried to take what belonged to me – this is precisely what happened – and give it to the people closest to him, to the Petersburg people, to his friends, his former KGB colleagues and so on.

Coming back to Khodorkovsky’s case: if I understood you correctly, you believe that in reality it was not a crossroads, that Putin had no choice, and that his decision to have Khodorkovsky arrested had been predetermined and things could not have gone any other way?

Obviously so. I remember how it came about, the details of it. What I meant to say is that psychologically Putin was not ready for anything else. It was the only way he was prepared to take. We had spoken at length about it with him and I was very much against it, categorically against it. Not because I had ever been a close friend of Khodorkovsky’s, even though we had been in close contact since the late 80s and early 90s (we were in fact neighbours, our houses and our summer houses were some fifty meters apart from each other).

This was because I understood that it was a crucial moment. That he was going to completely break the investment climate so to speak – back then this was something you could talk about. This had to be avoided a priori, because having once felt the taste of blood he would not have stopped. I realised very well that Putin would catch the trick, and then… he is in such a way that… I remember one case, quite extraordinary, when Putin wanted to replace an official: at some point he said, well, let him sit there for the time being, and if need be, we will have a criminal case brought against him and we will have him imprisoned. This is, in fact, the predominant approach today, it still is, and it could not have been otherwise.

Thank you very much for this fascinating conversation. Thank you.

Tory peers told to come clean about Russia links

Peers across parties are on Russian payroll

The security minister has turned down a meeting with a Tory peer who has financial links to Moscow amid fears about Russian influence and lobbying in parliament, The Times can reveal.

Ben Wallace said in a letter to the Commons foreign affairs committee that he had been contacted by two Conservative peers “requesting government assistance for Russian associates” since he took up his post in 2016.

He said he did not take up the offer to meet and discuss sanctions with Lord Barker of Battle. Lord Barker, 52, is chairman of En+, the Russian energy giant majority-owned by the oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Putin. En+ and Mr Deripaska have been subject to sanctions since the Salisbury nerve agent attack in March.

A ministerial meeting did go ahead with the Conservative peer Lord Fairfax of Cameron. Mr Wallace said in the letter, which was leaked to this newspaper, that Lord Fairfax “wished to discuss his experiences working for Sovcomflot”, the state-owned Russian shipping company.

Lord Fairfax, 62, is director of Sovcomflot UK, a direct subsidiary of PAO Sovcomflot. Russia and “countries of former Soviet Union” are listed among his focuses on his page on the parliament website.

Lord Barker rejected any suggestion that he had attempted to lobby Mr Wallace. “I have never lobbied the UK government or requested assistance from any member of either of the Houses of Parliament,” he said yesterday.

The disclosures come amid concerns among senior members of the Commons that members of the Lords are seeking to lobby on behalf of Russian companies with links to the country’s government and doing “the Kremlin’s bidding”. A Times analysis has uncovered peers with financial interests linked to Russia, prompting calls for all Lords to divest themselves of these unless they can prove the interests are free from potential Kremlin influence.

An overhaul of the Lords code of conduct to tighten the rules around transparency and links to foreign nations has also been proposed by MPs and campaigners for transparency. Their calls come after a nerve agent attack by Russian spies in Salisbury in March.

Peers from all sides have been found to have links to Russia. Lord Skidelsky, 79, a crossbencher, is a non-executive director of Russneft, the Russian oil refining company that is 47 per cent owned by Mikhail Gutseriev, a businessman named on a US “oligarch” list this January of people close to President Putin. He declined yesterday to address the calls for peers to divest themselves of Russian interests.

In 2014 in the House, Lord Skidelsky spoke out against sanctions on Russia in response to its illegal annexation of Crimea. He said the West had “actively sought to prise those countries [which in the past formed part of the Russian state] from Russia’s orbit, using as its instruments Nato expansion and financial and logistical support for Russophobe movements in newly independent adjacent territories”.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, 59, a Labour peer, declares in the members’ register that he is a director of RNG Joint Stock Company, a Russian oil and gas company, and of its direct owner, Eastsib, a company registered in Cyprus that operates in Russia. He has not referred to Russia in parliament.

Lord Truscott, 59, an independent Labour peer, receives remunerated employment as chairman of the advisory board of Russian Gold Fund, a private equity investment fund, according to the register of interests. He has spoken about Russia in the Lords, in January declaring the idea that the Kremlin could order a conventional attack against a Nato member a “fantasy” and urging the British government to improve relations with Russia.

More than a dozen parliamentary questions have been tabled by the peer in the past year that touch on themes of interest to Russia, including defence policy, strategy in Syria, and the White Helmets, the rescue volunteers in Syria who have allegedly been targeted by Russia.

In 2013, Lord Truscott nominated Mr Putin for the Nobel peace prize. He is married to Svetlana Chernikov, who is understood to be the daughter of a Red Army colonel. Yesterday Lord Truscott told The Times that Russian Gold Fund was “not a Russian company. There is no Russian money in it. Plenty of British funds invest in Russia and other emerging markets, as do a number of major British companies.” He said he had no financial interests in Russia and no links to the Russian government.

“I believe that we should engage and work with Russia on many issues, including Syria,” he said. He declined to say whether Russian Gold Fund, which does not appear in Companies House or in other international open company registers, invested money in Russia, or why it was so named if it did not.

All the peers declared these interests in the members’ register, as the Lords’ code of conduct requires. The code and the official guide to it say : “A member . . . must not seek by parliamentary means to confer exclusive benefit on an outside body or person from which he or she receives payment or reward.

“Members are not otherwise debarred from participating in proceedings in regard to which they possess relevant interests, financial or non-financial; but such interests should be declared fully. In participating in such proceedings they should ensure that there is no conflict between their declared interests and the public interest.”

In light of Russia’s hostility, MPs are demanding that peers give up interests potentially linked to the Russian state.

Bob Seely, a Tory MP and member of the foreign affairs committee, said: “Should parliamentarians be ‘on the books’ of authoritarian states and their supposed proxies? Of course not. It must be noted that proxies can be formal or informal.

“Those peers who work for adversarial foreign powers should give up their right to sit in parliament. Will they? Of course not.”

Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: “Now is the time for those peers to divest themselves of interests in Russian companies unless they can prove their independence of the Russian state.

“It’s clear that the rules around transparency and lobbying in the Lords must be brought into the 21st century so that it is clear whether peers are speaking on behalf of the UK or representing interests linked to foreign powers.”

Duncan Hames, policy director at Transparency International UK, said: “Parliament needs to improve transparency about members’ financial interests to provide a greater deterrent against corrupt regimes using our representatives to influence friends in high places.”

The Times tried to reach Lord Ponsonby for comment. A House of Lords spokesman said the code was designed to ensure transparency and openness and was “kept under constant review to ensure it remains effective and appropriate, but there are no current plans to ban members from holding financial interests in Russia”.

Source…

Russian billionaire banker forced to sell 9 million £ Chelsea mansion

Russian countess faces eviction as her billionaire banker ex who claims to be on a Putin death list is forced to sell £9million Chelsea mansion after judge rules it belongs to Moscow

  • Sergei Pugachev loses latest round of legal battle with Russian government 
  • High Court ruled his £9million Chelsea home is property of Moscow
  • Ex-partner Alexandra Tolstoy and their three children must leave by January 
  • Tycoon was once in Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and part of Russian elite
  • But they fell out after bank collapse and he claims president ‘wants him dead’  

A Russian tycoon once known as ‘Vladimir Putin’s banker’ has been forced to hand over his £9million home after a judge ruled it belonged to the Russian state, meaning his former lover and their children face being made homeless.

Sergei Pugachev, who now claims Moscow want him dead, fought to keep his Chelsea home in the High Court battle which has been going on for four years.
The billionaire was a close ally of the Russian President and helped run his first election campaign, but their relationship has since crumbled.
He moved to London in 2011 and the property was home to his former partner Alexandra Tolstoy, 44, and their three children, who have been told to leave by January.
She previously lived in poverty in a tiny Soviet-era apartment in Moscow with her ex-husband, an Uzbek horseman.
But after meeting Mr Pugachev she experienced the best money could buy including huge properties in Cote d’Azur and the West Indies.
The Russian state has been pursuing him through the High Court claiming he illegally siphoned hundreds of millions of pounds from a government bailout of the Mezhprombank he co-founded.
Mr Pugachev, 55, denies the allegations and claims Moscow is trying to steal £11billion of his assets, including two shipyards and the world’s largest mine.
Mr Pugachev has previously been declared to be in contempt of court, with a two-year prison sentence left hanging over his head should he return to this country.

According to the Guardian, the court made an order compelling him to sell the home on Tuesday.
Mr Pugachev had been due to give evidence via video link but complained of ‘injustice’ after the connection failed.
The paper said he made a statement to the judge apologising for being in contempt of court, claiming he was on an ‘A-list’ of targets for Putin as one of his ‘worst personal enemies’.
Mr Pugachev added he had an ‘unofficial death sentence’ on his head.
He had been living in France for the past three years after being ordered to give up his passports in 2014 and having his assets frozen. He also claims ‘credible attempts’ had been made on his life in the UK.

The tycoon is in another legal battle with Russia in The Hague where he is suing the Federation for £11billion.
He claims he is being targeted because of his knowledge of state secrets.
The Guardian reported his witness statement claimed Putin wanted to buy Chelsea Football club to ‘increase his influence and raise Russia’s profile with ordinary British people’.
But the court ruled his statement ‘did not have anything useful to say’ in his defence.
His former wife Galina has also made a claim in the court over the property stating it is a ‘matrimonial asset’ but a decision has yet to be made.
Lats year the High Court ruled that the £90 million offshore trusts set up by Pugachev to provide for his children with Ms Tolstoy could be seized by the Russian state.
The 43-year-old former television presenter, a distant cousin of Russia author Leo, said it ‘destroyed’ her life, after the ruling also deprived her of a house in St Barts.
Her years with Pugachev have been described as a ‘kaleidoscope of private jets, yachts and the best hotels’.
As well as a large country house near Moscow, Alexandra had a suite in Claridge’s permanently at her disposal.

Speaking about last year’s ruling, she said: ‘I cried for two days when I heard. I lost our house in St Barts. My children are losing their home.
‘I was such a romantic. I’ve taken extraordinary risks in my life. I’ve always been reckless.
‘Until now, it’s paid off. But I was young then and had more energy. And I didn’t have the children.’
She has since described her ex-partner as a ‘tyrannical and paranoid bully’ who, she claims, effectively kept her prisoner in his spectacular homes – which he denies.
Countess Alexandra Tolstoy was just 25 when she first came to the public’s attention after joining a 5,000-mile horseback trek along the entire route of the Silk Road in 1999, just as the former USSR was opening up.
One of her local guides was the Uzbek showjumper Shamil Galimzyanov.
They fell in love in a tent on the Asian steppes and – to the amazement of her friends and family – were married at London’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral in 2003.
Despite her exotic name and family history, Alexandra is a Home Counties English rose, educated at Downe House, a school where the Duchess of Cambridge studied briefly.
But after their marriage fell apart, she started a TV career, presenting Alexandra Tolstoy’s Horse People for BBC2.
She then met Mr Pugachev in 2008 and he whisked her away to a life of yachts, chateaux in the South of France and St Barts.