We continue looking into the business interests of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and their links with those who were under the surveillance of European law enforcers and special services. In our previous issues (No. 38 and 40 of 11 and 15 April, 2011) we reported that Monaco police and special services investigating money laundering targeted Monaco-registered Sotrama which, according to former Monaco Intelligence Chief Robert Eringer, “had links with a Tambov criminal group and with Putin personally”.
During the investigation, Novaya Gazeta obtained operational reports from the Monaco Internal Affairs Department’s criminal investigation unit, which said that Sotrama’s beneficiary was Dmitry Skigin, “the head of a money laundering group”. Operational reports also mentioned Ilya Traber, another St Petersburg entrepreneur who, according to the documents, had “links with the Tambov group”. The files also noted that Skigin and Traber “are behind a number of companies that resell crude oil”. In particular, Monaco police reports mentioned a Sotrama subsidiary, Horizon International Trading in Liechtenstein, which, as Novaya Gazeta discovered, had contracts running into the hundreds of millions of dollars with major Russian oil companies.
Our further probing has revealed that Dmitry Skigin and Ilya Traber were influential St Petersburg businessmen in the mid-1990s. They controlled the city’s strategic enterprises that refueled planes and handled petroleum products, their projects enjoyed a large amount of support from the city’s authorities and the mayor’s office, and among their partners were former classmates, colleagues, friends and neighbours of Vladimir Putin from the Ozero cooperative, the last of many of Putin’s most staunch supporters belong to today. Here we will try to see which of these connections still exist today and how they influence key economic decisions.
The seaport story
One of the key enterprises in which Ilya Traber and Dmitry Skigin were involved in the 1990s was the St Petersburg seaport. According to the port’s accounts, in 1997 the sole executive body of the port became the Association of Banks Investing in the Port (OBIP) whose board of directors was headed by Ilya Traber. It is worth noting that the company put in charge of the port had been formed only a few months earlier. In spite of its sonorous name, OBIP, according to the IPO report, comprised just two banks: ACB Petrovsky and The Bank of St Petersburg. However, 20% of OBIP was owned by IUB Peter, a company belonging to Ilya Traber and former Putin KGB colleague and current Deputy Chairman of the Gazprombank Board of Directors, Viktor Korytov. Another 50% of OBIP was owned by a Liechtenstein offshore company, Nasdor Incorporated. That firm was located at the same address in the town of Ruggel, where most of Dmitry Skigin’s oil trading companies were. Over time, Nasdor Incorporated became the main shareholder in St Petersburg Seaport.
The circumstances of the change of ownership and the operations of the port in general were looked into in 2004 by the Auditing Chamber, which came to conclusions that were far from comforting: “By the end of the 1990s, practically all the main port functions (loading and unloading, terminal work, warehousing, port fleet operations, etc) had been fully transferred from the company (St Petersburg Seaport – R.A.) to other private companies.” Members of the Auditing Chamber stressed that everything that the port should be doing – loading, unloading, storage – had been handed over to private firms. Therefore, in essence, the St Petersburg Seaport as a consolidated company was little more than just a shell company. As a result, “Representatives of the state’s interests were totally inactive <…> on the issues of the loss of the company’s business to other companies <…>. The fact that St Petersburg Seaport is on the list of strategically important joint stock companies has become irrelevant”.
The career of Gazpromneft Chairman of the Board Alexander Dyukov seems to have been closely linked with Traber and Skigin’s businesses. Since 1991, Dyukov worked as an engineer with Sovex, owned by Skigin. In 1996, he became first a financial and then a general director of the Petersburg Oil Terminal joint venture, which Traber controlled at the time (chairman of the terminal’s board of directors) and Skigin (a member of the board of directors). In 1998, Dyukov left for St Petersburg Seaport and shortly afterwards became acting general director. Dyukov, in replying to a query from Novaya Gazeta, confirmed that he knew Dmitry Skigin and Ilya Traber: “Skigin and Traber were members of the board of directors at Petersburg Oil Terminal and St Petersburg Seaport when I was a member of the governing bodies of these companies.” The Audit Chamber investigation into St Petersburg Port’s activities mention some deals in which Alexander Dyukov took part: “Pursuant to executive order No.545 <…> issued by A.V. Dyukov on 6 November 1998 movable ship property was sold to Port Fleet (for 3.1 million roubles) which was transferred to the company <…> as part of property in its management. <…> the transaction was executed in violation of current legislation: the issue was not approved by the St Petersburg City Property Management Committee (KUGI),” the report read in part.
Port Fleet, which had received St Petersburg’s seaport ships so easily, was 60% owned by Liechtenstein firm Nasdor Incorporated, where the controlling stake was held by St Petersburg Seaport, according to the Consolidated State Register of Legal Entities.
Dyukov, when the Auditing Chamber pointed this out to them, replied to Novaya Gazeta: “Thirteen years have passed, it is hard to remember all the business details during that period. The key function of the port is to render storage services. I think the issue has to do with the sale of the auxiliary fleet, which is not the port’s core activity. Besides, there are doubts that any laws were broken because all the decisions taken were approved by qualified lawyers from the company St Petersburg Seaport.
As for the auditors’ remarks concerning the transfer of the port functions to private businesses not controlled by the port, Dyukov explained: “The aim of any restructuring is to increase efficiency, cut costs and make investments more profitable.” The chairman of Gazpromneft’s board also stressed that all the decisions had been made by the board of directors in accordance with the law and the representatives of the state had voted in favour of these decisions.
“As a result of these decisions, investments in building new complexes increased, the fleet of cargo handling machines was replenished, the port’s cargo turnover increased, tax payments, employment and wages were up,” he summed up.
Ilya Traber was a participant in IUB Peter together with Viktor Korytov, Deputy Chairman of the Board at Gazprombank and a former colleague of Vladimir Putin at the KGB. Between 1998 and 2000, IUB Peter employed Mikhail Sirotkin, who subsequently also worked with OBIP of which Traber was the head of the board of directors. In 2001, Mikhail Sirotkin became deputy head of Gazprom’s legal department and since 2010 he has been the head of Gazprom’s competitive procurement management department (the annual order book of the gas monopoly for capital construction alone is estimated at some 800 billion roubles). Sirotkin did not reply to Novaya Gazeta’s inquiries sent to him more than two weeks ago.
Sirotkin’s meteoric rise at Gazprom is not surprising because his colleague in the companies controlled by Ilya Traber was Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller. In 1998-1999, Miller was representative for OBIP and director of development and investments at the St Petersburg seaport. Miller did not reply to questions from Novaya Gazeta.
Vladimir Putin’s cronies, the shadow master of Vyborg and pirate millionaires
Dmitry Skigin died in Nice in 2003 and Ilya Traber has long been living abroad. In 2008, Traber’s name caught the French medias’ attention in a scandal over the Charlie Chaplin museum. The house on the bank of Lake Geneva owned by the famous comedian was bought by a Luxemburg-based company Genii Capital, which also owns a Formula-1 Renault team. Russian driver Vitaly Petrov has recently joined the team. Alexander Petrov, the driver’s father, an influential businessman from Vyborg, said that Ilya Traber was one of his son’s main sponsors. According to Le Monde, Traber was under preliminary investigation by the Swiss federal police and was forbidden to stay in Monaco on account of suspected links with organised crime. But for the Luxemburg company, seeking to invest in Russia, Ilya Traber was a pass to the world of Russian business primarily because “he has long maintained close relations with Vladimir Putin”. It is interesting that Vladimir Putin personally tested the Renault team’s racing car and in early 2011 asked the Head of Rostekhnologii, Sergei Chemezov, and Chairman of the Board of Novatek, Leonid Mikhelson, to give financial aid to the Russian Formula-1 driver.
Among Vitaly Petrov’s sponsors was Vyborg Shipyard (VSZ), one of whose directors is his father, Alexander Petrov. When VSZ changed its owners in 2006, the local media reported that the event was preceded by a visit from a man who strongly resembled Ilya Traber. What could be the connection between the plant and Traber, who has long lived in Europe? One of VSZ’s shareholders, Alexander Ulanov, is a long-time acquaintance of Traber’s who started a business with him at the Antikvar restoration commercial centre and later founded together with Traber and Vladimir Putin’s KGB colleague Viktor Korytov, IUB Peter and the security firm VIAB. Ulanov’s partners included some well-known people: Vasily Gorelov, son of Dmitry Gorelov, part owner of Rossia Bank, and Sergei Kolesnikov, a Petersburg businessman who had written a much-publicised letter to President Dmitry Medvedev about the building of a “palace for Putin” outside Gelendzhik. Asked whether Ilya Traber had anything to do with the Vyborg shipyard (VSZ) a Petersburg businessman who is in on the details of the change of ownership gave this reply to Novaya Gazeta:
“Yes, of course. If you look at the people who have become shareholders, it will be immediately clear to you.”
“Do you mean Alexander Ulanov?” we asked.
“Let me put it this way: you are thinking in the right direction.”
It is hard to extract more from Traber’s former partners or acquaintances: all the conversations were full of hints and winks, which suggested that Traber is still engaged with many Russian companies through his old-time cronies representing his interests. All the signs are that it is not fortuitous that knowledgeable people to whom Novaya Gazeta has talked continue to refer to Traber as Vyborg’s shadow master.
Almost immediately after the VSZ ownership change, the plant landed a 60 billion rouble contract from Gazprom to build drilling platforms for the Shtokman deposit. As many sources familiar with the transaction know, the deal was approved by Vladimir Putin, who later visited the plant and looked at the platforms.
Sometime later, even more remarkable people became VSZ shareholders. Nikolai Shamalov, the Prime Minister’s long-time friend, with whom he founded the Ozero cooperative, bought an 11% stake. Rosinvest bought 25%. Sergei Kolesnikov, author of the “Putin palace” letter and a co-founder of Rosinvest, claimed in an interview with Novaya Gazeta that the company had been created “on Vladimir Putin’s instructions conveyed from his friend Nikolai Shamalov”.
“Eventually, the property structure took the shape of bearers’ shares. Myself, Gorelov and Shamalov each owned 2% of the shares. Shamalov transferred 94% of the shares to Putin,” Kolesnikov said. True, the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told Novaya Gazeta that Vladimir Putin had never owned a stake in Rosinvest.
Rosinvest, together with the representatives of Vyborg authorities and Ilya Traber’s partners, took part in another ambitious project, the building of the seafront shipyards. The project, executed by the company
Primorskaya Verf, envisaged the building of ships for liquefied natural gas, oil platforms and ships with a deadweight of over 100,000 tons. The construction was approved by Vladimir Putin and was 60% financed by state-owned Vneshekonombank (to the tune of 38 billion roubles) in which Putin serves as the Chairman of the Supervisory Board.
Dmitry Peskov explained to Novaya Gazeta that “Putin supports all profitable projects of port infrastructure development” and as regards to Vneshekonombank, “it issues loans after proper procedures are completed and not on anyone’s instructions”. According to the Consolidated State Register of Legal Entities Dmitry Gorelov, Sergei Kolesnikov and Nikolai Shamalov own together own 11% of Primorskaya Verf, Rosinvest owns 25% and the rest is owned by long-time partners of Traber’s who, according to observers, may represent the interests of influential businessman Alexander Ulanov (3.4%) and Alexander Petrov (3.4%). Similar shares are owned by Georgy Poryadin, former head of the Vyborg municipality, and Anna Potrayeva, probably the daughter of the Head of the municipality, Konstantin Potrayev. Poryadin and Potrayev have not replied to queries sent by Novaya Gazeta more than two weeks ago.
Another mega-project in which Ilya Traberg’s partner, Alexander Ulanov, owns a big stake will be built next to the shipyards. According to the Consolidated Register, Ulanov controls 27% of Zhasmin. That company announced in 2008 that it was planning to spend 6 billion to build an oil refinery with an annual capacity of 10 million tonnes. Rosinvest, together with partners and long-time acquaintances of Ilya Traber, were involved in other projects whose co-owners were some rather intriguing companies.
… The Arctic Sea’s capture by pirates in 2009 is still shrouded in mystery. The investigation merely multiplied the questions. The pirates were led by an Estonian citizen, Dmitrijs Savins who confessed during the investigation (the court interrogation protocol is publicly available) that the seizure was commissioned by businessman Eeric Kross, formerly the head of the Estonian intelligence service. According Savins, Kross who was in financial straits at that time hoped to improve his financial affairs by claiming a ransom for the Arctic Sea. Kross promised to give Savins 100,000 euros (the sum was later increased to 200,000).
Right off the bat there were some doubts in the “pirate’s testimony”. Savins and Kross were partners in several major companies and their earnings, to put it mildly, did not quite match the potential benefits from the hijacking. In 2005–2008, Savins, as the Estonian business media reported, was Chairman of the Board at Pankri Tankers, which transported oil. In 2008, Savins was paid a salary in excess of 1 million kroners. The salary was not his only source of income: Pankri Tankers, which he headed up, was a subsidiary of a larger company, Alexela Logistics. In his testimony, the millionaire pirate claimed that he and Eeric Kross were shareholders in the firm Juhtimise Partnerid (Managing Partners) which, in turn, owned a 5% stake in Alexela Logistics, a fairly large firm well-known in the Russian market whose clients include major Russian oil companies: Surgutneftegaz, TNK BP and Gazpromneft. A spokesman for Alexela Logistics confirmed to Novaya Gazeta that Savins was the managing director of Pankri Tankers and quit that job in late 2008. The company has no information about his further fate.
Alexela Logistics, according to the Consolidated Register, owns a 25% stake in The First Murmansk Terminal, which rents an oil transport complex belonging to Murmansk Sea Fishing Port. Other co-owners of First Murmansk Terminal are Ilya Traber’s erstwhile friends and partners: Alexander Ulanov (46%) and Alexander Petrov (9.2%) and also probably Igor Potrayev, the son of the Head of the Vyborg municipality Konstantin Potrayev (5.5%). Even more intriguingly, according to the Russian enterprise database SKRIN, until 2008, Alexela Logistics’ partner in First Murmansk Terminal was Rosinvest (which owned 13%). Alexela Logistics told Novaya Gazeta that they had sold their stake in the First Murmansk Terminal in October 2007 but declined to comment on their projects with Rosinvest and Ilya Traber.
Alexela Logistics had other joint projects with the Vyborg authorities and Ilya Traber’s partners. As it told Novaya Gazeta, it owned shares in RosEst and the bunker company Petromarin, where its partners, according to the Consolidated Register, were Alexander Ulanov, Alexander Petrov, the Head of the Vyborg municipality Konstantin Potrayev and probably also his son, Igor Potrayev.
Among other things, Alexander Ulanov and Alexander Petrov were going to build a methyl alcohol terminal near the seaport of Vysotsk in Vyborg. Long-time partners of Ilya Traber owned the company Vyborg Baltic Initiative which was going to build a terminal with a capacity of 450,000 tonnes of methanol a year for 25 million dollars.
Ulanov and Petrov also own 25% each in Invest BSMZ which in turn has a 28.7% stake in the Baltic Shipbuilding Plant (BSMZ). BSMZ is a major producer of tankers which also builds and refurbishes ships and owns valuable piers, which actually turns the shipyard into a small port. Alexander Petrov did not reply to Novaya Gazeta’s query, and we have not managed to contact Alexander Ulanov. He could not be reached by telephone at the companies he owns.