Mukhtar Ablyazov’s skimmer’s arrest: how to catch a vamp
Looking at things at first glance, one would be tempted to think that she should have been rewarded for allowing, though apparently unwittingly, French police to lay their hands on the ex-banker and master-swindler from Kazakhstan Mukhtar Ablyazov, who as a result of it is now waiting behind (French) bars for his eventual extradition either to Ukraine or to the Russian Federation. But instead, Yelena Tishchenko, herself from Ukraine, has now turned into a main actor herself in the never-ending melodrama surrounding Ablyazov and his associates, after her arrest shortly after arrival in a plush hotel in the heart of Moscow. It has appeared that since 2010 she has been acting as a key link in the “second round” of fund diversion from Ablyazov’s offshore mailbox companies to “real-looking assets in such a manner that BTA could not touch either the money stolen from it or the assets into which it has been hedged. Caught in the act, she may even have had a third round in preparation. Whether, though, her arrest has thwarted such a scheme remains to be seen – since Ablyazov in the recent past never took any chances, and a fresh layer of intermediaries for the purpose of keeping the funds “safe” may well already been in place.
CHARLES VAN DER LEEUW, WRITER, NEWS ANALYST
On August 31, lawyer Yelena Tishchenko, citizen of Ukraine, arrived from Cyprus at the airport of Sheremetyevo near Moscow. She took a taxi and checked in at the Baltschug Hotel, a top-class luxury one on the bank of the Moskva river with a view on the Kremlin. Only hours after she had gone to her room, police entered the premises and took her off in handcuffs. According to a report on the incident by Kommersant [http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2269318], either the same day or the next morning she was taken to a court hearing learning that she was under investigation for alleged “legalisation of illegally appropriated assets” and “blocking creditors’ access to deposits and securities” to the equivalent of around 3.3 bilion US dollar in all. At the initial hearing, still according to Kommersant, Madam Tishchenko chose to leave all questions unanswered, appealing to Article 51 of the Russian Constitution according to which no suspect can be forced to bring evidence against his/her own case.
“Yelena Tishchenko, one of the main lawyers of Mukhtar Ablyazov, ex-head of the board of directors of the BTA Bank in Kazakhstan charged with financial violations of over $6 billion, was detained in Moscow on Friday,” a report by Vedomosti in the wake of the surprise move by the Russian authorities [http://www.vedomosti.ru/finance/news/15835331/v-moskve-zaderzhali-yurista-muhtara-ablyazova] was to read. “According to investigators, Tishcheko coordinated Ablyazov’s legalization of property in Russia and prevention of acquisition of his assets by creditors, including the Agency for Deposit Insurance. His assets are worth over $3.3 billion. Tishchenko was taken to the Tverskoy Court of Moscow on Saturday. The hearings will be postponed by 3 days because she has no lawyer.” Lawyers mobilised in haste by her ex-husband three days later tried to obtain her liberation against a 40 million rouble bail failed to do so, and the judge ordered her detention to be prolonged for a period of two months.
Yelena entered the scene surrounding Ablyazov only in 2010, initially as a mere legal counsel, but it appears that she soon became a lot more than that – including, according to some gossip, the fugitive’s bedmate. The villa in southern France where the culprit has eventually been caught belonged to her. Thanks to her appearance at a court case in London where she came as a mere spectator since Ablyazov has been debarred at the Royal Court as part of the penalty for contempt of court ruled earlier, she was shadowed night and day by detectives which led, after a failed attempt to apprehend Ablyazov in Italy, to his final arrest. “Walking down the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice in London in the hazy evening heat, the blonde Ukrainian lawyer was looking forward to getting back to her villa in the south of France,” the Daily Telegraph  reported shortly after Ablyazov’s apprehension that was to follow. “She caught a taxi to Heathrow, where she did some shopping before catching a flight to Nice. However, Yelena Tishchenko had no idea that all the while she was she was being trailed by private detectives, whom she led to the fugitive Kazakh billionaire Mukhtar Ablyazov.”
From there on, things went on smoothly as the entire campaign now seems to have been extremely well prepared. “Private detectives hired by BTA spent months hunting him before the Ukrainian lawyer unwittingly took them to his hideout on the Riviera, where he had been flitting between three palatial rented properties,”:the article continued. “On Monday July 22, Mrs Tyshchenko attended a High Court
hearing in London relating to assets that BTA is attempting to recover from Mr Ablyazov, a source with knowledge of the investigators’ operation said. The judge granted her application for an adjournment, and she left the court building just before 6pm to travel back to the south of France, arriving at the villa where she was staying with her children at 1.30am. She left an hour later, driving herself to the Villa Neptune in Miramar, where investigators spotted Ablyazov through a window, rearranging a bed in his underwear. Mrs Tishchenko left the villa at about midday but returned later the same day. Ablyazov’s car was seen leaving Villa Neptune on the evening of July 26 and driving to the Villa Saint Basile in Mougils. Mrs Tishchenko visited him there and stayed the night. On Monday, BTA contacted the French authorities, pointing out that the oligarch was wanted by Ukraine for allegations of fraud and was subject to an Interpol “red notice”. The next day Ablyazov travelled to a third villa, the Chemin de Castellaras in Mouans-Sartoux. It was here that 15 police officers mounted a raid on Wednesday as a helicopter equipped with thermal image cameras hovered overhead in case the oligarch tried to flee into the forest. In the end Ablyazov, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, came quietly and was arrested at just before 2pm. He appeared in court in Aix-en-Provence on Thursday and was detained pending extradition proceedings.”
As reported earlier, two of Ablyazov’s shares in Russian property projects which originally served as collateral on loans received from BTA at the time it shone at the zenith of Kazakhstan’s banking constellation but were later diverted from the bank’s disposition to Ablyazov’s personal control have already been sold to third parties. They are the “logopark” or freight storage and handling complex near Moscow’s airport Domodedovo and the Eurasia Tower, located in the new skyscraper centre near the World Trade Centre in the Russian capital. In the course of the winter of 2010/’11, Ablyazov would manage to sell the Domodedovo complex, over which he had collateral control as a claimant on behalf of an offshore company he controls without any obligations towards BTA where the money covered by it originally came from, for the equivalent of around half a billion US dollar to Russia’s controversial North-Caucasian tycoon Mikhail Gutseriyev.
On top of that, apart from other logoparks scattered over the Russian Federation, several highbrow complexes including shopping, office and residential space downtown Moscow and St.-Petersburg are still wholly or partly belonging to offshore firms under Ablyazov’s control. Most of those projects, however, carry fresh debt on top of that owed by BTA. Some of them have been sold off by Ablyazov’s offshore mailbox companies to third parties, who maintain rights of their own. Others have claims pending in relation to the bankruptcy of BTA’s former Moscovite subsidiary AMT, in which BTA’s parent bank holds a minority share. BTA will now have to prove in Russian courts that not just the bankruptcy but also the extra share issues which deprived it of its status as majority shareholder were fraudulent in order to turn the clock back – which in turn bears the risk of counter-claims by other creditors.
As reported at the time, on March 18 2010, a number of arrests was carried out in the Moscow branch office of Kazakhstan’s troubled Bank TuranAlem (BTA), in the process of being renamed ATM, as its local general director Alexander Volkov, financial director Artem Bondorenko, economic director Alexei Byelov and the head of the legal department Denis Vorotyntsev were carried off in handcuffs. The three former were apprehended on the premises, while Vorotyntsev was caught in Krasnodar where he was on holiday. The arrests were part of a broad investigation by Russian authorities into embezzlement schemes masterminded by former BTA president Mukhtar Ablyazov and a number of his associates. Close to the equivalent of 5 billion US dollar in various currencies has slipped out of BTA’s current owners, dominated by Kazakhstan’s state fund Samruk Kazyna through its Russian operations, investigators think. One of the schemes under scrutiny, worth alone in the order of $1.5 billion, concerns Eurasia Logistics, a company engaged in the construction of trade and transportation centres in the regions of Moscow (Northern Domodedovo), Yekatarinaburg (Pyshma), Kazan (Byek Tau) and Novosibirsk (Tolmachevo).
During the booming years between 2006 and 2008, Eurasia received from LLS BTA loans the lump sum of which totalled 775.4 million rouble, 19 million euro and 1.4 billion US dollar, the press release at the origin of the controversy issued by Russia’s interior ministry on March 19, the day following the intervention, reads. At some stage, according to some as late as 2009 shortly before Ablyazov was sacked as president of BTA and soon afterwards fled to London where he is entrenched up to this day, the loans were transferred to an affiliated company of Eurasia Logistics named Eurasia Global. According to the ministry’s press release, the latter was, and still is, under control of Mukhtar Ablyazov. At the time, it looked like the objects under scrutiny, worth altogether up to the equivalent of 5 billion US dollar in obscured funding resources, were the only assets at stake in Ablyazov’s schemes. Later on, it would appear that the firms under Eurasia Logistics’ umbrella were used as vehicles for much further-stretching collateral deviation schemes.
The first move in BTA’s efforts to recuperate some of the collateral in and around the Russian capital with the aim to get it sold off and write the income on the sale off against unrecovered debt was undertaken in early September 2010, when a Moscow court ordered the sale of a 20 per cent stake in the Russian company OOO Marina Gardens, which was the project developer of a new oceanarium on Poklonnaya Hill, next to the war memorial centre. Marina Gardens in turn was 95.1 per cent owned by a Cyprus-based firm called Legendcatch Services Ltd., and the remaining shares held by the city of Moscow. Legendcatch would turn out to be among the hundreds of mailbox enterprises within Ablyazov’s offshore fund and asset diversion network. According to a report by Kommersant dated September 3 2010, total construction costs of the structure, consisting of the oceanarium proper and a shopping and leisure gallery would amount to 480 million US dollar, with a total surface of 180,000 square metre, with a calculated face value of $500 per square metre.
On paper, the project looked in order. In all, exploitation of the complex could easily bring in a net profit in the order of 10 million dollar per annum, consultants had calculated when the project was first conceived back in 2004. At the time, a licence for the construction works had been issued by the city of Moscow, extending to 2007. Lack of financial resources caused delays and by 2007 works had virtually come to a halt. It was then that Legendcatch obtained a loan from BTA (the Almaty-based parent bank then still under Ablyazov’s control) of $22.5 million while the complex’s delivery date was prolonged to 2013. One-fifth of the shares in Marina Gardens were filed in the name of BTA as collateral. It was only during court proceedings three years later that it became clear that Legendcatch had purchased its stock in Marina Gardens for no more than 50,000 Russian rouble and that the rest of the loan from BTA had in turn been lent to another offshore firm called Denmar Assets – which was the last to be heard of the money.
Another case related to a Moscow-located asset sought by BTA is dubbed Paveletskaya, and has been included in Ablyazov’s conviction for perjury in the UK. It involves an underground shopping centre downtown Moscow, next to the Paveletskaya railway station. As reported lat year with the verdicts concerning Ablyazov’s conviction to 22 months in a British jail for perjury, requests for freezing orders were granted in December 2010 by a British court of law concerning assets belonging to Mukhtar Ablyazov and his associate Ildar Khazhayev, along with those belonging to the companies Paveletskaya OJSC, Samuel Finance Sarl, Simplecity Holdings Limited, Ringbell Investments Limited,, Malabar Investments Group Limited and Mishia Investments Limited. “The claim relates to a series of purported loan facilities amounting to approximately U.S.$269 million advanced by the Bank to Paveletskaya and Samuel Finance between 2005 and 2009,” the court’s documentation reads. “The loans were purportedly for the purpose of investment in the construction of an underground shopping and entertainment mall in Paveletskaya Square, Moscow. The Bank contends that Mr Ablyazov orchestrated a scheme to misappropriate these funds from the Bank for his own benefit through the loans to Paveletskaya and Samuel Finance.
As noted at the time, the so-called logoparks, storage and handling centres on strategic transportation points in various parts of the Russian Federation, as Russia’s judicial news agency RAPSI reported on July 16 2012. “On August 20, the Ninth Commercial Court of Appeals will hear the Kolpino Logistics Park’s lawsuit against the awarding of $56.8 million and 75.9 million euro to Moscow’s AMT Bank,’ the news report read. “The Moscow Commercial Court ordered the park to pay 75.9 million euro in May. In June, in separate lawsuit against the park, the court collected 1.854 billion rouble ($56.8 million) for a loan issued in December 2008. The Kolpino Logistics Park near St. Petersburg was established by Eurasia Logistics. The park is roughly 580,000 square meters in size.” The trouble, though, is that BTA these days holds no more than a 22.26 per cent share in its former Russian subsidiary AMT, ironically side by side with its infamous former president. “The Moscow Commercial Court upheld the Central Bank’s petition for AMT Bank’s bankruptcy in October 2011,” the RAPSI report reminded. “The Deposit Insurance Agency was appointed its receiver. The Central Bank revoked AMT’s license in July for forging account data. The banks deposit portfolio was 15 billion rouble ($ 460.7 million). According to the agency, it will pay a record 13 billion rouble ($399.2 million) to AMT depositors.”
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