Part 1. land, water and sky of Yevgeny Prigozhin
In this part, you will learn: how the crash of a light helicopter leads to the entire aircraft fleet of the businessman and his new yacht; what the pilot who used to transport Prigozhin tells about him; who «Putin’s chef» entrusts his plane and yachts to; how a company that «owns vehicles» is connected to Central Africa. Joint investigation of Current Time and «Municipal scanner».
BY CATERING HELICOPTERS
Right next to the famous Gazprom tower in Saint Petersburg, there’s a low-rise quarter called «Lakhta-Park». 490 apartments, cottages and houses not higher than five stories are scattered across 17 hectares of woods. «Lakhta-Park» was built on the land that was loaned by Saint Petersburg mayor’s office. It’s located next to Olgino, the district infamous for its «troll factory» — according to the American special forces, it belongs to Prigozhin, and its employees managed to influence the presidential elections in the US with their posts on social networks.
The «factory» has moved, but Yevgeny Prigozhin stayed. He even went into litigation with St Petersburg government to defend his right for this land. In 2011, the land plot was loaned to OOO «Concord management and consulting». Back then, Prigozhin’s 72-year-old mother Violetta was listed as the owner of this company. Officials were told that a medical rehabilitation center with a wellness park will be built here. When the residential quarter appeared in Lakhta, authorities attempted to seize this land, but the company of Prigozhin’s wife, «New technologies SPA», managed to defend its right for the land plots under the already built houses in the Arbitration court.
Prigozhin’s wife Lyubov is the co-owner of many companies within her husband’s sphere of interests. At the of the day, she became the developer of the residential quarter.
Next to «Lakhta-Park» is another residential complex, «North Versailles». It was developed by OOO «Concord management and consulting», which was re-registered in Prigozhin’s name in 2017. The entrepreneur himself owns one of the 49 unique mansions, another three belong to his wife and daughter. Between «Lachta-Park» and «North Versailles», there’s a helipad. From there, a small Robinson R44 helicopter takes of regularly. It’s the personal air taxi of Prigozhin and his family.
According to Rosreestr, the land plot on which the helipad is located is being rented by «Concord management and consulting» since 2009. This helipad featured in a video by Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. In it, Navalny gave the viewers a virtual tour around Prigozhin’s assets.
In may 2016, Robinson R-44 helicopter (aircraft number RA-06364) crashed in Yuntolovskiy forest reserve, two kilometers from the «Lakhta» helipad. Both pilots were unharmed. IAC report states that the helicopter belonged to the «Mercury» company, which provides catering services to the Ministry of Defense in the Far East.
About a year later, Administration of state aviation supervision conducted an inspection at the helipad in «Lakhta-Park», but now the subject of this inspection was another company, «Obshchepit» (the location of the inspection is stated in the report, which is available in the open base of the Prosecutor-General’s Office). Following violations were revealed: the pilot did not inform the passengers about the fire-extinguishing equipment and did not report the takeoff location and magnetic course.
NORMAL OLD GUY
As one of the former pilots of the Robinson helicopter told CT on condition of anonymity, its purpose was to carry Prigozhin or his wife for small distances within Saint Petersburg and the surrounding area. For example, the entrepreneur usually took it to the airport, «to the areas unreachable by car». The pilot hardly ever communicated with the employees of «Obshchepit», he wasn’t even officially enrolled.
«I would come through the back entrance, get the keys and the phone from the security guard and just sit and wait. If I needed fuel, there was a number in the phone’s memory that I could call to order some barrels with gasoline. I fueled the helicopter myself. Before the takeoff, I used the same phone to get all the required clearances, and after the shift, I returned the keys and the phone to the guard. I received my payments from the guard at the entrance, — told the pilot, — Basically, I never saw anyone apart from the chief»
The pilot only learned who the «chief» was later, when he saw the video about the journalists killed in the CAR on YouTube. «There are people much worse than him. He was a normal old guy», — said the pilot about his passenger.
A specialist who deals with business aviation told CT that Robinson R-44 is a light helicopter, which can even be registered to a private individual. The expert was surprised that a man like Prigozhin uses this model.
«This is a very simple low-end machine, any second-rate businessman can afford it. People of such caliber usually use Eurocopter. It seems strange to me that Prigozhin chose Robinsor R-44», — said the interlocutor of CT.
The pilot who worked for «Obshchepit» wasn’t too fond of this machine either. «People who find themselves in a helicopter, especially in a clunker like Robinson, change. On ground, they can be anyone, but here inside they become all nice and calm. They behave properly and don’t ask any questions», — he said.
The owner of «Obshchepit» is Saint Petersburg resident Pavel Arnold. On his social network pages, Arnold wrote that he graduated from the General of the Army A. V. Khrulev Military Logistics Academy in 2003. Since June 2013, «Obshchepit» company has received government contracts for catering services on a total amount of 233 million rubles. The ordering party was AO «Voentorg».
Arnold confirmed to CT that he really is the director of «Obshchepit». When asked what his company needs a helicopter for, he replied that the company’s activities include «buying, selling and leasing various vehicles». The manager refused to answer any further questions.
The catering business and the helicopter aren’t the only things that connect Yevgeny Prigozhin and Pavel Arnold. In 2014, Arnold founded ZAO «Litera», which in 2017 became the owner of OOO «Business project». Before that, «Business project» was directly owned by the Prigozhin family.
«Business project» used to own a small Cessna 182T plane with the aircraft number RA-67717. It later became the property of the «M-Finance» company. Documents obtained by the «Dossier» center state that it was operated by the Lobaye Invest company, which is registered in the CAR. (CT tells more about this Cessna in the fourth chapter).
In 2016, «Business project» purchased a 31-meter yacht «Stormbringer». Seychelles-based company Beratex Group became its freighter without a purchase option. This is known from the documents of Saint Petersburg Arbitration Court: «Business project» was fined for 126 million rubles for violation of currency legislation, but the company has successfully appealed against this decision.
Another yacht owned by Beratex Group — the 37-meter «St. Vitamin» that was used by the family of Yevgeny Prigozhin — was earlier discovered by Alexey Navalny. A Gelendzhik citizen managed to take a photo of both yachts together.
Beratex Group offshore company is related not only to Prigozhins’ sea vessels, but also to the planes. In the European Commission Regulation on the list of aircraft operators, Beratex Group is listed as a Russian company. According to the public information, this offshore company owns a small two-engine plane Hawker 800 with the aircraft number M-VITO. Polina Prigozhina, Yevgeny’s daughter, posred photos of this plane and its interior on her Instagram. «Your dad is a nicesoul», — commented one of her followers.
During one of the flights to Europe, the plane required an emergency repair: «a window need to be replaced», as the technicians who did it told CT. To avoid a refusal of service because Prigozhin is on the US sanctions list, the jet requested an emergency landing. The cost of repairs was covered by the Seychelles-based offshore Beratex. An employee of the Lithuanian company that repaired the plane told CT on condition of anonymity that the flight was organized by the charter company «Unijet» (a company that serves private aviation), which is registered in Moscow.
When asked if Prigozhin flies this plane, «Unijet» employee responded that «this information isn’t quite correct» but refused to provide any additional comments citing commercial confidentiality. The company didn’t respond to the written inquiry.
The Hawker 800 M-VITO business jet has a rich and quite unusual flight history. This plane usually flies between Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but there have also been other, more exotic destinations. Over the past two years, M-VITO has landed and taken off from Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, a total of 48 times. From there, it headed to Syria and towards African counties above which public aircraft trackers cannot obtain the information required to track the plane.
According to «Novaya Gazeta», M-VITO made landings to Lybia, DR Congo, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Madagascar. It is known, that in December 2018 M-VITO has been to Khartoum (the capital of Sudan), Nairobi (Kenya) and N’djamena (Chad). The business jet visited Madagascar during the peak of the presidential race, which Russia actively participated in. Prigozhin’s structures sent political strategists there, and the FAN agency related to him sent some of its employees who published materials about America trying to rig the elections in favor of one of the candidates. As a result, the candidate who FAN supported in its articles has won.
CT cannot confirm that all flights of the M-VITO business jet were related to Yevgeny Prigozhin’s business trips.
In the second part, you will learn: how the business of providing catering services to the Russian military emerged and gained strength; how the businessman’s structures used the money that would be enough to build a bridge to Crimea; why relations between Prigozhin’s companies are obvious to the inspection bodies but are still being ignored; what is the point in creating so many tourism companies.
Mikhail Maglov, Timur Olevskiy, Dmitry Treshchagin