Crimean wine with a Ukrainian label. How Villa Krim is sold in Europe and the USA bypassing the sanctions
After the annexation of Crimea, one of the largest Ukrainian alcohol producers legally divided its business into Ukrainian and Russian parts. Now “Alef-Vinal” sells “wine with a protected geographical indication of Crimea” in Russia, and for Europe and the USA, it bottles its products in mainland Ukraine. The grapes in both plants are the same. This became known in a joint investigation of the Present Time and the anti-corruption project “Municipal Scanner”.
EU and US sanctions prohibit the import and export of products from Crimea, but through this scheme, the manufacturer bypasses the sanctions. Among the founders of the group are European companies. Behind these organizations is a businessman from Dnipro, Vadim Ermolaev. In 2018, he was ranked 64th on the list of the richest Ukrainians by Focus Magazine with a net worth of about $ 100 million.
The wines of the “Golden Amphora”, Villa Krim, and “Old Crimea” brands, Klinkov and “Jean-Jacques” cognacs and GreenDay and Helsinki vodka are all products of “Alef-Vinal”, one of the largest Ukrainian alcoholic beverage companies.
Before the annexation of Crimea, the main facilities of the enterprise were located on the peninsula, but even without them, the company still leads the market. In 2017, the specialized magazine Lanlord placed “Alef-Vinal” in 13th place – excluding its Crimean assets.
The group owns five wine and vodka production facilities and vineyards with an area of two thousand hectares. The main Ukrainian enterprise is located in the city of Sinelnikovo, Dnipropetrovsk region. According to the company, it is there that all products for Ukraine are produced and exported to other countries except Russia.
In the Russian Federation, products come from four plants located in the Crimea. All wines are produced at AO “Starokrymskoe”, cognacs – at “Bagerovo Fine Wine Factory”, grapes are grown by “Burlyuk” agricultural firm and processed and turned to cognac spirit by “Alef-Vinal-Crimea” in the village of Pochtovoe.
In Crimea, “Alef-Vinal” has two vineyards of its own: 800 hectares in the village of Kashtany and over 1000 hectares in the village of Pervomaiskoe.
The press service of Ukrainian “Alef-Vinal” did not tell Current Time where the company’s vineyards are located. Ukrainian legislation prohibits them from importing raw materials from Crimea.
Ukrainian and Russian “Alef-Vinal” have separate websites. They are very similar in design, but differ in the list of alcohol brands sold. In the Russian version, Crimean vineyards are described in detail with a location map, but in the Ukrainian version, it is impossible to find the origin of the grapes for the wine.
The Russian version of the website indicates that the products of the corporation are popular in many countries of the world, including the USA, countries of South America, Europe and Asia. EU and US sanctions prohibit any export and import of products from the peninsula.
In an interview with Current Time, marketing director of the Russian “Alef-Vinal-Crimea” Ekaterina Naumova replied that their products are intended only for the domestic Russian market, unlike those of the Ukrainian enterprise.
“We have different markets. «Alef-Vinal-Crimea» works for Russia. We are fully represented in Crimea, and in the continental part – somewhere less, somewhere more. It is important that all our wines are classified as «wine with a protected geographical indication». This guarantees consumers that the wine is produced from fresh grapes and a full production cycle at the manufacturing plant”, –said the marketing director.
The representative of the Dnipro-based “Alef-Vinal” said that the company supplies wine not only to Ukraine, but also to Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China and the EU. The interlocutor insisted that all the wine of their enterprise is produced in the city of Sinelnikovo near Dnipro.
In the popular international wine-rating app Vivino, you can find the Villa Krim brand. It is in the catalogs of both Ukrainian and Russian companies. The app lists Odessa as the city of production. However, “Alef-Vinal-Crimea” called this a mistake.
We also found the aforementioned Villa Krim wine in the American online store LiquorBarrn. They replied to the inquiry of Current Time that the manufacturer of the goods was the Ukrainian company Atlantis LLC from the city of Sinelnikovo.
Villa Krim can also be found in the European Union, for example, in the Estonian store Selver. The site indicates that the wine from Ukraine is supplied by “Alef Vinal”.
Villa Krim wine also be bought, for example, at the international hypermarket chain METRO. On the label, the manufacturer is listed as TOV “Atlantis” in the city of Sinelnikovo. But below it is written that the manufacturer of “processed wine materials” is OOO “Aleph-Vinal-Crimea”, Crimea, Bagerovo village. Moreover, the latter is indicated in a much larger font.
The listing of the wine producer on the bottle confirms the economic activities of “Alef-Vinal” in the Crimea: the wine material obtained from grapes is the main component of the finished product. After CT contacted METRO in Ukraine, photos with labels indicating the ingredients and manufacturer disappeared from the website.
The press service of the Ukrainian company claims that “ChAO «Alef-Vinal» has no managed assets in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine and does not carry out its economic activities in these territories”.
As Current Time found out, this information is not true.
Offshore schemes and sanctions
OOO “Alef-Vinal-Crimea” was registered in November 2014. The founder was PAO “Burlyuk”, over 90% of the Russian “Alef-Vinal” was registered on the same structure. In turn, the founder of “Burliuk” was the Ukrainian PAO “Alef-Vinal”.
Among the founders of “Alef-Vinal-Crimea”, in addition to “Burlyuk”, there are four more Cypriot companies: Amadon Limited, AD Vinal Invest Limited, Dreamdestiny Holdings Limited and Promila Enterprises Limited. The last three also own “Burlyuk” in equal shares.
Until the end of 2018, the controlling stake of 50% in the Ukrainian “Alef-Vinal” belonged to the Austrian company Alef Investment Holding GmbH. According to the official register, its director is a citizen of Ukraine Vadim Ermolaev. The remaining 50% was equally divided between the two Cypriot companies mentioned earlier.
In November 2018, an Austrian company sold its stake in PAO “Alef-Vinal” to an offshore company from the British Virgin Islands – Ac-Terra International LTD, whose director is the same Vadim Ermolaev. The manager’s control over the company is also confirmed by the decision of the Antimonopoly Committee of Ukraine from July 26, 2016.
One of the Cypriot companies – AD Vinal Invest Limited – simultaneously owns shares in the Ukrainian “Alef-Vinal”, the Russian “Alef-Vinal-Crimea” and the Russian PAO “Burlyuk”. 0.53% of the offshore structure is owned by “Alef-Vinal” chief technologist and Bulgarian citizen Boyan Borisov, and 99.47% belong to Belize Record Trading Limited, a company from Belize. It is impossible to find out its final beneficiaries – according to the law of the country, information can be obtained only at the request of competent state bodies.
“Alef-Vinal” also has ties with OOO “Trading House AV”, which was established by the general director of the company and the former beneficiary of OOO “Atlantis” Felix Chertok.
Russian “Alef-Vinal-Crimea” and “Burlyuk” were repeatedly credited by the Russian National Commercial Bank, which is under the sanctions of the EU and the USA.
Since the annexation of the peninsula, companies have completed at least four Russian government contracts with a total worth of nearly 140 million rubles ($2 million). Among the customers, in particular, are the “Novyi Svet” champagne factory and “Sevastopol winery”.
In August 2017, the director of Alef-Vinal-Crimea Oleg Logvinov was a defendant in a criminal case. The Russian Investigative Committee accused him of tax evasion in the amount of more than 75 million rubles (a little more than $1 million).
In March 2018, Vadim Ermolaev and his business partner Stanislav Vilensky became involved in a scandal in Estonia. The European Central Bank revoked the license from Versobank AS that they owned on suspicion of money laundering and terrorist financing.
According to the Estonian Financial Inspection and OCCRP investigative journalists, the bank participated in legalizing money of unknown origin from Ukraine through several shell companies in the Seychelles. According to the journalist investigation, at least 242 transactions totaling $164.3 million went through the bank.