Cypriot ferries for the “little green men”. Why the sanctions introduced by Ukraine and the EU don’t harm the sea shipping empire
One of the largest Russian transport groups, AnRussTrans, has been working in the transportation market for almost 20 years, collaborating with government departments and large private companies. But almost nothing is known about the group, nor about its owner Alexander Annenkov. As it turned out during the investigation of Current Time and the anti-corruption project “Municipal Scanner”, Some companies associated with Annenkov took part in the annexation of Crimea and worked have worked on the peninsula for almost five, violating European sanctions. The authorities of Ukraine and Cyprus did not provide substantive replies to the journalists’ questions.
Without drawing attention
At the end of winter 2014, people in uniform without identification marks appeared at the Kerch crossing “Crimea – Caucasus”. Now they are known as “little green men” or, according to Russian pro-government publications, “polite people”. Over the next weeks, the peninsula will be flooded with military and civilian equipment, and Russia will annex Crimea.
A significant part of the equipment and military was transferred to the peninsula from Russia by ferries of the large transport group AnRussTrans. Its ultimate beneficiaries are the former Deputy Minister of Railways of Russia Alexander Annenkov and his family.
Almost nothing is known about the former official and his relatives. Annenkov does not give interviews and does not respond to requests from journalists. It is known from reliable sources that he graduated from the Kharkov Institute of Railway Transport in the early 1970s.
After leaving the ministry, Annenkov built up a transportation business related to the state and large corporations: his companies are partners of the Russian Ministry of Defense, Russian Railways and the sanctioned Rosneft, Gazprom and Lukoil.
Alexander Annenkov and his wife Lydia have been on the sanctions list of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine since 2018. Any of their assets on the territory of Ukraine are subject to blocking, both are prohibited from entering the country and participating in the privatization and leasing of state property.
Current Time’s request for an interview was left without response.
Offshores and horsewhips
In December 2014, Kerch City Council deputy and TIS-Crimea director Sergei Khodko received a medal “For the Return of Crimea” from the Russian Ministry of Defense. Khodko immediately declared that this award belonged “to the entire staff of the enterprise”.
“We were the first to take the first, second and third wave, as we call them, of these mass shipments. The guys were transported in organized groups, in ordinary clothes, but they had their uniforms and whips with them. Ukrainian customs officer and border guards identified them, some were let through, some were stopped or sent back. But gradually the task was carried out – within 2-3 days, human reserves were massively transferred”, – said Khodko in an interview for the Crimean website Kerch.net. In May 2018, Khodko passed away.
TIS-Crimea is one of the companies of the “AnRussTrans” group. The organization was registered in the Russian registry in June 2015. The founder was the Kiev-based company “Techinvestservice”, which in turn, through several Cypriot companies, belongs to Annenkov. After the annexation of Crimea, the European Union banned its companies from investing in the transport sector of the peninsula.
Since March 2016, Cypriot Avimalink Enterprises LTD gradually bought out the shares of the Kiev company in “TIS-Crimea”, until it became its sole owner. This offshore company belongs to another Cypriot company – Anrusstrans Limited, which is controlled by Annenkov through a nominal owner. The editors have a copy of the documents confirming this connection. In mid-December 2018, Annenkov completely re-registered “TIS-Crimea” on himself, and the company ceased to violate the sanctions.
After the editorial office turned to “AnRussTrans” for comment, information about “TIS-Crimea” disappeared from the group’s official website, but a post about it was still available on Facebook. In response to a request for an interview with Current Time, Annenkov’s group of companies asked to send an official request, but after a few weeks they did not respond. Later, representatives of “AnRussTrans” said that the management almost never interacts with the press.
“Everything was handed over to the CEO, if there was no feedback, it means that it doesn’t interest him. It means he didn’t want to [answer]”, – was the response from the head office of the enterprise. Further request for comment refused
None of the above companies involved in the transportation of Russian military equipment to the Crimea fell under the personal sanctions of either Ukraine, the EU, or the USA.
At the time of the annexation, Kiev-based “Techinvestservice” controlled “TIS-Crimea”. It still belongs to Annenkov, but its assets are not blocked in Ukraine, as prescribed by the personal sanctions imposed on the businessman.
In the National Security and Defense Council and in the government of Ukraine, CT’s questions about TIS-Crimea and Techinvestservice were ignored. The Security Service of Ukraine said that they could not provide information because it is classified.
An empire from Turkmenistan to Bulgaria
The companies of Annenkov’s group are active not only in Crimea: they are engaged in international and domestic rail and sea transportation. “AnRussTrans” ships sail to Bulgaria (EU member), Turkey, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, as well as to the Strait of Kerch and the Baltic Sea.
According to the “AnRussTrans” website, Annenkov’s companies are official forwarders of Russian Railways and partners of one of the largest Russian insurance companies “Ingosstrakh”, the state-owned “Rosmorport” and a subsidiary of one of Estonia’s largest industrial concerns BLRT Grupp. Among the partners are also Gazprom and Lukoil, which have been under the US sanctions since December 2014.
The Russian register of legal entities indicates that 1% of “AnRussTrans”, which is registered in Moscow belongs, to Annenkov himself, and the remaining 99% — to Cypriot Anrusstrans Limited.
According to the Cyprus Department of Registration and Liquidation of Businesses, until mid-December 2014, Annenkov directly owned the offshore company, and then transferred his share to a nominee, Cyprus citizen Christiane Savva. She controls the company on trust in the interests of Annenkov. The editors have a copy of the document confirming this.
Among the group’s companies is “Anroskrym”. It was created in 2003 immediately after Leonid Kuchma and Vladimir Putin decided to resume transport communications in the Kerch Strait. On the company’s website, the decision of the presidents of Ukraine and Russia is called a historic event, and the route between the ports “Caucasus – Crimea” is called the “stabilizing and unifying link” of both countries.
In addition to “Anroskrym”, other companies of the Annenkov’s group work at the crossing: “TIS-Crimea”, which participated in the annexation, and “Anship”.
In the period from 2015 to 2016, “Anship” transported people and equipment from Russia to Crimea under the government contract from the Russian Ministry of Defense worth a total of almost 50 million rubles. It is not specified in the tender what kind of transport was transported by the ships.
“AnRussTrans” owns a private fleet of six ferries, six tugboats and four large bulk carriers. One of the ships, the “Slavyanin” ferry, which now sails under the Tanzanian flag, was featured in the 2007 case of arms delivery to Iraq. The vessel was mentioned in the internal correspondence of the American ambassador to Ankara, Ross Wilson, with the Secretary of State and US Secretary of Defense, which was published by WikiLeaks.
The ambassador wrote that during the search, Turkish authorities found AMPVs and AT4 anti-tank grenade launchers on board of “Slavyanin”, which was on its way from the Black Sea through the Bosphorus. “Slavyanin” was supposed to transfer the cargo to a ship under the Mongolian flag named “Onyx”. “AnRussTrans” declined to comment on this information for Current Time.
Two of the group’s ferries – “Annenkov” and “Petrovsk” – are owned by the businessman through the Cypriot Ugtrans Terminal Co Limited. Despite EU sanctions, they still deliver railroad cars and oil products to Crimea. In the summer of 2018, it became known that the hull of the Annenkov ferry cracked during the unloading of railroad cars at the Kerch crossing. As monitoring publications wrote, port workers were able to prevent a possible oil spill. “AnRussTrans” also declined to comment on this incident.
Annenkov’s other major asset, the “Sevastopol Sea Bank” in Kerch, has been on the US sanctions list since December 2015.
Back then, the bank even wrote an message to its investors, claiming that the sanctions will have no effect on the clients. The management told Current Time that in the five years since the annexation, restrictions “have not had a significant impact” on its work.
Among other things, the bank offers tender loans and bank guarantees for participation in public procurement. After the Visa and MasterCard payment systems left the peninsula, the bank joined the domestic “Mir” system. It was officially launched in 2015. “Mir” cannot be paid with in international online stores, the only settlement currency is the Russian ruble.
Among its partners, the bank lists five companies of Annenkov’s business group: “An-Capital”, “Alfa Group Invest”, “TIS-Crimea” and “Sevastopol Transport Systems” (STS).
According to the disclosed information about the owners, until November 2018, the bank indirectly belonged to Annenkov, his daughter Anna and his wife Lydia through dozens of Crimean and Cypriot companies. At the end of 2018, Annenkov withdrew Cypriot companies from the founders of all Kerch companies that own shares in the bank and re-registered them on himself. For instance:
- OOO “Yuviks” and OOO “Simcom” (owned by Kaxo Trading LTD until 2018),
- OOO “Termiks” (belonged to Velazo Trading LTD until 2018),
- OOO “Tekhneks” (previously owned by Acopic Trading Limited),
- OOO “Odeon” (controlled by Kazola Trading LTD until 2018),
- OOO “Escort” (belonged to Girandole Consultants LTD until 2018),
- OOO “Jaguar” (formerly owned by Yapon Trading LTD),
- The aforementioned TIS-Crimea LLC (owned by Avimalink Enterprises LTD).
Alexander Annenkov was behind all the aforementioned Cypriot offshores. Changes to the Uniform State Register of Legal Entities regarding all Kerch-based companies were made on the same day – November 15, 2018.
One of the bank’s founders is also OOO “Angarant”. Is ownership scheme has remained unchanged – now it belongs to Annenkov, Sevastopol Sea Bank and the aforementioned TIS-Crimea LLC.
Another founder of the bank is OOO “Yankon”. According to the Central Bank of Russia and the register of legal entities in Cyprus, this company belonged to the wife and daughter of Alexander Annenkov through Cyprus Sandray Trading Limited. Since the beginning of March 2019, “Yankon” belongs directly to the relatives of the businessman.
In response to Current Time’s question about the changes to the ownership scheme of the bank, its administration replied that they “are not empowered to interpret questions about the structure of the bank’s ownership”.
Among the bank’s subsidiaries is the Crimean OOO “Sevastopol Transport Systems” (STS). The bank completely bought out this company in 2017, in violation of European sanctions – then there were still Cypriot companies among its founders.
In the Russian register of legal entities, the main activities of STS are listed as accounting services and construction, purchase and sale of real estate. But on the website of the “AnRussTrans” group, STS was described as a company providing sea passenger and car transportation. In 2016, STS also tried to seize several oil depots near Inkerman from the Russian administration of Sevastopol. Sevastopol court dismissed the lawsuit.
After Current Time’s inquiry to “AnRussTrans”, all information about the company vanished from the website.
Cargo and oil
Cypriot Sandray Trading Limited, owned by Annenkov’s daughter and wife, is linked to another business branch in Crimea. Offshore owns Sevastopol-based OOO “Sandray”. The organization was created back in 2005, and was registered in Russian jurisdiction in November 2014.
The Russian “Sandray” lists its fields of activity as sea passenger and cargo transportation, construction of residential and non-residential premises, including port facilities, rental of sea transport, warehousing and storage of oil and gas products, and many more. EU sanctions directly prohibit European companies from investing in or developing these sectors in the annexed Crimea.
In August 2017, “Sandray” bought the Simferopol-based “Invest-Region Crimea”, which sells fuel and crude oil. The next year, Kiev-based OOO “Invest-Region”, which in 2017 opened this company together with a certain Andrei Yurkov, sued “Sandray” and “Invest-Region Crimea” due to a multiple increase in the share capital and the sale transaction. Kiev-based “Invest-Region” requires a complete annulment of the decision to create the company. The lawsuit was accepted by the court, but a decision on it has not yet been made.
Until May 2017, “Sandray” also owned the aforementioned Crimean OOO “Sevastopol Transport Systems” (STS), which was later completely bought out by Annenkovs’ “Sevastopol Sea Bank”.
According to the Unified State Register of Legal Entities, in February 2015 Crimean “Sandray” (55%), together with a certain Gennady Afanasyev, (45%) acted as the founder of the Simferopol-based OOO “Intergas”, which was engaged in the wholesale trade of liquid and gaseous fuels. By December 2017, the company shut down.