Five-star sanctions and energy for Russian and Ukrainian troops. How a business empire close to the president of CSKA bypasses the sanctions
A bank, hotels, energy companies. A business empire close to the Russians Yevgeny Giner, Mikhail Voevodin and Alexander Babakov, has grown throughout Ukraine until 2014. After the annexation of Crimea, some of the companies continued to operate practically under Russian conditions. The “Oreanda” hotel complex in Yalta accepts stars who agree to appear in Crimea at the risk of being on the Ukrainian black lists. And the former “Sevastopolenergo” enterprise, which has become “Sevenergosbyt”, supplies electricity to the houses of citizens and to Russian military facilities.
Yalta. Hotel, your Honor
From the photo on the computer screen, a man with disheveled gray hair is looking wit slightly tired eyes. Against the backdrop of the July Sea, the famous Serbian film director and musician Emir Kusturica looks especially tanned. The first and only concert of Kusturica, who publicly supported the annexation of Crimea in 2014, was held in Yalta with in a sold-out hall. “Oreanda” hotel thanked its guest on the official Instagram account.
The following year, the organizers of a concert in Kiev canceled an event in which Kusturica was supposed to participate. And two years later, the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine included the director in the list of people who threaten the national security of the country.
Emir Kusturica is not the only celebrity who’s stayed at Yalta’s top hotel. Over the past year, stars of different sizes have stayed at “Oreanda”: the popular 80s band Boney M, lead singer of “Moralniy Codex” Sergey Mazaev, actor and lead singer of “Zvuki Mu” Peter Mamonov, rap artists of one of the largest music labels in Russia – Black Star – Kristina Si and friend of Ramzan Kadyrov Timati. Among other important guests on the board of honor is a descendant of the Romanov imperial house, the cousin of the King of Sweden, Count Wisborg, Jan Bernadotte with his wife. In mid-2017, the count announced the launch of wine production in the Crimea.
The “Oreanda” hotel is also used by Russian officials. In March 2016, the “Open Crimea” forum organized by the Russian Ministry of Resorts and Tourism of Crimea took place at the hotel. The special guest was Alexei Konyushkov, deputy head of the federal tourism agency. There were also local officials: deputy chairman of the Crimean Council of Ministers appointed by Russia Ruslan Balbek, chairman of the Crimean State Council committee for sanatorium-resort complex and tourism Alexei Chernyak and minister of resorts and tourism in the peninsula’s government created after the annexation, Sergei Strelbitsky.
Since 2016, OOO “Oreanda Hotel Complex” participated in three Russian government contracts: they won tenders at “Krymtelecom”, the Crimean Vernedsky University and the management structure of the President of Russia.
The hotel was on the list of the first fifteen participants of the “Crimea year-round” program, which was introduced by the Russian-controlled Ministry of Resorts and Tourism of Crimea. The essence of the program was that the hotels offered tourists a seven-day vacation with another day as a gift. In August 2016, the ministry confirmed rank of “Oreanda” – five stars.
In the Ukrainian register, the hotel’s management company is listed as PAO “Hotel Oreanda”. The company was initially recorded in the Russian register as AO “Oreanda Hotel Complex”, but in July 2015 they liquidated the joint-stock company and established a limited liability company of the same name in its place.
The main share of the Russian OOO “Oreanda Hotel Complex (99.91%) is divided between five Cyprus companies: Folkdale Trading Limited (19.6%), Shelterock Investments Limited (18.7%), Sebistra Trading Limited (13.96 %), Sensarise Holdings Limited (18.3%), Jiolinico Commercial Limited (18%). The companies are registered on Cypriot nominees and managed by the law firm A.G. Paphitis & Co.
The scheme. The hotel and Cypriot companies
All of these companies are affiliated with or were previously owned by a major energy company, VS Energy, whose ultimate beneficiaries are Yevgeny Giner, president of CSKA football club and Alexander Babakov, member of the Federation Council. Some of VS Energy divisions are registered in Lithuania, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Through them, energy enterprises in Ukraine and Russia are managed. In 2015, Forbes magazine estimated the company’s turnover in Ukraine alone at $235 million.
According to information from the Ukrainian business registry, in 2017, instead of Alexander Babakov, the final beneficiaries of the Dutch VS Energy International NV, were two German citizens and three Latvian citizens. Among them was Valts Vigants.
Vigants himself has long been the director of the Latvian representative office of VS Energy. Until 2015, he nominally owned the Cypriot company Sebistra Trading Limited, which owns 14% of the Yalta “Oreanda” hotel. Today, Sebistra is owned by the Luxembourg company Sensei International S.A., which, in turn, it is owned by the son of Yevgeny Giner Vadim. Giner Jr. actually owns CSKA through the British company Bluecastle Enterprises, and his father is the president of this football club.
Despite the sanctions, “Oreanda” hotel, which is formally owned by Cypriot companies, actively offers travel services for months ahead. Rooms can be booked on Dutch Booking.com. For the system to work, it is enough to indicate that your journey is a business trip and is not connected with tourism.
Sevastopol. Light, comrade admiral
While the connection of Giner with the Oreanda Hotel is mediated by Cypriot companies, in April 2016, he became the direct founder of the Sevastopol company “Sevenergosbyt”. This company supplies electricity to the homes of citizens and enterprises. Since 2016, it has completed 427 state contracts worth almost $42 million. Having signed an agency agreement, ”Sevenergosbyt” became the assignee of the Ukrainian PAO “Sevastopolenergo”, which is part of the VS Energy group.
“Sevenergosbyt” also supplies electricity to Russian military facilities in Crimea. For example, one of the company’s customers, the 13th shipyard of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Ministry of Defense, has signed contracts with the company worth a total of almost 114 million Russian rubles ($1.8 million) since December 2016.
Kherson, Kirovograd, Zhytomyr, Rivne, Chernivtsi. Glory to Ukraine!
VS Energy International NV also has its own energy and hotel business in mainland Ukraine. The company “VS Energy International Ukraine” is registered in the Ukrainian register. Back in March, the group stated on its official website that its structure includes seven regional energy companies – Kiev, Kherson, Kirovograd, Odessa, Zhytomyr, Chernivtsi and Rivne.
At the end of April, the Antimonopoly Committee of Ukraine allowed the Ukrainian businessman Rinat Akhmetov to buy “Kyivoblenergo” and “Odessaoblenergo”. Thus, VS Energy now has five energy companies left. The “Sevenergosbyt” enterprise operating in the annexed Crimea is not indicated in the structure of its Ukrainian property.
VS Energy bought “Chernivtsioblenergo” in 2017, when there was a war in the Donbass, and Russia had annexed Crimea three years earlier. In June 2019, in an в interview with the Ukrainian website “Economicheskaya Pravda”, Zagrebelnaya explained how this became possible:
“When in 2017 we gave permission to the VS Energy group to buy “Chernivtsioblenergo”, we did not see the name of the Deputy Speaker of the State Duma of Russia Alexander Babakov, who voted for the annexation of Crimea and is under the sanctions of Ukraine, the United States, and The European Union. Officially, we gave permission to acquire the company to five residents of Germany and Latvia. It was these European Union citizens who acted as sellers of “Kyivoblenergo” and “Odessaoblenergo” to the DTEK group this winter, and not at all Babakov and the company of other businessmen from Russia that were reported in the media”.
The ultimate owners of “VS Energy International Ukraine” are the aforementioned Valts Vigants, two more Latvians, Vilis Dambins and Arthurs Altbergs, as well as two German residents: Marina Yaroslavskaya and Oleg Sizerman.
In the Ukrainian Prozorro system, we found information that companies controlled by VS Energy supply electricity to military units of the National Guard and the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. For example, since 2016, military units of the Kirovograd region have signed nine contracts with “Kirovogradoblenergo” worth a total of 53 million hryvnias, which is almost $2 million.
Current Time has contacted Alexander Babakov.
“Young man, don’t you have anything better to do in your life? It has nothing to do with me. All the best!”, – said Babakov and hung up.
Since May 2018, Alexander Babakov is on the Ukrainian sanctions list. This means that his assets in Ukraine must be blocked, and the country’s authorities are obliged to take measures so that their capital is not transferred outside the country. He is also prohibited from participating in privatization and leasing of state property. Babakov is also under the personal sanctions of the EU and the USA. At the same time, the Ukrainian sanctions list does not include VS Energy International NV or “VS Energy International Ukraine”.
The government, the SBU and the National Bank should monitor the effectiveness of the sanctions in accordance with the decree of the President of Ukraine from May 14, 2018. SBU replied to the inquiry of Current Time that “Sevenergosbyt” has also been on the Ukrainian sanctions list since May 2018. SBU’s press service refused to answer the question about Babakov.
“The information regarding the results of work to counteract the activities of foreign intelligence services, individual organizations, groups and individuals aimed at causing harm to national security or the vital interests of the state, is classified as information with limited access”, – they explained.
According to the Ukrainian website Liga.net, VS Energy also has a hotel business in Ukraine. The website wrote that the group operates the Premier Hotels & Resorts network, which includes 17 hotels in Kiev and the regions, including Kiev “Rus” and “Premier Palace” hotels. Russian deputy Denis Voronenkov who fled to Ukraine in 2017 was shot at the entrance to the latter.
According to the Ukrainian Unified Register of Legal Entities and Individual Entrepreneurs, the founders of VS Energy International Ukraine and PAO “Premier Palace Hotel” intersect.
Among the ultimate owners of the hotel is Latvian citizen Vilis Dambins, who is registered in Riga on Dzirnavu street. Among the ultimate owners of VS Energy International Ukraine, there is a company Dambins Villis LV, which is registered at the same Riga address.
Among the founders of “Premier Palace” is Natalia Selivanova, a Slovak citizen living in France. The Slovak business registry indicates that from 2009 to 2014 Natalya Selivanova was a co-owner of the Slovak company Rokosan s.r.o. together with Irina Alexandrovna Babakova, the daughter of Alexander Babakov.
Ukrainian businessman Mstislav Skorobogatov had sued VS Energy over the assets that once belonged to him – the “Rus” hotel and the “Metrograd” and “Metropolis” shopping malls in Kiev. According to Skorobogatov, the business group of Mikhail Voevodin, Evgeny Giner and Alexander Babakov illegally took this business from him. Skorobogatov told Current Time that the co-founder of “Premier Palace” Natalya Selivanova is the wife of Mikhail Voevodin, and Marina Yaroslavskaya, the co-founder of the “VS Energy International Ukraine”, is the wife of Yevgeny Giner.
In addition, the Cypriot company Pumori Enterprises Investments Ltd. is now among the owners of “Premier Palace” As of the second quarter of 2013, that is, before the annexation of Crimea, it owned 49.68% of the shares of PAO “Hotel Complex Oreanda”. Also, the current holder of a 15.56% stake in “Premier Palace”, “East European Hotel Company”, was recorded as the owner of a 24.75% stake in “Oreanda” for the second quarter of 2013.
In January 2018, Ukrainian “Ukrgasbank” approved the issuance of a loan to the Premier Palace in the amount of 910 million hryvnias – about $ 33 million.
In Ukraine, Evgeny Giner has his own bank. According to the official data of the National Bank of Ukraine, Giner owns 88.89% of the shares in the “First Investment Bank”.
Current Time sent requests for comments to CSKA President Yevgeny Giner, the office of VS Energy International Ukraine, and the reception desk of the Oreanda Hotel. The editors have not received a single answer.
“I conveyed information to the manager. I think if they didn’t answer you, then it’s not interesting for us”, – suggested a worker of the “Oreanda” reception desk.