League of Sanctions. How the wife of one of Ukraine’s top comedians develops travel business in violation of EU’s and Ukraine’s sanctions
“After the annexation of Crimea, I never went there. Honestly, I’m uncomfortable even thinking about such a trip. I’m not sure that I can calmly withstand the abundance of tricolors. But the Crimea of the past fills me with only bright memories”, – said famous comedian Andrei Chivurin in an interview with Segodnya. For almost 17 years he worked as an editor of the Russian KVN on Channel One, but after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, he terminated contract with the Russian television. Today, Chivurin is the editor-in-chief of the popular in Ukraine comedy show “League of Laughter”.
Chivurin has lived with his wife Larisa for more than 30 years. According to the comedian, thanks to her work as financial director in a large construction company, the family could stay afloat when his KVN passion did not bring much money.
Today Larisa Chivurina controls a large stake in the construction and development company TMM and remains its financial director. A joint investigation by Current Time and “Municipal Scanner” discovered that she, in violation of European and Ukrainian sanctions, also owns a hotel in annexed Crimea through several offshore companies. Due to the fact that the British branch of the world’s largest depositary bank, Bank of New York Mellon, is also involved in this scheme, the Crimean business of Chivurina may violate the American sanctions.
From Yalta to New York
At the entrance to the Yalta boarding house “Sevastopol” guests are greeted by a flying tricolor. The pension has an outdoor pool and gym, and some rooms have views of the Black Sea. According to former guests, the hotel hasn’t been repaired for many years. The average price for a night in a two-level room for three people for the summer season is 10,000 rubles ($ 156), and a night for two will cost an average of 6,000 rubles ($ 94).
According to the investigation by Current Time and “Municipal Scanner”, despite the fact that TMM formally sold the boarding house to a Russian LLC, the same people remain the beneficiaries through European companies. Back in 2014, the draft of European sanctions prohibited companies from the EU from opening new businesses and investing into the tourism industry in annexed Crimea.
OOO PANSIONAT SEVASTOPOL was created and registered in the Russian registry of legal entities in Yalta two years after the imposition of sanctions on August 17, 2016. One percent of the company belongs to the director Viktor Laktionov (he is also the general director of the TMM-Yalta company created in the annexed Crimea in July 2014), the remaining 99% is owned by the Cypriot TMM REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT PUBLIC LIMITED (formerly ESPINA HOLDINGS LIMITED).
13.11% of TMM REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT PUBLIC LIMITED itself is owned by the British BNY (NOMINEES) LIMITED, since 1985 registered in London. It offers banking and investment services and is a subsidiary of The Bank of New York Mellon, Inc. – The world’s largest depository bank with asset value of $ 35.8 trillion as of September 2019
BNY Mellon told Current Time that they only manage assets on behalf of their clients, but refused to comment on issues related to TMM and a possible violation of sanctions.
«We carefully check the assets of the clients that we hold on their behalf for compliance with international and local laws. If necessary, we raise issues with the relevant authorities. We refuse to provide any further comment», – wrote Sorrel Beynon, deputy director of communications at the bank.
Current Time spoke with Maya Lester, Queen’s Counselor specializing in EU sanctions law, and Eric Ferrari, US sanctions lawyer, about a possible violation of US economic restrictions due to BNY Mellon. Both lawyers agreed that much depends on the structure of relations between the head office of the bank and its European subsidiary.
If we consider that they have a connection with the USA and their activities in Crimea, if the parent company in the USA works on the principle of sharing services with the support of its foreign subsidiary, the parent company in the USA could potentially be liable. But this may not be a violation. It all depends on the facts. Only the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) can determine whether it is in their jurisdiction to inflict punishment, – said Eric Ferrari.
Current Time also sent requests for a possible violation to the OFAC, which monitors and imposes sanctions in the United States, and the UK Treasury’s special committee for compliance with the sanction regime. At the time of publication of the investigation, departments did not respond.
From 2011 to 2018, including the period of violation of European sanctions, the directors of the direct owner of the “Sevastopol” boarding house – Cypriot TMM REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT PUBLIC LIMITED – included:
- Nicholas Enukidze – former Chairman of the Bank of Georgia Supervisory Board and former Managing Director for Corporate Finance at Concorde Capital;
- Dutch citizen Maarten van den Belt – former CEO of Visa International for the CEMEA region;
- another director is British citizen Dominic Dreyfus, an independent member of the TMM board in Germany. He is also a member of the board of directors of FBME Bank (operates in Russia, Cyprus and Tanzania) and chairman of the audit committee at the British and American Investment Trust Plc.
Another 86.88% of the Cypriot owner of the boarding house is controlled by another Cypriot company TMM Holdings Limited. And 0.2% each was given to Larisa Chivurina, deputy general director of Ukrainian TMM for legal issues Yuriy Isaev, director of the Kiev branch of TMM Pavlo Chislovsky, and general director of the whole TMM group Nikolay Tolmachev. The last available audit report of the company from the Cyprus Business Register for 2015 lists 19 subsidiaries, among which there are several divisions of TMM. A copy of the report is available to editorial office.
At the same time, the same Larisa Chivurina owns a 91.5% stake in TMM Holdings Limited, with Isaev, Chislovsky and the chief engineer of Kiev TMM Vladimir Ustinov each controlling 2.83%. Chivurina and Tolmachev are also directors of this offshore company. In Ukraine, the latter is the vice president of the non-governmental Construction Chamber of the country, a member of the board of directors of the Ukrainian Construction Association, and general director of the Ukrainian TMM-Energobud, which in 2016 supplied tens of tons of pipelines to Rosatom. Tolmachev was also awarded the state award of Ukraine in the field of science and technology.
One hotel, two owners
During an interview with Current Time, Larisa Chivurina and Yuri Isaev confirmed that both the Cyprus companies and the boarding house in the annexed Crimea belong to them, but categorically rejected that they were operating on the peninsula. According to them, they had to open OOO “Pansionat Sevastopol” after the annexation in order to preserve their real estate.
“The Ukrainian company TMM has lost control of real estate located in the Crimea. The Ukrainian company does not violate either the sanctions of the European Union or Ukraine regarding doing business in Russia. We don’t do any”, – Isaev said. Later in a conversation, he confirmed that the hotel actually has two owners – according to the Ukrainian real estate registry, it’s Kiev-based TMM, and according to the Russian registry, the hotel is owned by Cypriot firms through a Russian company. In both cases, the ultimate beneficiaries are Chivurina, Isaev, Chislovsky and Ustinov.
At the same time, guests of “Sevastopol” continue to leave reviews on tourism forums and in tourist applications. And Pension Sevastopol LLC, 99% of which is owned by Cypriot TMM Real Estate Public Limited controlled by Chivurina, submits tax reports to Russia. According to Chivurina and Isaev, they do not control the hotel.
“There is a Ukrainian company TMM, which until recently was the owner, and, in principle, remains the owner of the hotel to this day. De jure, I mean. There is a certain non-resident who, through corporate governance, acquired the rights and thereby indirectly somehow became the owner”, – Isaev said about companies whose ultimate beneficiaries are he and his colleagues.
After a CT correspondent showed documents from the Russian registry of legal entities, indicating that in 2016 the Cyprus TMM Real Estate Public Limited opened and invested almost $ 1.2 million in a Russian company in annexed Crimea, Chivurina and Isaev answered in silence. They do not consider this action a violation of EU sanctions, which prohibit European companies from developing and investing in the tourism sector, and assure that Cypriot companies perform only a corporate function.
Chivurina and Isaev also said that back in 2008 they sold 13% of the Cypriot TMM Real Estate Public Limited (the direct owner of the Crimean hotel) on the stock exchange. According to them, BNY Mellon is the “holder of receipts” of the shareholders, and TMM itself does not know who exactly owns these shares.
Ukrainian TMM is a large enterprise for the construction of premium real estate and, to a lesser extent, for industrial construction, trade in equipment for generating electricity and mechanical engineering. The authorized capital of TMM is estimated at approximately $ 29 million. The company has repeatedly won various awards, including a national business award «Ukraine’s choice» in 2018.
In 2015, the tax inspectorate charged TMM with fraud due to incorrectly performed transactions. After that, several hundred employees led by Tolmachev organized a picket near the building of the Ukrainian State Fiscal Service. Another structural company of TMM was declared bankrupt in 2018.
Today, there’s no mention of «Sevastopol» boarding house on the company’s main website, but there is a mention of a project called “TMM-Yalta” – the building in the photograph looks exactly like the boarding house. The company restored it in 2002 and owned a license for the hotel business until 2015. Before the purchase, this complex was called “Sanatorium «Sevastopol»”. At some travel forums and agencies, the boarding house in Yalta is still listed as “TMM Yalta”.
Current time has not been able to speak with the CEO of “Sevastopol” Viktor Laktionov. Several times he was not at the workplace; later, the staff members categorically refused to request comments from the management.
«We don’t give public interviews. We don’t want to, — said “Sevastopol” employee Elena Laktionova. — We have a right not to give any interviews. Look for someone else».