Udodov, his partners and smuggling. How Prime Minister Mishustin’s brother-in-law participated in gray import schemes
Russian businessman Alexander Udodov, husband of the sister of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, was a co-owner of a company that was part of the ULS Global holding, which was engaged in the import of goods into Russia under fake customs declarations. One of the co-owners of this holding was sentenced to a real term, another one is still on the wanted list.
Turkish clothes disguised as building materials, iPhones as photo frames
In 2017, the Federal Security Service carried out searches at the office of the large logistics company ULS Global and at the home of one of its co-owners, Igor Khavrov. Novaya Gazeta called this operation “the elimination of one of the largest channels of gray imports to Russia.”
The RBC investigation, published a year earlier, claimed that the operations of this international company were overseen “at the highest level” – but the text was about FSB officers. RBC claimed that the special operation led to rearrangements in the leadership of the security services: the head of the Economic Security Service (SEB) ended up resigning.
In addition to Igor Khavrov, co-owners of ULS Global were businessmen Stanislav Malkov, Leonid Kuzmin, Valery Benaguev and Turkish citizen Jebrail Karaarslan. In addition to the Russian legal entity, the company had structures registered in Germany, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK and Estonia.
RBC described the schemes that were used by ULS Global: in one case, investigators found a container full of Turkish clothing that was declared as building materials. 20 tons of iPhones and other equipment from another container were included in the declaration as photo frames. Almost 200 declarations were drawn up for non-existent Russian companies.
“The main logistics scheme looks like this: goods from Turkey, China and European countries are delivered by air to Tallinn, there they are loaded into trucks that go to the Estonian port of Sillamae, and from there they sail to Ust-Luga, where customs clearance takes place”, former employee of the company told RBC.
In June 2018, Igor Khavrov was sentenced to 7.5 years in a high security prison. According to the public database of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, another ULS Global co-owner, Valery Benaguev (aka Zion Benya), was put on the wanted list in the same year.
German part of the gray scheme
One of the subsidiaries of ULS Global, ULS Realty GmbH, is registered in Germany. Igor Khavrov used to be one of its co-owners prior to his conviction. His share was transferred to a certain Anna Pirumova.
ULS Realty is registered at Frankfurt Airport, where it has offices and warehouses.
According to the German Commercial Register, from March 2009 to March 2010 the director of ULS Realty was Artem Olegovich Udodov. This young man (he was 23 years old at that time) is the nephew of businessman Alexander Udodov.
Until December 10, 2009, German ULS Realty belonged in equal shares to two companies: Avrora Trading from the Marshall Islands and British Avrora Capital Ltd. In 2009, the company was transferred to Beneguev, Malkov, Kuzmin, Khavrov and Karaarslan. However, the change of ownership did not affect the management structure in any way: Avrora Trading retains management of the company to this day. It is impossible to identify the beneficiary of Avrora Trading from the Marshall Islands, but we do have access to the reports of the second former co-owner of ULS Realty – the British company Avrora Capital Ltd, which shut down in September 2014. The beneficiary of Avrora Capital Ltd was A. Udodov, a resident of Russia. He owned it through the BVI-registered company Krestvale Ltd.
Krestvale Ltd also owns the following assets:
— a share in the Canadian Golden Energy Group Inc, which is engaged in real estate in the province of Quebec;
— the British Chamarel Trading LLP;
— the British Petone LLP; which, according to a report, owns an apartment in Rome worth at least €300,000.
Logistics, charity and the 80-million-franc scam
Frankfurt am Main is served by two airports: international – the international airport, where the ULS Realty offices and warehouses are located, and Frankfurt-Hahn, which acts as a base for cargo and low-cost airlines, as well the second logistics company with which Alexander Udodov is associated.
The Russian businessman became a co-owner of VG Cargo in 2004, two years after the founding of this logistics company. Now Alexander Udodov controls 50% of it.
In 2012, large sums received from a certain tax fraud in Russia were transferred through VG Cargo, Open Media wrote with reference to the German publication Tages Anzeiger. Investigators estimate the damage from the scam itself at 80 million Swiss francs ($88 million or 2.6 billion rubles at the exchange rate on January 1, 2013).
Udodov is not the only owner of VG Cargo. The second largest share, 31.99%, belongs to Sergey Buzov, Advisor to the General Director and Head of the commodity and logistics unit of Nornickel
The third co-owner of VG Cargo is Kirill Kachur, who owns 18%. Born in 1990, this young man worked in the Department of Territorial Executive Bodies of the Moscow City Hall in 2015.
However, until 2016, Cyril’s stake in the company belonged to his father Vitaly Kachur.
Vitaly Kachur is a longtime partner of Alexander Udodov. In 2007, they, together with his wife Natalia, oligarch Andrei Bokarev and Alexei Krasnov, established the Charity Foundation for the Development of Education, Mercifulness and Sports.
Since January 2015, Alexey Krasnov has been holding the post of Deputy General Director of Gazprom-Media Holding. Until 2009, he worked for Media Arts Group, where Dmitry Chernyshenko was vice president. The latter was appointed Deputy Prime Minister of the Mishustin government in February 2020.
In 2003, Vitaliy Kachur became a co-founder of ZAO «Financial and Construction Company “ALLIANCE” » with a share of 20%. The same share belonged to Sergei Bout, full namesake of the brother of Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer convicted in the United States.
Vitaly Kachur was arrested in 2014; he pleaded guilty to complicity in a particularly large fraud (part 5 of article 33 and part 4 of article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). Having made a deal with the investigation, Kachur testified against former State Duma deputy Denis Voronenkov, who later became the victim of a contract murder in the center of Kiev. Vitaly Kachur himself was sentenced to 4 years and two months in prison.
In 2017, Kachur was released on parole. In 2018, he changed the place of registration of his unincorporated business from Moscow to Grozny, where, according to the bailiff database, he has tax arrears.
Finally, it is worth recalling the former shareholder and ex-director of VG Cargo, Vladimir Klyuyev. He was a co-owner until 2007 and the head of the company from 2002 to 2010. In 2009, he also headed ULS Realty, which brings us back to Frankfurt Airport and the smuggling holding ULS Global.
Not the only Avrora
As mentioned above, until 2014 ULS Realty was co-owned by the British Avrora Capital. For some reason, this name is very important for Alexander Udodov: another Avrora Capital is registered in the Czech Republic and is intended for real estate transactions.
Udodov began investing in real estate in Prague in 2007. That year, he bought three apartments in the Bubenech district. This area is considered to be an embassy district. For example, the Russian embassy is located there. Following the acquisition of the first apartments, he became the owner of Muffin Factory. Four years after the purchase, it was renamed to Avrora Capital.
Czech reporters from Deník N found out that at different times Udodov owned a total of six real estate properties in Prague, including an entire floor of a house in the historic Mala Strana district.
The company of the Russian businessman would usually own apartments for about five years, after which they’d be sold at almost the purchase price, which is lower than the market price. An interval of five years must be maintained in order to avoid paying income tax on the transactions with this property.
“The purchase and subsequent sale of real estate at a price that does not correspond to the situation on the market does not make economic sense”, said Transparency International analyst Milan Able.
“It seems that he invested money in real estate, and later tried to get it back, as if it was his own bank, where no one asks about the origin or purpose of the money. Given that Udodov was previously suspected of fraud and money laundering, these real estate transactions deserve to be inspected by the authorities”, he adds.