This will be the penultimate segment of my take on the Nikita Belykh story. Lordy, I reckon there is more raw material here, than there are fleas on a junkyard dog! So, still working my way through this source; and then tomorrow I will end with this here Latvia connection piece.
No doubt there will be lots more news and possibly more blog posts on this ever-evolving story! Why, just the reaction of the Russian Opps is a whole story in itself if somebody has the time to tell it — hint, hint, my dear friend Lyttenburgh (!)
But for now, let us go skipping hand in hand down memory lane to review more of the backstory leading up to this colossal disgrace. Readers need to keep one thing in mind: Russian history never changes, the characters never change from generation to generation; they just wear different faces and put on different clothes.
Recall that upon his assumption of the Governator post by appointment from on high, Nikita Belykh brought in his “team” of unpaid advisors, including Maria Gaidar and Alexei Navalny. Navalny was and is such a colorfully crooked character, that he brought much unwanted attention to the struggling rural province. This modern-day Ostap Bender ended his picaresque adventure in Kirov abruptly. The soap opera ended when Navalny fled the province by automobile in the middle of the night, one step ahead of federal investigators screaming “жулики!” at his exhaust pipe. KirovLes employees had complained to the Feds about the Navalny/Ofitserov machinations and dirty office poltiics. Navalny’s precipitous flight took him all the way to the United States, where he found safety and solace at as a “World Fellow” at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. Yale was promoting a special one-semester program to train foreign nationals how to overthrow their own governments via “color revolution”. Navalny was a willing student, if not always an able one.
While Navalny was cooling his heels at Yale learning the ways of “Western democracy”, a state of chaos ensued in Kirov, and poor Governor Belykh was left to pick up the pieces of his shattered capitalist reform program.
It seems that Russian Federal investigators long had their eyes on white-collar and possibly even darker criminal gangs operating in the province. Among those targeted was a man named Roman Shipov, whose title was “Director of Regional Target Programs”. What exactly these “targets” were is not known; although Kirov is known for its wildlife hunting facilities.
Shipov was arrested in Moscow on 7 July 2009. Accused of embezzling 1.5 million rubles from a company involved in scientific research, mostly involving cellulose-paper and other products made from trees. Like all the others, Shipov used his association with the regional government, in order to strong-arm companies and small businesses into giving him “grants” and “donations” to support “the Governor’s economic initiatives”. In other words, protection money and bribes as the cost of doing business. In Shipov’s case, however, he was not quite as close to Nikita Belykh’s inner circle as he pretended to be. But what’s a businessman to do? A mug says he is close to the Governor and demands a bribe. He could be just gilding the lily. But maybe not. Best not to take the chance. Give him the dough, just in case.
Meanwhile, picturesque dark clouds were hanging ominously over Governor Belykh. In autumn of 2013 the regional Communist Party accused Belykh of receiving a luxury car from “Vyatka Bank”, the largest bank in the region. “Vyatka” being the ancient name of this region and town, before it was renamed to “Kirov”. Vyatka Bank, by the way, featured prominently in the Navalny/Ofitserov KirovLes scandal. It was the bank where Ofitserov had set up the accounts for his shell company and where money supposedly flowed in and out as lumber (both real and virtual) was being bought and sold. And by the way, “Vyatka Bank” is also just one Cyrillic letter away from “Bribery Bank” – взятка – “vzyatka” being the Russian word for bribery — that’s a freebie pun from me to you.
The Communist Party had accused Belykh of giving Vyatka Bank unlawful preferences, in return for the luxury automobile, while bidding for several lucrative government contracts. Belykh indignantly denied the allegations. He even took State Duma Deputy Sergei Mamaev (Communist Party Russian Federation) to court, accusing him of libel and slander. Mamaev stood his ground, and won the case.
In December 2013, this was when the KirovLes investigation was in full swing [and I must remind readers that White-Collar criminal cases often take years, and even decades of investigation before being brought to trial, if ever], a man named Konstantin Arzamaztsev was accused of various and sundry illegal acts. Connoisseurs of the epic KirovLes story know the name Armamaztsev very well. This snub-nosed, baby-faced white-collar criminal, who at one time held the position as “Manager of Government Property” for Kirov Oblast, was sometimes, depending on the phase of the moon, Navalny’s friend, and sometimes his enemy. I guess you could say they were “frienemies”. While investigating Arzamaztsev, federal investigators conducted a search of Governor Belykh’s office and found evidence of foul play in the proposed “privatization” of the Urzhumsky Distillery. KirovLes fans and connoisseurs must also recall, that this particular brewery, along with the lumber giant KirovLes itself, was one of the shining assets of Kirov Oblast. And as such, like a beautiful woman wearing a too skimpy party dress on a dodgy street corner, made itself too attractive to members of the criminal class. Readers will recall how Navalny and Belykh quarrelled over this brewery; how Navalny felt that Belykh did not pay him (=Navalny) his fair share what was owed from the privatization and sale of shares; and how Navalny accused Belykh of “snatching” the brewery, using the slang and very vulgar Russian word пиздить. All of this material is there, in those purloined emails and covered very extensively at the time. Anybody who thinks that I am lying or exagerrating about any of this because it sounds just too far-fetched — please, just go back and do the research yourself, starting with hacker Hell and all the emails — all the emails and tapped phone calls that were brought into evidence in Judge Blinov’s courtroom. And also please remember that in Russia, reality can be stranger than fiction.
Anyhow, right now I don’t have time to rehash all of that myself, because it is time to move on to…
The Companies Involved
This part of the story is a serious look at exactly which companies were involved in (allegedly) bribing Governor Belykh; what could they possibly have to gain from his patronage, you may ask?
The NovoVyatsky Ski Emporium, named in the suit against Belykh, produces a product called, in Russian, ориентированно-стружечные плиты (ОСП). In English, the term is “Oriented Strand Board” (OSB). These boards start out as a trunk of coniferous wood and are worked over by a highly technological process involving multiple sessions of pressure and heat. The boards end up being fire-proof, they are considered the highest quality of wooden board possible, both firm and elastic at the same time. They do not contain any defects such as knots or warping, and the layers never come apart. It is thought that the Ski Emporium wished to sell these boards to the government, or to companies contracted by the government, for use in various construction projects. And also — duh! — to manufacture high-quality skis.
The second company involved in the bribe-giving extravanganza, is “Lesokhozyaystvennaya Upravlyayushchaya Kompaniya” [let’s just call it LUK], which, strangely enough, was said to be partially owned by “KirovLes”, which actually went bankrupt several years ago, partly as a result of Navalny’s machinations. State-owned KirovLes owned 25% of the stock of LUK. In 2015 100% of the shares [of KirovLes?] were passed to a company called Axilen Holdings Limited, registered in Cyprus. The mother company of LUK is another Cyprus company called Remigal Holdings Limited, and I couldn’t find a website for them. LUK was registered in Kirov in 2010, under Vendor License #ОКВЭД № 020150, in the category of “Lumber Products”. It seems a fairly shady operation, and not much is known about it.
The Ski Emporium, on the other hand, is a well known local establishment, it has been in business for over 75 years, since Soviet times, and produces an actual physical product (formerly skis, now the compressed boards), In 2009, as part of Belykh’s ambitious “economic reforms”, the company was slated for a four-year investment/modernization project. In 2012 the company began to produce the OSB boards. This project was curated by Governor Belykh himself, along with a man named Arkady Dvorkovich. And they don’t say, and I am not sure, but I think this might be the same Arkady Dvorkovich who is a prominent Russian economist, chess master, and advisor to Prime Minister Medvedev [?]
The Ski Emporium was meant to step up to the plate of international skiing; to start producing Russia’s first line of world-class skis. Already it had shops which were producing high-quality boards for the Swedish IKEA furniture company. However, by 2013 he company was on the verge of bankruptcy. It went from a thriving to a dying enterprise in the course of a year. The blame lies on the law enforcement agencies: They kept doing raids on the company (15 in a single year), and thus drove away suppliers. Half of the workforce was let go. The employees themselves were convinced, that this was all part of a “raiding” scheme to drive the company bankrupt and then buy it up for a song.
In addition to this, the company was up to its ears in debts. The modernization project was not a success. In the end, Governor Belykh promised to help the company survive. The company limped on and received a few production orders; and it is possible that the bribes to Belykh were just their expression of gratitude towards the Gov.
On the flip side of this coin, the FSB suspects that Belykh himself harmed the company. They are investigating the theory that Belykh’s friend and business partner Albert Laritsky (who was also arrested in Moscow) stole “fictitious credits” [I don’t know what that means] from the SberBank of Russia, in order to plump up Ski Emporium’s cash assets.
For example, back in 2011 Laritsky offered the company, out of his own pocket, a loan for $10 million dollars. But may have just been using Ski Emporium to launder the money, which then flowed into a Swiss firm Champion Chemicals AG, also owned by him. Laritsky, who is a citizen of Belorussia, is also accused of laundering a second line of Sberbank credit with a limit of 250 million rubles. This was also done in the context of a “fictitious contract” with the Swiss firm.
The FSB originally became interested in a man named Vladimir Sysolyatin, the General Director of the Ski Emporium, whom they suspected of embezzling money from the Russian federal budget. However, Sysolyatin sang like a canary and turned the investigators in the direction of Laritsky, a much bigger fish. Sysolyatin was subsequently acquitted by the court. And now it is Laritsky who must face the music, along with his friend, former Governor Nikita Belykh.
[to be continued]