Sergei Pugachev’s Attack on Kremlin Is a Billion-Dollar Alibi
Financial Times and US government back stealing for regime change
Pug dogs don’t live long. It’s because they lack proper noses, so they suffer from difficulties breathing in and out. That accounts for what everyone meeting a pug knows – they make a lot of noise trying to breathe.
Less well known is that while pugs hiss, snuffle, and snore, their body temperature is going up. For many pugs this is terminal -- their organs are roasting internally. The better off pugs live longer if they sit in their owners’ laps without moving and eat little. Fat pugs suffocate and roast quicker than slim ones.
At the Financial Times there are many lap dogs, but the management has never acknowledged a problem of hissing in print; roasting internally is not a risk. Lionel Barber (lead image, right foreground), the newspaper’s editor, encourages hissing, particularly by reporters who specialize on Russia, Catherine Belton (centre) and Neil Buckley (left). They concentrate their efforts on the misdeeds of the Russian government; they are especially pit-bullish on President Vladimir Putin. They are cat’s paws, however, when it comes to the Russian oligarchs whose defence for stealing fortunes from Russia is that Putin made them do it; or that Putin trumped up criminal charges when he was stealing their fortunes for himself.
Sergei Pugachev (lead image) is a Russian businessman who made most of his fortune borrowing from state banks and bondholders, and not repaying. After ten trials before the UK High and Court of Appeal, eleven British judges have judged that Pugachev is a liar, guilty of deceit and dishonesty. But not Barber, Buckley, Belton and the Financial Times.
Pugachev’s bank, Mezhprombank (International Industrial Bank, IIB), lost its Central Bank licence in October 2010, and was declared bankrupt the following month. At that time Central Bank auditors and the Deposit Insurance Agency (DIA) estimated the deficiency in the bank’s accounts amounted to Rb70.1 billion (then $2.3 billion). Rb32 billion of that ($1.05 billion) had been loaned by the Central Bank and disappeared. In the subsequent Russian, UK and Swiss court records, about $700 million in US-denominated cash has been tracked into Pugachev front companies, trusts and bank accounts. There were Euro-denominated transfers in parallel. The assets identified by the DIA to the London courts as under Pugachev’s control in mid-2014 were valued at £1.17 billion ($1.93 billion). That’s almost equal to the sum of the bank’s deficiency.
Pugachev, the control shareholder, was investigated by the Russian authorities for fraud and embezzlement in 2011, and he left the country that year. He wasn’t indicted until 2013, but the Moscow courts initially refused to confirm the charges and an international arrest warrant was withdrawn. The indictment was revised, and a new warrant issued in mid-2014. By then Pugachev was living in London, Monaco, and Nice with his wife.
In 2014 the Central Bank and DIA started civil court proceedings in the UK with a request for a freeze order over the Pugachev assets which had been traced, in order to prevent him selling or hiding them once more. In July 2104 the UK High Court ordered a freeze over £1.17 billion in Pugachev’s assets worldwide. In August 2014 the freeze order was modified, and he was allowed to spend “an average of £50,000 (or any equivalent sum in a foreign currency) a week towards his ordinary living expenses, such amounts to be averaged over a period of two months, and also a reasonable sum on legal advice and representation (“legal expenses”).” The one condition required was that “the Respondent [Pugachev] must tell the Applicants’ [DIA] solicitors where the money is to come from.” For details of the case to November 2014, read this.
He was innocent of stealing from the bank, Pugachev has said, because the charges were trumped up on Putin’s orders to allow rivals for Putin favour to seize his assets without paying him for them. When Pugachev’s Putin defences were dismissed in two years of proceedings at the High Court and Court of Appeal in London, he fled to France, where there is no extradition treaty with Russia.
Justice Dame Vivien Rose (right) of the High Court ruled this was more deceit. “His explanation as to why he felt safer in France than in England does not bear any scrutiny”, she added. “In my judgment Mr Pugachev has seized on the discovery of these devices as a purported justification for his departure from the jurisdiction and has accorded them an importance for the purposes of this committal application far beyond any significance that he or anyone else accorded them at the time.”
On February 8, 2016, the judge sentenced Pugachev to two years in prison for contempt of court. For Rose’s analysis of 17 charges of Pugachev’s lying to the court and violations of the freeze order, read this.
In 73 pages of single-spaced analysis of the evidence, of Pugachev’s testimony in his own defence, and of lawyers’ arguments, Rose presents the most detailed picture to date of how Pugachev arranged loans from his Russian bank to dozens of companies he had created offshore, and then transferred the cash to his private pocket. Barber, Belton, and Buckley insist Pugachev did nothing of the sort. “I have concluded,” Rose ruled, “that I cannot safely rely on any evidence he gave during the hearing. It is clear that his evidence on many topics changes depending on what he perceives to be the most useful version of events at any given time.” The Financial Times has overruled the court.
Last week, Swiss prosecutors in Geneva revealed they didn’t believe Pugachev. They told the local press they have opened a money-laundering investigation of about $700 million in accounts controlled by Pugachev at the Geneva branch of the French bank, Societe Generale. The full story can be read in French in Sunday’s edition of Le Matin and in German at Sonntagszeitung.
The Swiss reporting also reveals something not disclosed before -- the US Government appears to be protecting Pugachev because the $700 million which he moved into Switzerland, and then out again, was transferred through intermediary banks in New York. The Swiss authorities are not saying if they have asked the US Government for information. Nor are the Swiss saying which banks are now targets in the Pugachev investigation. The hint is that the US Government – that’s the US Department of Justice and the US Treasury – are not cooperating in the search for where Pugachev’s money has ended up.
Read carefully. According to La Matin, “research in the Panama Papers now show how hundreds of millions of misappropriated funds may have been moved within a short time on account of Pugachev at the bank Société Générale in Geneva… Over $ 700 million landed via the USA [repeat, via the USA] in Switzerland in an account at Société Générale in Geneva. The account was in the name of the Cypriot company Safe Light which belonged to Pugachev and when his son Alexander was director. Authorities suspect a cover-up. But that was only the beginning. Between February and November 2010, a large part of the money from the Safe Light account was transferred into up to five other accounts at Société Générale. The biggest transaction amounted to almost $422 million. In some cases, between the individual transfers there were intervals of just hours or days. Thus, on November 8, 2010, nearly $292 million went into one of the accounts. On the same day, from that account a total of $118 million went to four different accounts. Two days later, there was a $161 million transaction to another account.”
Corroboration can be found in Justice Rose’s February judgement in the High Court. She reports that $712,978,000 was deposited by two Pugachev entities in the Societe Generale account of a third entity between December 29, 2008, and April 8, 2009. The $422 million, according to the UK court, went to an entity called Financial Investment Solutions Ltd. (FIS) in February 2010. Within weeks, most of this money was transferred to Enderton Company Ltd. From there it was broken down into smaller deposits to a string of other companies Pugachev also controlled. There is no claim in the London evidence that the money was being loaned from one Pugachev entity to another with legal undertakings for repayment. The court quotes Pugachev as claiming “he has no information about how these funds were used.” Several of the recipients were later liquidated, closed, or made bankrupt. Rose added a footnote: “$12,100,000 was transferred to Mr Pugachev’s son Victor. He cannot now recall the reason for this and can provide no more details. In his 12th affidavit he says of his son ‘I have enquired as to his use of the funds. He has respectfully declined to provide me with further detail’.”
The dates reported start before Pugachev’s Mezhprombank in Moscow was thought to be insolvent, and years before Pugachev was charged with criminal offences. In July 2010, Belton reported that Mezhprombank had defaulted on coupons for €200 million ($251 million) in Eurobond obligations, and was discussing restructuring those and other debts. “It is a liquidity situation,” Belton reported the assurance of “one person close to the matter”. “All he [Pugachev] is asking for is a short term bridge and the company has every intention of paying down the [bonds] when they fall due.”
In retrospect, with the evidence now revealed in the UK courts, Belton and the Financial Times now know these claims were false.
The Swiss reporters cite the evidence of the Panama Papers, and also the evidence gathered by the Swiss authorities in Geneva. The Panama Papers records can be checked independently.These documents reveal Pugachev and his two sons, Alexander and Victor, were operating dozens of front companies registered through Mossack Fonseca of Panama. From Societe Generale in Geneva, the money has been identified as moving to other accounts in Credit Suisse, Credit Agricole, and Hapoalim of Israel.
A New York Times promotion last May by reporter Andrew Higgins (right)quoted Pugachev as saying he is in favour of regimechange in Russia. “He does not ‘really need’ the billions of dollars he is seeking in compensation but does want vindication against a Russian system that he helped put in place by promoting Mr. Putin as a successor to President Boris N. Yeltsin. ‘I took part in bringing him to power…I now see this was a mistake,’ he added.”
The new money-laundering investigation disclosed in Geneva isn’t the first time Swiss prosecutors had moved on Pugachev’s bank accounts. Three years ago, in September 2013, court records in London reveal, the Swiss had imposed freeze orders on several Pugachev bank accounts in Switzerland for companies he called Strathconon Holdings, Domreis Investments, OPK Biotech, Sablon, OPK Mining, and Topaze Funds. OPK stands for United Industrial Corporation, the Russian holding which included Mezhprombank. The British court records also reveal that Pugachev managed to get most of his cash out of the accounts before the court orders arrived. Approximately $289 million plus €55 million disappeared, leaving $10,000 in one account; $1 million in another; and nominal sums in several others.
The version of what happened promoted by Barber, Belton and Buckley is that Pugachev and his Mezhprombank were the innocent targets of “the Russian state, which expropriated billions of dollars of assets from him after he fell out of favour with the Kremlin....’Over the past few years, Russia has pursued a multi-pronged attack against me, my family and my investments,’ Mr Pugachev said in a written statement as his litigation case was announced in Paris. ‘I refuse to be intimidated by Russia’s tactics.’” He is claiming compensation of $12 billion in a Dutch arbitration tribunal. According to Buckley, the claim is credible. It “could become an irritant in relations between the west and Moscow. It could also complicate Russian efforts to rebuild its investment image after the EU and US imposed sanctions over its intervention in Ukraine.”
Note: The original “Painter and his Pug” was painted by William Hogarth between 1735 and 1745. Hogarth had only one dog, and he meant him to appear more real than his own portrait.
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