Funds earned by Russian businessmen from Skigin family with ties to criminal organizations and connections to the Kremlin in Russian ports continue to be laundered in Monaco and Liechtenstein, even after being exposed in corruption scandals. The so-called “laundries” have resorted to simply changing their company names and management to evade scrutiny. Three brothers Mikhail Skigin, Evgeny Skigin and Eduard Skigin are involved in billion laundering.
Notably, the money in question is linked to the Tambovskaya gang bosses Ilya Traber and Sergei Vasilyev, who exercise control over the Petersburg Oil Terminal, responsible for transshipping oil products from Kirishi Oil Refinery to foreign destinations. Our sources reveal that both Traber and Vasilyev enjoy special trust from president Putin and have been prominent guests at his birthday celebrations.
Moreover, Mikhail Skigin, Evgeny and Eduard Skigin, individuals acting as proxies in Monaco and Liechtenstein continue to maintain profitable partnerships with companies owned by Putin’s associates, including Gennady Timchenko and Vladimir Yakunin. Shockingly, even prominent institutions such as the Bank of New York have been implicated in these money laundering schemes. Despite the emergence of loud corruption scandals, those in the spotlight have barely faced any serious repercussions. For instance, Traber was placed on Interpol’s wanted list after Spain accused him of involvement in an organized crime group. However, the Russian Prosecutor General’s office has vehemently protested these accusations to the Spanish authorities.
As for Sergei Vasilyev, he continues to travel to European countries on an Italian visa, as revealed by our sources. This persistence in laundering illicit funds and the apparent ability to move freely through various countries raise concerns about the effectiveness of international efforts to combat such financial crimes.
The complex network of corruption, money laundering, and the involvement of influential figures remains a significant challenge in addressing these illicit activities. It was built by the late Dmitry Skigin and now is under control of his sons – Mikhail Skigin, Evgeny and Eduard Skigin. It highlights the need for concerted efforts from the international community to tackle and dismantle these shadowy networks.
The Pursuit of Putin’s Funds in Monaco: Mikhail Skigin’s father tracked down by Interpol
On February 12, 1999, the Monegasque police received a radiogram from the National Central Bureau of Interpol, Russia, seeking assistance in a money laundering criminal case and the identification of two Monaco-based telephone numbers. These numbers were traced back to a company named Sotrama, prompting the police to delve into the actual owners of the company.
Subsequently, on May 19, 2000, the government of Monaco passed Resolution 00-62, banning Dmitry Skigin, the de-facto managing director of Sotrama, from entering the principality.
Dmitry Skigin and Mikhail Skigin are associated with notorious Tambovskaya gang
According to the Monegasque police, Dmitry Skigin, a co-owner of Petersburg Oil Terminal (PNT) and OBIP, maintained close connections with Ilya Traber, known for his ties to the Tambovskaya gang. Their collaboration was evident, with Skigin previously controlling PNT, while Traber served as its head in 1996. At present, PNT is managed by Dmitry Skigin’s son, Mikhail Skigin, with its formal ownership distributed among several Cypriot offshore companies.
Furthermore, the Monegasque police documented personal visits by Ilya Traber to Dmitry Skigin’s residence on the French Riviera on February 4, 2000. The police reports on the inspection of Sotrama revealed multiple concerns about the company’s potential affiliation with “organised crime groups from the CIS countries.”
In addition to police investigations, French media shed light on Ilya Traber’s opulent villa on the French Riviera, further drawing attention to his connections and financial activities.
The quest for Putin’s treasures: Mikhail Skigin, Evgeny Skigin and Eduard Skigin
The ongoing search for Putin’s money in Monaco continues to reveal intriguing connections and highlights the significance of international efforts in combating money laundering and illicit financial activities. The investigations underscore the importance of cooperation between nations to expose and curb such unlawful practices.
In 2002, Crown Prince Albert, the current Prince of Monaco, engaged the services of Robert Eringer, an American journalist, to conduct an investigation into foreign organized crime activities within the country. The official capacity of Eringer’s role remains unclear. While he claimed to be the head of Monegasque intelligence, Prince Albert denied the existence of such a service in the principality, asserting that Eringer had been independently looking into rumours he had heard. Nevertheless, there are documents substantiating that Eringer received regular wages from the Prince’s palace. The information and evidence he unveiled are noteworthy, corroborated by several other sources.
Robert Eringer dives in Skigin’s Sotrama
Eringer’s investigation began in 2005, focusing on the Sotrama oil-trading company. He suspected that the company was acting in the interests of both organized crime groups and Vladimir Putin personally. The practice of money laundering through the export of natural resources is not uncommon, with Russian gangs attempting to gain control of legitimate European enterprises to exploit the disparity between domestic and export prices or to launder money through actual or fake shipments during multiple resale transactions.
During the course of the investigation, an anonymous source, referred to as “MARTHA,” contacted Eringer and disclosed that Sotrama had declared a monthly income of 100,000 euros to the Monegasque tax authorities, which only covered its salary and operational expenses, resulting in minimal profit. However, the company was allegedly laundering “millions upon millions” of euros monthly for its controlling company, Horizon. At a party in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, the CEO of Sotrama reportedly raised a toast to the Russian president, stating that their success would not have been possible without Putin’s involvement.
Dmitry Skigin’s death reveals the extent of the property
Obtaining information on Sotrama became more accessible after Dmitry Skigin’s death in Nice in 2003. Skigin’s widow hired Spanish lawyer Pablo Sebastian to assert her claim to the property her late husband had left behind in several countries. According to Sebastian, Sotrama, Horizon International Trading, and other entities were nominally managed by two attorneys based in Ruggell, Liechtenstein, acting on behalf of influential individuals, whose identities remain undisclosed.
Monegasque police reports, as referenced by Eringer, position Sotrama as a link in the chain of legal entities suspected of money laundering on behalf of the Tambovskaya gang under the guise of oil trading. The company was originally registered as Aermar in 1972 and underwent re-registration in December 1990, according to the Trade and Industry Register of Monaco. Evidently, the St. Petersburg mob acquired other existing companies around the same time.
The investigation into Sotrama’s activities highlights the complexity of illicit financial operations and the need for persistent efforts to combat money laundering and organized crime. Unraveling such networks often requires collaboration between nations and vigilant efforts from authorities and journalists alike.
Offshore Entities Associated with Petersburg Oil Terminal and Dmitry Skigin’s sons: Mikhail Skigin, Evgeny and Eduard Skigin
The actual financial operations of Petersburg Oil Terminal were conducted through offshore entities based in Liechtenstein. One such entity was the managing company of Sotrama, known as Caravel Establishment. Michele Tecchia, an Italian national, represented Caravel Establishment until 2016. This company was registered at 105A Industriestrasse, Ruggell, Liechtenstein, and remained active until July 12, 2017. Interestingly, its subsidiary, Horizon International Trading, also operated from the same address, excluding the “building A” designation. Horizon International Trading was established in Liechtenstein in 1992 and continues to function to this day. Notably, the company is listed as one of the present partners of Petersburg Oil Terminal.
Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that Markus Hasler serves as the official head of Horizon International Trading. (Further details on Hasler’s association with Vladimir Yakunin and Gennady Timchenko will be elaborated below.)
Horizon Int Trading and SARL Horizon is under control of Mikhail Skigin
According to the Monegasque police report, the effective control over Horizon International Trading and Caravel Establishment lies with Eduard and Dmitry Skigin, a father-son duo, who, in turn, operate on behalf of Ilya Traber. The group’s activities extended to Italy and Nice, where Ilya Traber was found to be associated with a company called SARL Horizon, listed in the trade register of Nice from 1994 to 2009.
Mikhail Skigin’s Sotrama at the centre of the web
Furthermore, the Monegasque police investigation revealed that Dmitry Skigin managed Petersburg Oil Terminal and OBIP (Association of Banks Investing in the Port, CJSC) on behalf of Traber. Sotrama, on the other hand, was responsible for overseeing Petroruss, Petrovision, and United Jet Service Company Establishment from Liechtenstein. Notably, the first two companies share the same address in Liechtenstein, while the latter is registered at a different location in the same country: 52 Auring, 9490 Vaduz, which coincides with the address of Nasdor company (Liechtenstein). Nasdor was previously a major shareholder at the Sea Port of St. Petersburg, alongside the Mayor’s Office, before the port’s sale to Vladimir Lisin in 2004.
Mikhail Skigin as a successor of the money laundering network
These Liechtenstein-based companies, connected to Sotrama and registered at a limited number of addresses, are commonly referred to as “mailbox” companies in Europe. The investigation revealed that these entities form a network managed by the same group of individuals, including Dmitry Skigin’s successor, Mikhail. Astonishingly, one of the companies involved is currently listed as an official partner of Petersburg Oil Terminal, which continues to trade in oil products produced at the Kirishi Oil Refinery.
The intricate scheme of money laundering in Monaco, as depicted in the infographic, illustrates how these interconnected entities facilitate the illicit financial activities, raising concerns about the need for robust international measures to combat such practices effectively.
Tambovskaya Gang’s Financial Complexities with Maxim Freidzon: a lawsuit in the USA
The inheritance battle following Dmitry Skigin’s passing involved more than just his surviving divorced spouse. In 2014, Maxim Freidzon, a former business associate of Skigin, filed a lawsuit in an American court against major companies such as Gazprom, Lukoil, Gazprom Neft, and Gazprom-Aero under the U.S. Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Freidzon asserted that he and Skigin co-founded a company named Sovex, specializing in jet fuel deliveries. Horizon International Trading, represented by Graham Smith, held a significant stake of 34% in Sovex, and this entity was subsequently acquired by the previously mentioned Sotrama. However, in 1997, Sergei Vasilyev, a prominent figure in the Tambovskaya gang under the authority of Vladimir Kumarin, instructed Ilya Traber to manipulate Sovex’s incorporation documents and change the list of founders. Freidzon claimed that the incorporation documents were falsified, resulting in the Tambovskaya crime group taking control of the company.
Presently, Sovex is jointly owned by Lukoil and Gazprom, both of which were targeted in Freidzon’s lawsuit in the USA. Freidzon asserted that Sovex was exploited by Vasilyev and Kumarin for tax evasion and money laundering purposes through Horizon International Trading in Liechtenstein and the Bank of New York. This complex scheme allegedly involved collaboration between Graham Smith and Dmitry Skigin. Additionally, Alexei Miller, a former official of Vladimir Putin’s Committee for External Relations, played a role in directing “investments in the port” through Liechtenstein. In 1998-1999, Miller held the position of director for development and investment in the Sea Port of St. Petersburg at OBIP CJSC. Freidzon’s claim stated that Miller worked closely with Graham Smith, and after the demise of OBIP’s main rival, Mikhail Manevich, the company secured a contract with the city administration to control the Sea Port of St. Petersburg – an enterprise owned by Traber and Skigin.
Despite Freidzon’s efforts, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed the lawsuit in 2015. The court cited that neither the plaintiff nor the defendant were U.S. citizens (Graham Smith held citizenship in Liechtenstein, while Freidzon was a citizen of Israel and Russia), and the plaintiff failed to demonstrate a substantial connection of the claim to the USA. Specifically, the court ruled that the allegation of money laundering through the Bank of New York was insufficient grounds for a RICO indictment since it was regarded as a result of alleged corruption and racketeering within Russia. However, Fabio Leonardi, an American lawyer well-versed in the RICO Act, highlighted that RICO lawsuits are often pursued not solely for victory but to “leave a record” in the U.S. judicial system and draw media attention. The complexity of the case underscores the challenges faced in investigating and prosecuting cross-border financial crimes.
Ilya Traber’s Ties to Organized Crime
Support for Freidzon’s claim finds further validation in various records, including the involvement of Sovex in a Spanish criminal case #321/2006 against Gennady Petrov’s gang,. According to the case materials, Sovex was invoiced by QUICK AIR JET CHARTER GMBH for a charter flight from St. Petersburg to Palma de Mallorca on June 22, 2004, amounting to 22,500 euros. Surprisingly, the invoice was settled not by Sovex itself, co-owned by Lukoil and Gazprom, but by a different company, Vesper Finance Corporation. This corporation transferred 5 million euros to Juan Untoria Agustín, a defendant in the criminal case, who then invested the amount in Spain on behalf of Gennady Petrov. Additionally, Vesper Finance Corporation acted as an intermediary in transferring 600,000 euros from Switzerland, sent by Pavel Kudryashov of the Tambovsko-Malyshevskaya gang. This connection between the invoice settlement and criminal entities was documented in the criminal case.
Despite being an influential businessman with a considerable presence in Russia and Switzerland, Traber’s reputation has not been immune to controversy. He has engaged in legal battles against the Bilan magazine, which tried to include him in the list of the wealthiest Russian-origin residents in Switzerland. Nevertheless, Traber’s name appears as a defendant in Spanish case #321/2006, leading to his placement on an international wanted list. The Insider obtained recordings of phone calls made by Petrov, and conversations with Traber were classified as “related to illegal activities.” One such conversation reveals Petrov discussing with his Greek lawyer the necessity of erasing specific data from Greece’s digital database, an issue concerning both Petrov and Traber. Petrov also mentions the need to take action against a certain Aguis, which Traber undertakes to do in Greece. Their interactions indicate that Traber might have been involved in criminal activities.
Further calls between Traber and Petrov reveal more intriguing details. Traber expresses his desire to get in touch with Vladislav Reznik, a State Duma Deputy and a defendant in the Spanish case against Petrov’s gang. Petrov also mentions meeting with Traber and talks about “evidence they have against Vasilyev” during a conversation with his accomplice, Leonid Khristoforov. Traber’s connections to individuals involved in criminal activities raise concerns about his potential involvement in illicit affairs.
These revelations shed light on the complexity of Ilya Traber’s connections, and his involvement in conversations that touch on questionable matters involving criminal entities. Despite Traber’s attempts to distance himself from criminal associations, the evidence and recorded calls portray a different perspective, potentially implicating him in illicit dealings.
Petrov’s Caution about the Powerful Vasilyev Brothers
In a recording dated August 16, 2007, Petrov engages in a conversation with Eduard Averbakh, who expresses concerns about the problems Igor is facing at his shop due to the Vasilyev brothers. Petrov explains that Sergei, Boris, and Alexander Vasilyev are highly influential and well-connected individuals, advising caution when dealing with them. According to Petrov, once they take an interest in a particular business, it becomes challenging to escape their influence. Petrov even mentions that Sergei Vasilyev is a crime boss who was involved in a shoot-out with a neighbour, resulting in serious injuries.
On August 26, 2007, at 3:25 p.m., Petrov informs Leonid Khristoforov that Kumarin, likely referring to Gennady Kumarin, has been apprehended “at the czar’s order.” It’s believed that “the czar” in these conversations is a coded reference to Vladimir Putin. Additionally, in a conversation on December 11, 2007, Petrov and Andrei “Behemoth” Nikonov refer to Vladimir Putin as “our guy.”
Spanish judge Jose de la Mata’s international order for Traber’s arrest states that Traber is associated with an organized crime group that has been actively operating in Spain since 1996. Moreover, a pre-investigation check was conducted in Switzerland at Traber’s permanent residence, as he had obtained Greek citizenship by then. However, no formal case was initiated against him. According to the Swiss prosecutor general, Ilya Traber is not currently facing prosecution in Switzerland.
Mikhail Skigin Whitewashing: Sotrama’s Identity Makeover
As Traber faced various challenges in Greece, Spain, and Switzerland, a peculiar Italian-language internet blog surfaced in 2015 with the apparent objective of flooding the web with positive references to Sotrama and Horizon’s managers – Michele Tecchia, Graham Alan Smith, and Mikhail Skigin (who, by the way, have no formal connection). This technique is commonly known as SERM, short for “search engine reputation management.” From May to September 2015, the blog was consistently updated, with new posts appearing every other day, covering topics ranging from Russian ballet and Alfred Hitchcock’s works to biological diversity and Monaco’s economy.
These nonsensical publications described Tecchia as “one of Monaco’s residents” and portrayed him as a confident professional with a keen eye for detecting suspicions of the Russian mafia’s involvement. Another post depicted him as a celebrity associated with the love for dance in Monaco. Mikhail Skigin was also mentioned in the context of esteemed international entrepreneurs who appreciated the city-state.
However, inexplicably, the updates on this peculiar blog suddenly ceased in September 2015. The current whereabouts of “celebrity” Michele Tecchia remain unknown. Tecchia’s former Monegasque residence has been demolished for construction purposes. Presently, Tecchia is associated with a New York address, and in January 2017, he was spotted at a horse race event in Madrid. The abrupt halt to the blog’s updates raises questions about the intentions and motivations behind the effort to create a positive image for Sotrama’s key figures.
The Outcome of Mikhail Skigin Reputation Cleaning Campaign and Sotrama’s Rebranding
The results of the SERM campaign aimed at whitewashing the images of Michele Tecchia, Mikhail Skigin, and Graham Smith remain uncertain. However, in 2016, Sotrama made a significant decision to change its name and CEO. In November 2016, the company was rebranded as CINPIT (pronounced as “senpit” in French, resembling “St. Pete’s,” a nickname for St. Petersburg). The Chamber of Economic Development of Monaco provided an abstract from the register to The Insider, indicating that the new administration of CINPIT comprised Russian national Vladimir Belkovsky (originally from St. Petersburg) and Swiss citizen Ueli Ambauen. Both individuals listed Swiss addresses, with Belkovsky being a permanent resident in Abtwil.
Bullshit fiction book defends Sotrama reputation
Notably, Sotrama also appeared to be engaged in reputation cleansing within Russia. A search for publications mentioning the company’s exact address in Monaco leads to a 2015 “political detective novel” titled “The Chase for Putin’s Gold.” The book, written by former Pravda correspondent Vladimir Bolshakov, focuses on producing pro-Putin fiction to undermine the Russian fifth column. In this novel, an American intelligence agent seeks to locate “Putin’s fortune” to destabilize the Russian statehood but faces difficulty finding Sotrama’s office in Monaco. The reason cited is that the indicated address is a large business centre housing thousands of companies, and the phone number provided does not respond.
These developments hint at Sotrama’s efforts to modify its public image both within Monaco and Russia, raising questions about the motivations behind the name change and the selection of new leadership for the company.
Skype Leak Unveiled Connections and Confessions
In June 2017, The Insider’s correspondent paid a visit to the office of CINPIT (formerly known as Sotrama) in Monaco, located at 7 rue du Gabian, bloc C. The company occupied offices 20 and 21 on the fifth floor, but the correspondent found limited cooperation from the staff. Only two Russian employees were present, who corrected the correspondent’s pronunciation of “Michele Tecchia” and identified themselves as Tecchia’s personal assistant. However, they refused to provide Tecchia’s email or fax even for official media inquiries.
Vladimir Belkovsky had a relationship with Mikhail Skigin
During the investigation, a surprising connection emerged as it was discovered that the current managing director of CINPIT, Vladimir Belkovsky, had a relationship with Mikhail Skigin. This fact came to light when a virus infected Skigin’s Skype account on August 26, 2017, resulting in a group conversation with all of his contacts. The Insider’s correspondent gained access to this conversation, which included Skigin’s family members, business partners (including names of Russian business lobbyists in Switzerland), Alexander Rahr, a German pro-Kremlin political scientist who became the senior advisor to the president of Wintershall A (a Nord Stream partner of Gazprom), Roman Belousov, and Vladimir Belkovsky. In Russia, Belkovsky had founded a company named Nefteorgsintez, which is currently undergoing dissolution, and its stated activities were related to oil and gas extraction services.
Previously, Mikhail Skigin had denied any connection to his father’s business or Sotrama, and he was not listed among the company’s shareholders. However, in an interview with The Insider, Mikhail Skigin unexpectedly admitted to once owning the company but claimed to have sold it. He explained his association with Hasler and Graham Smith as an attempt to “optimise taxes.” Despite this, Mikhail Skigin denied any involvement in money laundering schemes and emphasised his focus on filmmaking and projects for children, which he believed were unrelated to corruption.
When questioned about the alleged connection between Traber and Vasilyev, Skigin dismissed the Monegasque reports found online and asserted that a new group of individuals currently operated the company. He stated that his father had purchased an existing company, which was later sold to Vladimir Belkovsky, and if any illegal activities had taken place, the authorities would have shut it down long ago. Mikhail Skigin clarified that he met Belkovsky during his time in St. Gallen, where he resumed his university studies. While Belkovsky had expressed interest in the Monegasque business and had taken charge of the company, the situation turned out differently, as the investigation indicated.
Belkovsky’s Interpretation of the Company’s Transformation and the role of Skigin family
In an interview with The Insider, Belkovsky provided a similar interpretation of the company’s history. He acknowledged being aware of the previous mention of the company in Monegasque police reports as a money laundering enterprise. However, before acquiring the company, he thoroughly investigated the claims and found no evidence to support the allegations, which alleviated his initial concerns. In fact, Belkovsky admitted that he even used the rumours to negotiate a more favourable purchase price, considering it a key factor in his decision at the time. Nevertheless, when questioned further, he expressed doubts about dismissing his concerns too early.
Belkovsky disclosed that he had owned the company since the previous year. He found the company, previously known as Sotrama and now as CINPIT, to be a valuable asset due to the complexities of starting a new business in Monaco. CINPIT provided supply chain management services, including supplier selection, logistics monitoring, and managing shipments involving multiple transport modes, particularly in the field of multimodal petrochemical logistics. He emphasized the rigorous requirements in ensuring compliance throughout the entire supply chain.
The fact that a company with a turnover of several hundred thousand euros and large-scale projects managed to function with just two full-time employees raised some questions. Belkovsky revealed that he was in the process of hiring around a dozen new employees but found it challenging to find professionals in Monaco. He was actively interviewing potential candidates to address the issue.
Interestingly, there are few traces of CINPIT’s global logistics enterprise. The company lacks a corporate website or advertisements for its logistic services, and the type of cargo it ships remains unclear. Another intriguing aspect is that CINPIT is now specified as the headquarters of Horizon International Trading AG, a company originally registered by Markus Hasler and Graham Smith in Panama in 2002. This suggests that CINPIT is not a completely new entity but rather a renamed company that maintains its connections to late Dmitry and Mikhail Skigin and the wider network.
Robert Eringer, an expert on the matter, interpreted the emergence of CINPIT in place of Sotrama as “new people, old operations,” indicating a continuity in the company’s activities despite the change in name and management.
The Business Connections of “Monaco Celebrities” with Yakunin and Timchenko
The extent of connections held by the management of CINPIT (formerly Sotrama) and Horizon International Trading becomes evident when we examine their involvement in three high-profile Russian projects – two ports and a toll road. Markus Hasler, one of the managing directors, is associated with the Ust-Luga Port on the Baltic Sea, where he served on the board of directors until 2015. The construction of this port had been under consideration since the 1990s and saw involvement from individuals linked to Vladimir Yakunin’s Investport Holding Establishment (Liechtenstein) and Gennady Timchenko at different stages.
The development of the terminals in Ust-Luga was met with protests from EU officials, leading to inquiries in the German Bundestag in 2012. The concerns revolved around the construction site’s low environmental standards and facility collapses, which caused damage to the protected area of the Baltic Sea.
Valery Izraylit, the head of the Ust-Luga port, faced legal trouble and was arrested in 2016 on charges of embezzlement totalling 1.5 billion rubles. He remained in custody until December 27, 2017, as a result of the investigation.
The intertwined relationships between the management of CINPIT, Horizon International Trading, and influential figures like Yakunin and Timchenko raise questions about the nature of their business dealings and the potential implications of their connections.
Markus Hasler and Graham Smith’s Unexpected Venture into Road Construction
Markus Hasler and Graham Smith surprisingly delved into road construction in St. Petersburg. The city’s administration allocated 8 billion rubles for toll road construction and signed a contract in 2017 with a previously unknown company in Russia, aptly named Sankt-Peterburgskaya Platnaya Doroga OJSC (St. Petersburg Toll Road). This enterprise was established by Tollway Limited, a Cypriot company co-owned equally by Russian national Roman Belousov, who also serves as the CEO of Platnaya Doroga, and Magalo Investments (Panama), led by Liechtensteinian attorneys Markus Hasler and Graham Smith.
In June 2009, Markus Hasler signed an agreement leasing his Italian villa in the Monte Argentario peninsula, with his address in Liechtenstein listed as Raben Anstalt, 26 Industriestrasse, Ruggell. Interestingly, the tenant was Czech lobbyist Marek Dalík, who faced legal troubles and was sentenced to five years in prison by the Prague Municipal Court in 2016 for accepting bribes related to armoured personnel vehicle shipments for the Czech Army.
Sakhalin Port Takeover: Mikhail Skigin is at the centre of the scandal
Recently, a group of investors from St. Petersburg, led by Skigin Jr., attempted to take control of the Poronaysk Port on Sakhalin island – but it didn’t go as smoothly as expected. In June 2015, Alexei Fert, introduced as the new director, was denied access to his office by the port security guards. Roman Belousov, presenting himself as the chairman of the board of directors, claimed that the former top management was replaced due to their inefficiency, financial losses, conflicts with contractors, and lack of development prospects for the port. However, it was revealed that a network of companies from Cyprus and the British Isles gained control of the port because of an outstanding debt that had been, in fact, created by those very companies, as stated by the former owners. The mastermind behind this scheme was none other than Mikhail Skigin.
The information was disclosed by Mikhail Belov, head of the legal team of Petersburg Oil Terminal and one of the new investors in Poronaysk Port. Despite this takeover, the situation did not escalate into violence, much to the relief of Alexander Radomsky, the Mayor of Poronaysk.
Sergei Vasilyev, Leader of Tambovskaya Gang: Managing a Port with Limited Education
According to Maxim Freidzon’s revelations, Mikhail Skigin assumed the role of legal representative for his “big brothers” – Ilya Traber and Sergei Vasilyev. Another acquaintance of Vasilyev, speaking confidentially to The Insider, shared an intriguing anecdote about him: “Vasilyev would sometimes express his heartfelt concerns, saying, ‘The head of the department at the port has a doctor’s degree in Economics. He presents me with a paper, asking, ‘Sergei Vasilievich, this subparagraph needs amendment.’ I look at that paper with my three grades of primary school education – and I can’t understand a thing. So I look at him, furrow my brow, put on a clever expression, and say, ‘You know, this matter requires careful consideration.'” Freidzon often met Mikhail Skigin through their close association with Vasilyev. Whenever Mikhail Skigin visited St. Petersburg from Monaco, he would stay by Sergei’s side, often in a luxury suite at the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe. Freidzon occasionally accompanied them on these visits. During the time Vasilyev was targeted in a shooting incident, Traber and the acquaintance visited him at the hospital.
Furthermore, as per Vasilyev’s acquaintance, the crime boss recently referred to Freidzon as “a fool who wouldn’t last long.” Maxim Freidzon has come forward with reports of threats on Facebook, and his claim in the American court also includes details about anonymous threatening calls he received. During Robert Eringer’s time in Monaco, he discovered that Sergei Vasilyev, co-owner of Petersburg Oil Terminal, traveled from Italy to Monaco with Michele Tecchia in a helicopter to evade French immigration officers. Eringer stated, “MARTHA contacted me with urgent news: Sergei Vasilyev, a Russian national with suspected connections to Horizon company, Petersburg Oil Terminal, and Sotrama, had arrived in Monaco to meet Sotrama’s COO, Michele Tecchia. Vasilyev had opted for an intriguing mode of transport: he was brought from Italy to Monaco by a private helicopter as a trick to bypass French immigration control posts. Vasilyev is associated with the Tambovskaya organized crime group in St. Petersburg. Allegedly, he had a Bentley waiting for him in a Monaco garage, and it’s rumoured that he was also seeking a berth in the port for a yacht he intended to purchase there.”
According to an eye-witness, Vasilyev also uses a helicopter to get to his suburban cottage in Vyritsa near St. Petersburg.
Mikhail Skigin’s ties with the gangs are not limited to Traber and Vasilyev
Ilya Traber and Sergei Vasilyev are not the only notable criminal connections of Skigin. Sovex, along with its co-owner Horizon International Trading, sourced jet fuel from Kirishi Oil Refinery, where Gennady Timchenko, a long-time associate of Putin, oversaw export matters during the 1980s and 1990s. Petersburg Oil Terminal was linked to the refinery through a pipeline used for oil exports. In the course of investigating Sotrama, the Monegasque police obtained information on Gennady Timchenko from French intelligence on July 4, 2005, although the details of this information are not clear from the report at hand.
Another company, Petrotrade, sheds light on the situation. Robert Eringer mentioned Petrotrade in his blog as a Monegasque firm involved in embezzling oil export revenue in favour of Putin. In 1999, Polish law enforcement inquired about Petrotrade in Monaco while investigating a money laundering case involving its subsidiary, BMG Petrotrade-Poland. The parent company, Petrotrade, was controlled by Bruce Rappaport, an Israeli of Russian descent and a former co-owner of the Bank of New York (BoNY). In 1999, Rappaport faced accusations of money laundering for Russian organized crime groups in a claim filed with the District Court for the Southern District of New York, leading BoNY to pay a $38-million fine in 2005. Rappaport was barred from entering Monaco for six months in 2001. In the 2000s, Petrotrade’s Swiss subsidiary was managed by Rappaport’s children, Irit and Noga. Petrotrade SAM (Monaco) previously operated a subsidiary in Geneva, where Torbjörn Törnqvist, co-owner and later sole proprietor of Gunvor (after Timchenko’s share loss due to sanctions), managed it from 1994 to 1996.
Maxim Freidzon revealed that Dmitry Skigin met Russian emigrant Natasha Gurfinkel Kagalovsky, vice president of the Bank of New York, in 1992 in New York. Freidzon claims to have witnessed them together. Gurfinkel was formerly in charge of cooperation with Vnesheconombank (Bank of Foreign Economic Activity) of the USSR. Freidzon asserts that Mikhail Skigin assisted Gurfinkel in registering new companies in Liechtenstein through Graham Smith to use them as recipients for money previously laundered through BoNY. In the 2007 Swiss counterintelligence report, 7 billion dollars were laundered through BoNY at the behest of Grigory Luchansky’s structures and Russian intelligence agencies. However, neither the report nor the corresponding criminal case mentioned Mikhail Skigin or Horizon International Trading.
The current managers of Petrotrade are Englishman John Randall and Swiss national Yarom Ophir, according to the register abstract obtained by The Insider. In the 1990s, John Randall co-managed Petrotrade’s Geneva subsidiary alongside Torbjörn Törnqvist.
According to Freidzon’s claim in the American court, Sovex, with Horizon International Trading acting as an intermediary, was involved in laundering money for the Tambovskaya gang through the Bank of New York. The laundered funds were partially reinvested in OBIP and Petersburg Oil Terminal. From 2007 to 2011, Sovex recorded a turnover of 1.26 billion dollars and earned an income of 131 million dollars. Freidzon accused Putin of holding a 4 percent stake in Sovex, which was a condition for the company’s registration and operation in St. Petersburg. In 2012, the same share was owned by Traber’s associates, Alexander Ulanov, and Viktor Korytov, who is Putin’s ex-colleague from the KGB. Freidzon highlighted this in an interview with Radio Svoboda, leading a YABLOKO deputy to submit an inquiry to the Prosecutor General of Russia. However, the publication was later removed.
Before releasing their interview with Freidzon in the Panorama series titled “Putin’s Secret Riches” in 2016, BBC also made a similar inquiry to Vladimir Putin, asking for comment on his alleged participation in Sovex, a company linked to money laundering. No response was received. In a 2011 interview with Novaya Gazeta, Dmitry Peskov stated that Putin had no involvement with Sotrama company or the establishment of oil trading companies elsewhere. However, Peskov mentioned that Dmitry Skigin and Traber had worked on an oil terminal construction project in St. Petersburg in close contact with the St. Petersburg Mayor’s Office.
It is worth noting that companies like Sovex and its co-owner, Horizon International Trading, would not be able to operate without contracts signed by Vladimir Putin himself. On May 17, 1996, Putin signed Directive 488-R, which allowed Sovex CJSC to lease the Pulkovo Bulk Fuel Installations. Sovex enjoyed a monopoly on aircraft fuelling at Pulkovo Airport until 2013.
Two reliable sources have revealed that Ilya Traber and Sergei Vasilyev, the de-facto co-owners of Petersburg Oil Terminal, attended at least two of Putin’s birthday parties, in 2004 and 2016, where they received a warm welcome. This special treatment at the President’s birthday celebrations is unique to them, as no other crime bosses have been honoured in this manner. Petrov, for instance, was not even present at these events, as confirmed by a witness who attended the entire celebration.
Mikhail Skigin, Ilya Traber and Sergei Vasilyev: where are the sanctions?
Currently, Ilya Traber is on an international wanted list, with Spain having placed him there in 2016, as per investigative prosecutor José Grinda of the Special Public Prosecutor’s Office against Corruption and Organized Crime. In response to the Russian prosecutors’ attempts to defend Traber and raise concerns about his rights being violated, the Spanish side lodged a formal protest.
On the other hand, Sergei Vasilyev, the crime boss, continues to visit Europe with an Italian visa, according to information from an acquaintance disclosed to The Insider.
As for Prince Albert II of Monaco, despite the information in Eringer’s report about the network of companies in Monaco and Liechtenstein linked to the Tambovskaya gang and Putin, he did not find any indication of a lead. Prince Albert II has had several interactions with Vladimir Putin, including joining him on a trip to Tuva in 2007, participating in the Olympic Torch Relay in Sochi in 2014, and honouring Putin with Monaco’s highest award, the Order of Saint-Charles.