Economic

"Platonic" Ukrainians’ businesses in Chisinau 

Author: Victor Moşneag (Moldova), Ecaterina Madens, Arkadii Topov (Ucraina)
10/03/2016 8821

Oleksandr Pinchuk, a Ukrainian national and a former head of the National Bureau of Motor Vehicle Insurers of the Republic of Moldova, has been on the wanted list of the Moldovan authorities for almost a year by now. He became a key person of interest for the National Anticorruption Centre and the Anticorruption Prosecution Office when the Bureau suffered 30 million leu damages.

However, Pinchuk, who is also a successful lawyer from Ukraine, goes to work every day, meets his partners and participates in public life of the neighboring state without any problems. We have found him and even talked to him, though law enforcement agencies in Chisinau state that they have failed to. Pinchuk is one of enigmatic Ukrainians engaged in shady deals or schemes in Moldova. Though not well-known in the neighboring state, some Ukrainian citizens managed to take positions of company top managers or bank shareholders in Moldova during recent years.

Oleksandr Pinchuk, 36, is a Ukrainian citizen. The National Bureau of Motor Vehicle Insurers of the Republic of Moldova (BNAA) hired him as a deputy director in December 2014. BNAA is an association of all insurance companies of Moldova; it is responsible for keeping records of the Green Card, international insurance system. Branches of two Moldovan banks, Moldindconbank and Moldova Agroindbank (MAIB), accepted him as an acting director between 23 January and 12 March in 2015, since the Judge Adela Andronic from the Centru District Court of Chisinau had suspended the new leadership of BNAA for this timeframe after the elections on 13 January 2015. During this period, BNAA joined several highly questionable transactions signed and authorized by Pinchuk, resulting in losses worth millions and, eventually, a criminal prosecution.

Detrimental currency exchange

Photo: ZdG

Therefore, as the prosecutor’s decision states, MAIB admitted the transfer of 823,000 EUR from the BNAA accounts run by Pinchuk to four insurers: Asito, Moldasig, Victoria Asigurări, and Donaris VIG, between 23 and 26 January 2015. This amount served as an external financial guarantee; due to a lack of it, Moldova was excluded from the Green Card system. By a deposit agreement of 30 January 2015 between Moldindconbank and Pinchuk, BNAA’s 5.32 million leu were put as a bank deposit until February 2018; strangely enough, law bodies know that the Ukrainian was actually outside Moldova on 30 January.

MAIB officials accepted yet another suspicious request from Pinchuk on 20 February 2015: he bought 537,900 USD for 11.29 million leu from BNAA’s leu account by an exchange rate 20.99 MDL/USD, well above 20,18 MDL/USD, the official exchange rate set by the National Bank for that day. He placed the money as a deposit in MAIB but he terminated the contract 4 days later and sold the 537.900 US dollars for 8,98 million leu, exchange rate 16,70 MDL/USD. As a result, these transactions caused a damage of 2.3 million leu to BNAA with MAIB being the only formal beneficiary.

Through the same scheme, Moldindconbank representatives accepted the statement from Pinchuk to terminate five deposit agreements on 20 February 2015 and granted his application to convert the money from Moldovan leu to US dollars on the same day. In a first transaction, the bank approved the purchase of 1.16 million USD for 24.42 million leu, the exchange rate of 20.99 leu for a dollar against the official rate of 20.18. On the same day, the bank approved the exchange of 636,983 MDL to 30,347 USD, resulting in a total amount of 1.19 million USD after the two transactions; the amount was accepted as a deposit.

After several days of such operations, in particular, on 24 February 2015, bank employees accepted Pinchuk’s request to terminate the deposit agreement and also to convert the deposited amount of 1.19 million US dollars to Moldovan leu by an exchange rate as low as 16,60 MDL/USD, well below the official rate of 19,43 MDL/USD. These currency exchange transactions caused a loss of 5.2 million leu to BNAA, with Moldindconbank the only formal beneficiary.

45 days in office caused millions in losses

Photo: ZdG

On 26 February 2015, Pinchuk deposited BNAA’s 37.3 million leu on the account in MAIB for 1096 days until 27 February 2018. The deposit contract included a highly doubtful clause obliging BNAA to pay a fine amounting to 15 per cent of 37.3 million leu in a case of the contract termination, while any disputes related to the contract were subject to resolution by an arbitration court in Moscow. Similar conditions were also applied to another deposit of 19.8 million leu in Moldindconbank. BNAA representatives claim that these transactions caused losses of more than 30 million leu to the organization.

Following the cancelation of Judge Adela Andronic’s decision by the Appeals Chamber of Chisinau and the reinstatement of the elected director of BNAA, several complaints were lodged with the law agencies. The National Anticorruption Centre (NAC) launched a criminal investigation on currency exchange transactions between BNAA and the two banks, run by Sergiu Catan, a prosecutor of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office. A year since then, the investigation has not produced any visible results.

Ziarul de Gardă newspaper covered the case in September 2015 when the prosecutor told us that he had sent “several call-up papers to the Ukrainian national (Pinchuk) by addresses in Moldova that he had declared, but he never showed up to hearings. It is complicated, because he is a Ukrainian citizen. His location is unknown, so I could not contact him so far”, - said prosecutor Catan then.

Imitation of search

Oleksandr Pinchuk // Photo: facebook.com

Fredolin Lekari, the chief of the Center for International Police Cooperation of the General Inspectorate of Police (GIP) of the Ministry of Interior confirmed that the Ukrainian Oleksandr Pinchuk is on the wanted list. He noted that they were trying to localize him:

“There are two kinds of search. Someone can be wanted for arrest or for localization. Pinchuk is wanted for localization. We cannot share other data with you, because we can only provide information to the prosecuting authority that has put him on the wanted list. They can share more with you,” – said Lekar.

As the authorities fail to find Pinchuk, the investigation is stuck. Nothing has changed since September 2015.

“The missing person case has been launched, he is on the wanted list. NAC has a department dealing solely with search of the wanted”, - said prosecutor Catan. When asked if a warrant for arresting Pinchuk had been issued, the prosecutor only answered that he had been on the wanted list and “all necessary measures would be taken. I cannot tell you more. If he were found, he would be interrogated”, - said the prosecuting official. Representatives of the NAC’s Service for Special Tracking and Search confirmed that Pinchuk had been on the wanted list, but still not found.

To find Pinchuk, authorities in Chisinau and Kyiv must cooperate. The Ministry of interior of the neighboring country denies, though, that Pinchuk was on the wanted list in Ukraine, at least, by 24 February 2016.

How to find the BNAA’s damage-maker

Dominion headquarters on Artema 14-A street, Kiev Photo: CIJM

Certainly, it takes willingness to localize or find Oleksandr Pinchuk. In Ukraine, his homeland, he is a successful lawyer and a co-manager of Dominion Legal Group, a legal office in Kyiv, the capital city. His picture is on the top of the “Team” section at dominion.ua, the firm’s website. Pinchuk is findable on a daily basis at Artyoma Str. 14A-43 in Kyiv. We met him next to his bureau to discuss his criminal prosecution. To tell the truth, he refused to talk to us when he heard of the case in Chisinau, but he did not look surprised, concerned or afraid of any possible attempts by the Moldovan police to spot him.

It took long negotiations for us to finally get Pinchuk’s answers to our several questions on Wednesday, 9 March 2016, regarding the case against him in Chisinau: “I know nothing about the criminal case in the Republic of Moldova. Moreover, I do not understand how I could do any harm. The only thing I have heard about is that, after my quit, the new leadership of BNAA took the deposit out and paid the fine, as agreed with the bank. Nobody from Moldova was trying to find me. I don’t know anything about the criminal case. I don’t know Vyacheslav Platon,” – said he. It might be a coincidence, but he actually responded hours after our conversation with Vyacheslav Platon.

On a social medium that we used for talking to him, Oleksandr Pinchuk’s profile indicates his active lifestyle, participation in public meetings, business events and press conferences in his country, though formally the Moldovan law enforcement agencies state that they have been trying to catch him for almost a year in vain.

Suspect’s partner, the Head of ASITO and a lawyer in Moldova

In Dominion, Oleksandr Pinchuk is a partner and friend of Mikhail Goncharuk, another Ukrainian with a high position in Moldova. Though he was in Kyiv until the middle of February 2016, he was running Asito, an insurance company in Chisinau with shareholders in offshore areas; sources of the National Commission for Financial Markets (NCFM) testify that the company is controlled by a controversial businessman Vyacheslav Platon.

Oleksandr Pinchuk and Mikhaylo Gonciaruk Photo: facebook.com

Shareholders of the insurance company elected a new director, another Ukrainian national Andriy Lupyr, on 10 February 2016. He told representatives of the NCFM, who approved his candidacy, that he would be a different kind of manager, as opposed to his predecessor who was a Ukraine-based boss of the company in Chisinau. Before his election, Lupyr had run a company Riteyl Strakhovanie (Retail Insurance) in Kyiv, which changed its name to Talisman Strakhovanie in 2015; New Europe Insurance Fund, an investment fund in UK, owns the company.

Under Goncharuk, Asito was implicated in a number of scandals, one of them related to special pension payments to thousands of people. The company has never paid them so far, since the court ordered a suspension on a request from two Ukrainian stakeholders, and the litigation is still pending.

Pinchuk’s friend and partner, Goncharuk has also other contacts with Moldova as a lawyer. He contributed to a well-known trial between a Ukrainian company Energoalians and two energy companies from Moldova, Moldtranselectro and Moldelectrica, in 2010; the trial has been lasting for more than 10 years by now.

At first, he represented Meridian-K, a Ukrainian company affected by the trial as a party to a joint liability agreement; later, Goncharuk appeared at the Supreme Court of Ukraine as a representative of Moldovan authorities. In the end of the day, the Moldovan companies lost the trial the Ukrainian firm. Komstroy, a legal successor of Energoalians since 2013, also demanded to execute the decision of the Tribunal in Paris on the case, a request resulting in blocking the accounts of Moldatsa, a state enterprise responsible for navigation of aircrafts over the airspace of Moldova, because of the 47 million USD debt. Belgium is just one of countries were Moldatsa held accounts. The accounts stay blocked by now, as parties are waiting for a decision of an appeal court in Paris on the dispute.

SmartBank from Ukraine, owned by Asito from Romania, which belongs to Moldasig

Mikhaylo Gonciaruk and Oleksandr Pinchuk Photo: facebook.com

The press in Chisinau has repeatedly noted the role of Vyacheslav Platon in a shadow of these proceedings. A controversial reputation businessperson, Platon has been a part of various schemes in Ukraine and Moldova for a long time. Some links look more than believable. Dmitry Sarnatskyy and Ukrainian firm Avtosila are co-founders of Komstroy; in his turn, Sarnatskyy is a business partner of Vitaliy Podvishevskyy in Transbud company; Podvishevskyy owns 50 per cent of another Avtosila, a limited liability company in Russia, as well as Evans cooperative in Ukraine, which shares a phone number with Jet Business Limited, Platon-founded firm in Ukraine. The same number was left under an offer for sale of a premium class Land Rover car for almost 50 thousand EUR, uploaded to Ukrainian special websites. Podvishevskyy is a 4.33 per cent shareholder of Moldindconbank in Moldova where again he is Platon’s partner.

Through offshore Global World Trade, Honcharuk, an ex-lawyer in Moldova and an ex-boss of Asito, holds 2.29 per cent of shares at SmartBank. This financial institution shares many shareholders with the two banks in Moldova, a point we will get back to later. 40 per cent shares of this bank belong to Asito Kapital, a joint stock insurance company in Romania, via Star-Polis, another insurance company in Ukraine taken over by the Romanian firm in 2015. Since 2011, the Bucharest-based Asito Kapital, in its turn, belongs to Moldasig, yet another insurance company in Moldova, also affiliated with Platon.

Platon’s firms and lawyers from Ukraine

The two Moldovan banks, Moldindconbank and Moldova-Agroindbank, both involved in Pinchuk’s shady deals, have a whole pool of Ukrainian shareholders. For example, seven individuals and legal entities from Ukraine own 29.95 per cent of Moldindconbank shares. Jet Business Limited, a Ukrainian firm founded personally by Platon, owns 3.76 per cent. Fera Management, another Ukrainian corporation founded by Veaceslav Majeru, a former member of the Managing Board of Moldindconbank and a confidant of Platon, owns 4.39 per cent. The President of Moldova Vladimir Voronin awarded Majeru, now 69, with the Order of the Republic in 2007 for his merits in developing the sugar industry, as he was a manager of a foreign-owned business MARR Sugar Moldova that ran several sugar factories.

Majeru’s phone number at a Ukrainian classifieds website is the same as the one of Platon-founded Jet Business Limited. Verloc Development, the third Ukrainian shareholder of Moldindconbank with 4.52 per cent of the bank’s shares, belongs to Aliona Strashevska, another confidant of Platon; she was the Deputy Chairperson of Moldindconbank’s Managing Board until 2012. She was put on the wanted list in 2013 for hearing within criminal proceedings. Interestingly, all the three firms are pending a liquidation, a procedure initiated on the same day, 13 May 2014. However, almost two years after, they are still operating.

Apart from the above-mentioned Vitaliy Podvishevskyy, there is another Ukrainian shareholder in Moldindconbank, Igor Chuyko with 4.25 per cent of shares. He used to be a lawyer of VVD, a firm that Platon tried to use in 2000 for siphoning off at least 18 million USD out of the Ukrainian state enterprise Energoatom. Chuyko’s father worked at Ukraine’s secret services. After spending a short time on the wanted list of the Ukrainian authorities on a charge of large-scale fraud, Chuyko is working as a lawyer at Kyiv-based Prokopenko, Chuyko and Partners office.

Shareholders of Moldova Agroindbank, Moldindconbank and SmartBank

SmartBank and MAIB: common shareholders

Valentyn Kanavchenko

Moldova Agroindbank, another partner of the shady deals over BNAA money, has six Ukrainian shareholders. Three of them hold minor packages, the other three, though, are beneficiaries of almost 12 per cent of the shares, according to the data provided by the bank. One of them, Valentin Kanavchenko, formally owns 4.49 per cent of Moldova-Agroindbank’s shares through a UK company Hessond Solution Limited. He also owns 0.79 per cent of the previously mentioned SmartBank in Ukraine, via joint stock company Atomprofozdorovnytsia whose shareholder he is. The company runs two resort facilities in Ukraine: Gornîi in Yalta and Prykarpatia in Truskavets.

Yury Osiyan, the managing director of Fera Management, is another shareholder of SmartBank (0,79 per cent) through the shares of Atomprofozdorovnytsia. As mentioned above, Fera Management owns shares of Moldindconbank and shares a phone number with Jet Business Limited which belongs to: Platon, Andriy Prylipko, Dresfond Limided Invest (via offshore, which owns 4.48 per cent of Moldova-Agroindbank’s shares) as well as other interconnected individuals including Vitaliy Ryabokon, another MAIB’s shareholder. Be reminded that Modlasig, an insurance company from Moldova, is a beneficiary of other 40 per cent of shares of SmartBank.

Viktor Chernobay, holding 4.24 per cent of MAIB’s shares through UK-based Multigold Production Limited, is from a small town of Kremenets originally, just like Valentin Kanavchenko. Vyacheslav Slobodskyy, yet another Ukrainian and a director of yet another British firm Dunlin Invest, is a formal owner of 3.46 per cent of MAIB shares. Like the other Ukrainian businessmen in Moldova, he is a lawyer by profession.

Infographic made using the VIS platform // vis.occrp.org

Platon’s comments on Ukrainians from Moldova

The National Bank of Moldova banned a group of MAIB shareholders from voting at the Board of the bank in the beginning of March 2016 on charges of collusion following their acquisition of 39.58 per cent of the bank’s core capital without a preliminary written permission from the National Bank. The three above-mentioned key Ukrainian stakeholders are also on the list, a clear indication that the same individual is a beneficiary of their shares. Two other MAIB shareholders on the list, charged with collusion, are Moldasig, the owner of 40 per cent of SmartBank in Ukraine, and Moldindconbank, an institution co-owned by Vyacheslav Platon.

MAIB noted in a subsequent press release that the decision of the National Bank did not affect the institution’s operations. In his turn, Platon who is cross-connected to names of several Ukrainian shareholders of the Moldovan banks, says that he has never heard of some of them. “I barely know Podvyshevskyy. We said hello a couple of times,” – said Platon. He also claims he does not know Pinchuk or Honcharuk. As he tried to convince us that he is not connected to these people from Ukraine, he also noted that it is nothing wrong for them to have a business in Moldova.

“Do you think being a lawyer means having no money? I know many businessmen from Moldova who have money but they drive simple cars,” – said Platon. He believes it was a wrong decision for the National Bank of Moldova to block voting rights of a number of MAIB stakeholders. He thinks Moldova can end up in a court because of this decision and have to pay up to 100 million USD damage from the state budget. “I feel so pity for these guys who have suffered for nothing… I can only offer my sympathies to them and, in my turn, I declare that I am also a sharer of Mobiasbanca, while Group Société Générale is just a nominal I refer to. So, now I expect the National Bank to block my Société Générale shares”, - sarcastically said Platon. – “We have a situation when Platon is guilty for any bad things in this country. It has come to a point that Moldindconbank people are asking me to sell my 4 per cent of shares, because I only cause problems, they say”.

The investigation is a part of the Anti-Corruption Initiative Moldova-Ukraine project implemented by the Center for Investigative Journalism of Moldova, the Institute of Mass Information and Freedom House with support from the Canadian government.

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