Co-owner of Alfa-Bank, Mikhail Fridman became a victim of his own ambitions: he came into conflict with Oleg Deripaska and Leonid Reiman, and almost ended up behind the bars. The situation was resolved, but the claims against Fridman instituted by the Investigative Committee of the MIA of Russia remained, thus the law enforcement forces can return to the subject of criminal prosecution of the oligarch at any moment.
At the request of interested persons ...
Mikhail Fridman has long been known for his ability to subtly lead corporate conflicts. And, he has always remained a winner – for instance, in the story of the Tyumen Oil Company, British Petroleum and their dispute with the Minister of Communications Leonid Reiman for a stake in Megafon; as a result, the latter lost the ministerial seat after a number of international arbitral tribunals. Recently Interests of Reiman intersected with the interests of Mikhail Fridman again for the ownership of the company "Siterra" offered for sale.
But the most high-profile scandal aroused his conflict with the owner of Basic Element, Oleg Deripaska with strong support of the Russian government. When "Basel” began to suffer problems, Alfa Bank overwhelmed the company with lawsuits for the recovery of arrears amounting to more than $ 70 million - the suits were filed against the leading companies of Basic Element - two plants of RUSAL and automobile group GAS . Even though Oleg Deripaska attempted to negotiate with creditors, no dialogue occured.
And then the conflict came to another level: power structures became interested in Fridman -not on their own initiative, of course, but at the request of interested persons. The heads of the Investigation Committee of the Russian Interior Ministry were hinted that it was necessary to intensify the work on the co-owner of Alfa-Bank. They studied the materials that were in the production of the Investigative Committee referring to Alfa-Bank. The task was quite consistent with the criminal case on the withdrawal of assets of Sodbiznesbank.
The criminal story of the bank was interesting as Fridman took part in it. According to investigators, in 2003-2004 managers of KB “Sodbiznesbank" issued unsecured loans amounting to 3 billion rubles to insurance and investment companies, registered on nominees, in order to conceal the real state of affairs with the solvency of the organization. Then, the funds were transferred to the accounts of bogus companies, which returned them to the bank on the same day. The companies and organizations – participators of such a scheme received a commission – 0.13% of the loan amount. Through formal operations, "Sodbiznesbank" artificially inflated its capitalization. The investigators became interested in the relationship of Sodbiznesbank and Alfa-bank: the two banking institutions had been conducting operations on mutual credit, buying and selling securities, which enabled 'Sodbiznesbank' to provide Central Bank of Russia with documents about the conduct of active financial activity. Under the agreement, "Sodbiznesbank" committed securities transactions, while the calculations were made on deposit allocated in "Alfa". When Central Bank withdrew license from Sodbiznesbank, Alfa Bank wrote off from this deposit $ 7 million for repayment of DESts on obligations of Sodbiznesbank.
IC at the Interior Ministry of RF found out that there was OOO "Velteks" among the firms involved in the criminal scheme; Mikhail Fridman became its only founder in 2005. In November 2007, the Moscow office of Alfa-Bank was searched, and then they recovered seals of the offshore and documents of the companies, including the company Velteks. During the interrogation, Mikhail Fridman explained everything happening quite logically: in 2005, there was a question of buying the government dacha "Sosnovka-3", he asked the head of legal department of Alfa-Bank, Vsevolod Kusov to pick up a “clean” company and they offered him OOO “Velteks”.
At that time, investigators were satisfied with such an explanation, and the materials on Alfa-bank were isolated from the criminal case, separated and sent to the Department of Economic Security (DES) of the MIA of Russia to gather more information.
The case of embezzlement at Sodbiznesbank turned out to be by way for the security forces in light of recent events: it was the most promising one to prosecute the leadership of Alfa-Bank. In March 2009, a former chairman of the board of Sodbiznesbank Roman Petrov was arrested, under his management the operations with Alfa-Bank had been carried out. Investigators sent a request to DES for a transfer of materials on "Alfa", but they never received them: both officials of DES, who had been working with those materials, got disappeared suddenly - one went on seak leave officially, and another one - on vacation.
Alfa-bank: a sphere of influence
At the same time, co-owner of Alfa-Bank Pyotr Aven got understanding of the real balance of forces and attitudes of the authorities, and he was not interested in conflict of the bank with Oleg Deripaska. He arranged a meeting of Mikhail Fridman and Dmitry Medvedev, which was to settle an issue of debts of the structures of "Basic Element". However, Aven pursued his own interests as well: he had already promised to interested people that Alfa-bank would have no problems with Deripaska any more. Under the agreement, Mikhail Fridman had to tell the president that all shareholders of Alfa-Bank – are a “single monolith ", taking common decisions and responsibility for the commitments made by each of the owners of the obligation. Fridman was supposed to bring to Dmitry Medvedev an idea that an agreement on any issue concluded with each of the bank's owners, and that all the promises and assurances given by one of them will be fully supported and carried out by the other co-owners of Alfa Bank.
The meeting took place, but not in the way Pyotr Aven had planned. Mikhail Fridman did not say the magic words about the monolith owner. He was more worried about his own problems with political and violent pressure exerted on him in connection with the conflict surrounding structures of Oleg Deripaska. They say that at that meeting, Mikhail Fridman made it clear to the president that it was his interests that determined the priorities for "Alfa-bank’s" activity, and that the situation with the owner of "Basic Element" depended solely on his goodwill. In support of his influence, immediately after the meeting there was another lawsuit filed against Deripaska's structures.
Pyotr Aven perceived that behavior typical for Fridman as a personal insult. Especially as people in the Kremlin, to whom Aven promised good attitude to Deripaska, were disappointed.
A step away from a prison cell
Response to Fridman 's visit to the president followed immediately. The head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, a member of the presidential council for the promotion of civil institutions and human rights, Kirill Kabanov was assigned to lead a massive PR-campaign against Mikhail Fridman. At the Council meeting they scheduled to raise the topic of combating child pornography and, according to the organizers, to convey publicly to Dmitry Medvedev the materials on the longtime criminal investigation by the Belarusian KGB. According to those materials, there was a site operating in Belarus selling pornographic materials and demonstrating child pornography online. This site was controlled by two offshore companies which were directly related to the company of Mikhail Fridman, “Alfa-Eco”. They planned to make it public once the president would study the material.
More serious work was entrusted to the head of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Interior Ministry, Alexei Anichin. They say he was summoned to the Kremlin and was asked to examine the biography of Mikhail Fridman : whether it contained anything interesting. Then the task became more complicated: the former practice could not be applied; that was like - first a political decision is taken, then a criminal proceeding is instituted. Subordinates of Anichev were to collect really strong evidence of criminal acts by Fridman and only then to begin prosecution. According to rumors, at the same time Anichin was pressured by people from the entourage of Vladimir Putin with the same request.
Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev immediately became interested in Mikhail Fridman - he asked to prepare a certificate of all cases in the Investigation Committee, involving Alfa-Bank. Then they immediately found Alfa-bank audit materials in the criminal case on Sodbiznesbank. It turned out that Deputy of DES Interior Minister Andrei Khorev possessed them; in his turn, he was closely linked to the Department M of the FSB, which protected Mikhail Fridman. And, apparently, there were all prerequisites so that Fridman repeated the fate of the head of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. But the human factor broke in.
Alexei Anichin did not hurry with the criminal case institution. Firstly, his employment contract expired in October 2009; moreover, his was no longer young - 60 years old. He explained his indecisiveness by the fact that he could not find an experienced enough investigator to entrust with the case. All the employees of the IC, which had previously been investigating the activities of 'Alfa', suddenly stopped working in the structure. Investigator Gennady Shantin was transferred to the Control-Methodical Directorate, while his colleague Pavel Zaitsev received a notice of dismissal. The necessary investigator was found later – the case was put in charge of department head Viktor Tsymbalu, who also was not thrilled by the perspective. He put a condition to his chief: on the day of initiation of criminal proceedings against Fridman a preventive measure in the form of detention will be undertaken. And again Anichin became thoughtful, again began to temporize it, hoping that the conflict would be settled and there would be no need in the case institution. And he was right.
Mikhail Fridman was told of the seriousness of the situation around him, thus he promised not to interfere with Megafon in buying "Siterra" and refused to prosecute the financial structures of Oleg Deripaska. He was seriously alarmed, as he even promised to consider the possibility of concession of the part of his stake in "Alfa" to the representatives in TNK-BP's state structures. After that, the matter of prosecuting Fridman was closed. The documents related to the dark story of the relationship of Mikhail Fridman and leadership of "Sodbiznesbank" returned to the DES of the MIA of Russia; they keep waiting for the next time.
Evgeny Sukhorukov, RUMAFIA.COM