Lately Dmitry Medvedev has become the hit of YouTube - the clip which shows the president of Russia swiveling his hips on the dance floor to a 1990s “American boy” pop tune went viral. It turned up that the Russian leader was filmed strutting his staff at a university reunion. Medvedev met his former university class - law students of Leningrad University. But one of brightest Medvedev’s peer had lots of good reasons not to come. He has been hunted by the police worldwide for over decade, his photograph being posted on Interpol web-site. His name in Russian sounds as Mikhail Syroezhin, but in the USA he is known as Mr Michael Syroejine.
Syroejine's biography is a ready scenario for a Hollywood thriller. He is a son of an prominent Leningrad scholar, economic game-theorist. Early in life Suroejine worked for a KGB as an agent and established his own businessman. In 1993, 28-years-old Syroejine became a deputy director of a largest government TV station in St Petersburg. But it was just the tip of the iceburg. In 1992 Mr Syroejine organised a large-scale money laundering scheme - and washed millions of stolen money through leading American banks. 5 years later he became a FBI agent who provided American governemt with the insider's information about the activities of Russian and Italian mafia. Now he is a crime boss and his main activity is a market of securities.
Holidays in Paris instead of seasonal work
Michael Ivanovich Syroejine, was born in Leningrad in 1965 to a world-famous economist Ivan Syroezhin (many of his students now hold high positions in Russian government). Syroezhin Senior lectured at the faculty of Economics of Leningrad State University while he was a third year student. In 1958, when he was 25 years old, he began to develop a new discipline - mathematical economics research. It is likely that the young scholar cooperated with the KGB - years later his son would tell the FBI agents, that his father worked for Soviet state security.
The fact that Syroezhin Senior traveled to the USA “to study systems of production management” might prove his cooperation with the KGB. In Soviet times it was impossible to travel abroad, especially to the USA, without having influencial protection of the KGB. When in 1968 Syroezhin came back, he headed research team of the university and studied automatic systems of management. In 1970 he was appointed the head of economic cybernetics department of Leningrad Institute of Finance and Economy.
Deputy prime-minister Alfred Kokh, member of the upper house Sergey Vasilyev, deputy of the State Duma Oksana Dmitriyeva, deputy ministers Dmitry Milovantsev and Viktor Evtukhov were among his students. Future mayor of St Petersburg Anatoly Sobchak was his old friend. As a leading scholar in the field of economics Syroezhin Senior lectured around the globe: in the USA, UK, France… His son accompanied him on trips abroad. He knew the way people live in the west since childhood.
His life in the USSR wasn’t hard: he went to a good school and was accepted to the law faculty of the Leningrad State University where he attended lectures of his father’s friend Anatoly Sobchak. His peers remember him as a “bright” person - dedicated follower of the fashion and lady-killer. While Dmitry Medvedev, as an ordinary Soviet student, spent his summer holidays doing part time seasonal work - gathering crops or building great construction projects of the USSR, his peer Misha spent his summer with father in Europe. While future president and his mates burnt midnight oil over law codes and articles, Suroezhin was a regular at expensive restaurants, because he received the right of free attendance to university. When Michael was in his second year, Ivan Syroezhin died from a serious illness before the age of 50. Syroezhin Senior’s friends, including Anatoly Sobchak, took care of Misha.
Apparently, the KGB also decided to take care of the young student. When Michael Syroejine moved to the USA, he said he was recruited by the state security agency at the Leningrad State University. After having graduated in 1987, he entered the Academy for Foreign Trade (the institution was indeed a training facility for the KGB). At the same time, Syroejine worked for Soviet weaponry export firms. After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Michael established his own business (with the help of Sobchak, who became the mayor of St Petersburg). Let us notice, that Sobchak helped all his devout «young admirers». He gave a start for current Russian tandem - Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev.
Washing out money for father’s students
In 1992 Michael Syroejine, together with Michael Kvetny and Viktor Vaisberg established Rosamet LLC. The company exported the production manufactured at the Kirov machine-building plant. Now Kvetny is a shareholder of the plant and head of its daughter-company called Tetramet. Vaisberg has become a car-dealer and controls TDV-avto company which runs a chain of automobile sales centres in St Petersburg. Syroejine with Larisa Mikhaylova and Viktor Mikhaylov, spouses, also founded Saga LLC. Besides running his own business, Syroejine worked for an Austrian-Russian joint company engaged in building Nevsky Palace hotel.
Khasambi Shizhoev, Syroezhin Senior’s student who became a finance minister of Kabardino-Balkaria (a republic in the North Caucasus region of Russia), helped Michael with getting a top executive position in Kab-Balkar Trade Center Inc, founded by the government of Kabardino-Balkaria and All American Corporate Service. Aleksandr Yegmenov, Russian emigrant, chaired the company's board.
Syroejine Junior worked as an executive in a number of companies. It was revealed that not only his father's reputation gave Michael preferences in his career. Michael was mastermind behind first Russian money-laundering schemes. Money were siphoned out of Russia, laundered in the USA and distributed all other the world.
Viktor Mikhaylov, Syroejine’s Saga partner, was in advertising business. He ran the company called Commercial center of TV and radio. For a number of years he tried to strike a contract to get a solid right to advertise on Petersburg-Chanel 5 TV company, headed by famous journalist Bella Kurkova. But Kurkova did not want to strike contract. In 1993 she explained her reasons. She was ready to sign the contract and give Mikhaylov's company 35% discount. In exchange Mikhaylov had to sponsor Nevsky Glashatay newspaper in the sum of 12.5m roubles every month. The newspaper was controlled by Vadim Tareev, Kurkova's husband.
The sides stroke hands. Soon the unknown newspaper got first chunk of money. Michael asked Kurkova to bring Michael Syroejine to the company as deputy director - he had to represent the interests of Commercial center of TV and radio. Kurkova agreed. On November 1, 1993 28-years-old Misha became a deputy head of Petersburg-Chanel 5 state TV company. His duties were to manage advertising, commercial aсtivities and external relations.
Kurkova charged Syroejine with procurement the of new equipment for filming, including Sony equipment for film editing. From very beginning, the deal looked extremely suspicios. The state funds were aimed at paying for communication services, not buying Sony equipment. Anyway, Syroejine chose a very strange way for buying equipment.
The TV station sent money to the accounts of TV and Radio of St. Petersburg, Inc in Chase Manhattan Bank. TV and Radio of St. Petersburg, Inc was a shell company set up by Aleksandr Yegmenov in Albany, NY. The company’s founder was former ballerina of the Kirov Theatre Anna Potemkina. The company was set up with authorised capital of $200. The money for equipment, then, were wired to another Yegmenov-born front company called V.N. Express and to the accounts of Jojan Consultants, Ltd. (Dublin), two alleged suppliers of Sony equipment. The TV station never received the equipment, because money moved offshore.
Later Kurkova told journalist she was not good at finance and that Misha convinced her that the deal would be profitable and she believed him. But even the least experienced person would be confused by offshore companies who did not give any guaranties. Obviously, Kurkova was part of conspiracy - she knew money would never come back to Russia and TV station would never get equipment. But she signed multilateral contract and $2m were siphoned out through TV and Radio of St. Petersburg Inc.
Soon Syroejine, Potemkina and Viktor Mikhaylov disappered. Kurkova realised they conned her and appealed to the FSK (future FSB). She asked Sergey Stepashin to block the accounts of companies that signed phony deal and to arrest Michael. But in the middle of March 1994 Syroejine turned up. He sent a fax to the St Petersburg TV station from Austria where, he claimed, he found a refuge after having been beaten in Moscow. He claimed the attack had been organised by Most bank that wanted to seize the statiton.
Soon Mikhaylov, who was living in London, publicised copies of his deals with Tareev, Kurkova's husband. Kurkova was sacked with a big scandal. Criminal investigation was opened into $2m embezzlement. Syroejine was put on a wanted list and Interpol posted information about Syroejine on its site. Michael enjoyed his foreign life (he got used to it in the childhood). It was revealed that he moved from Austria to the USA.
Money laundering conduit for Moscow’s mayor
It is hard to say when Michael Syroejine finally settled down in the USA. According to one piece of evidence, he fled from Russia in 1994 after the scandal with St Petersburg TV station. According to another piece of evidence, he emigrated in the USA in 1991 and had already been an American citizen while working for Russian television as a procurement official.
In 1992 Syroejine met another émigré from Leningrad - Aleksandr Yegmenov. Together they managed money-laundering process which involved sums, never seen before.
Unlike his associate, Yegmenov did not have university training. In the USSR he set up illegal business and was convicted on weapons and illegal currency exchange. He served his term in prison and in 1984 fled to the USA. In 1990 he was arrested in a fraternity house in Troy by immigration authorities for “overstay”. He claimed the KGB arrested him as a dissident, put him in a psychiatric hospital (he proved the fact by producing a document). Yegmenov got an asylum and set up All American Corporate Service. The company provided Russian emigrants with legal advice.
Soon Yegmenov met Syroejine. The later was well networked and knew a lot of businessmen, politicians and, as the Russian MVD found later, members of Tambovskaya mob. Many wanted to strip off their assets. Yegmenov and Syroejine were at service. Yegmenov forged supporting documents and stamps of Russian entities to prove that certain companies existed in Russia. He also bribed a number of corrupt officials in New York State Department of State. In that way he incorporated hundreds US subsidiaries of shady business establishemnts, based in St Petersburg and Moscow. This companies siphoned money out of Russia.
People at the NY State Department provided Yegmenov with blank certificates of incorporation which enabled him to set up offshore companies - in Cayman islands, the Isle of Man, in the principality of Liechtenstein etc. The companies had a long record of successful work in the USA. So, money from Russia first arrived to the accounts of NY subsidiaries and then were wired to offshore companies. The companies, set up by Yegmenov, invited Russian citizens to work in the USA. They easily got business visas.
According to the FBI, within a couple of years Yegmenov and Syroejine founded 4000 companies in New York, a thousand in Delaware, a few hundred in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Ohio. His services was popular in Russia: they worked with Moscow’s mayor Gavriil Popov, musician Andrey Makarevich, psychotherapist Anatoly Kashpirovsky. One of Yegmenov’s clients was Vyacheslav Ivankov (alias: Yaponchik), legendary Russian mobster. When Ivankov decided to move to the USA, Yegmenov and Syroejine invited him as an employee of one of shell companies. That was the way Yaponchik got legal permission to stay in the USA. Yegmenov and Syroejine set up a separate commercial entity for Yaponchik, who moved huge sums of Russian mafia money through the company.
Syroejine and Yegmenov moved the money, which they stripped the 5th Channel of, through their companies. The FBI found traces of these operations. After $2m were wired to the Chase Manhattan Bank, account of TV and Radio of St. Petersburg Inc, the bank moved $430,000 to Barclay's Bank in Cyprus, $400,000 to Privatbank Vaduz in Liechtenstein and to the accounts of Jojan Consultants Ltd in English Lloyds Bank (the money were probably aimed to Mikhaylov). The rest Syroejine spent buying different items: $20,000 worth Rolex watch, a GrandCherokee, a pleasure boat and $100,000 worth appartment in Santa Monica (California).
More became Syroejine adopted to the USA, less warm were his relations with Yegmenov. Once Michael asked Aleksandr to go to St Petersburg and meet with a potential client. When the client made an appointment in a remote corner of the Leningrad Region, Yegmenov was confused. He made inquiries and found out that the appointment was made by Tambovskaya group mobsters. He decided his partner asked mobsters to make short work of him in order to seize the joint business. Immediately he flew back to the USA.
Medvedev’s peer works for the FBI
On June 8, 1995 the FBI arrested Vyacheslav Ivankov on charges of extortion. In the course of investigation, names of Yegmenov and Syroejine cropped up. They were interrogated and then detained. At the same time, the files, pertaining to the embezzlement of state funds, arrived from Moscow. Syroejine and Yegmenov were indicted for money laundering and forgery.
The FBI agents told Michael and Aleksandr they needed them not, but they offered them an opportunity to avoid taugh sentence. The FBI was intrested in the information about clients of Yegmenov and Syroejine. The agents also wanted them as moles. Prosecutors offered bargain to both, but Yegmenov, mature mobster with long criminal record in the USA and USSR, refused. He understood that he did not face serious sentence. Besides, he was a political refuge. Syroejine faced more serious charges including possible extradition to Russia. He stroke the bargain.
Notably, news about Syroejine’s arrest appeared in the media of both the USA and Russia. Later on the FBI refuted the information. A spokesman said that «individual with surname Syroejine has not been taken into custody».
Signing a bargain, Michael set forth one condition - Yegmenov should be sent back to Russia. The FBI agreed - Aleksandr knew too much about his associate. Yegmenov did not suspect anything: he pleaded guilty of visa fraud and was ready to serve short sentence. Indeed a year after the arrest the judge freed him of money laundering charges and sentenced to a year of prison - the term he already served by the time the court order appeared. He had barely went at large, when immigration authorities arrested him for the second time. It turned out, that Yegemenov concealed the fact that he had been convicted in the USSR and forged documents from a psychiatric facility. He lost political asylim, then he was put in an airplane and sent back to Russia.
The plane arrived in Moscow late on December 31, 1996. “Good timing!” thought Russian police agents who had to meet him. They inspected to have New Year party. Aleksandr decided to play hide-and-seek with the police. The agents did not know his appearance. American immigration service arranged that a member of the crew had to point to Yegemenov.
In an airport hurly-burly Yegmenov managed to hide himself among other passengers, waiting for the customs control. The agents stood at each check point and wanted to arrest him when he would show his passport. But Yegmenov «read» the plan and began moving from one check-point to another waiting for a moment to flee. And a chance he had.
A police agent at one of checkpoints was out for a short time. He went off to speak with the member of crew about Yegmenov's appearance. At the very moment Aleksandr Yegmenov passed the checkpoint. When the agent returned, customs officer pointed to Yegmenov, already running at full speed to the exit. Yegmenov was caught and interrogated by the investigators of the MVD. He was indicted with conspiracy to embezzle money of the Fifth Channel. He spent a year in prison and was released. All traces of him are lost.
Syroejine's fate was different. After he signed a bargain with prosecutors, he was set free on bail. Soon the mole changed identity - Mr Michael Syroejine became Mr Michael Guss. This very Guss bought a stake in Troyka restaurant in New York. This was the place where bosses of Russian mafia used to dinner in the USA. Then Guss opened an office next door to the office of famous mobster Aleksandr Bor (alias: Timokha). Two Russian-born had a lot to talk about. When Timokha learned about money washing activities of his neighbor, he introduced him to the very close circle.
Bor, together with the men from Gambino, Gravano, Colombo and Gotti families, was involved in a large-scale scam to wash off huge sums of money. The mobsters set up front companies, whose supposed activities were building golf courses. Then their people at the stock exchange created artificial demand for the companies. When mobsters sold out the shares, they dumped it. The investors landed on a scrapheap.
Aleksandr Bor took Michael Guss to the meetings with mafia bosses. “Our future is in Misha’s hand. He can work wonders,” Timokha said. The mobsters did not know that Syroejine carried microphone on him. The FBI was tapping the mobsters’ meetings.
No one found out he was a mole. When Russian and Italian mafia spotted FBI spying and began to search for the mole, Syroejine was not even among those suspected, which shows how well he fit in with the gangsters. In 1997 agents conducted a large-scale operation, detaining 26 scam participants, mainly members of the Colombo clan. The arrests happened partially thanks to information collected by Syroejine-Guss. But even at that time Misha was double dealing behind FBI’s back.
Just before the start of the operation someone warned Bor about it and he managed to escape from the USA. That someone might have been Guss, who preferred to rat out only the Italian gangsters. After the operation FBI offered Michael witness protection program that promised him a somewhat underground but well-off life. He positively refused. The explanation for this refusal became obvious many years later. It turned out that after the FBI operation, Syroejine-Guss began to build his own criminal business empire, which still operates employing fraudulent schemes used by Bor and the Italian mafia and improved substantially by Michael. Larry Wilcox, the former star of American television series, became his closest business partner.
The Mole becomes mobster again
In 1998 Syroejine divorced Potemkina and married the former model Katya Santiago. In addition his liking to the beautiful girl, Misha pursued another interest. He needed someone close who would be an American citizen and who would not originate from Russia. Since he was banned to work with securities, Syroejine made Santiago owner of 60% of shares in the firm Envision VenturesInc. And the company, in turn, bought a controlling stake in a major brokerage company LSVL. Thus, Guss entered the exchange market and then launched a large-scale business to deceive purchasers of shares while he was in the shadow.
Syroejine-Guss no longer established his own fly-by-nights from scratch. Instead he in different ways took control of small holdings that had long been operating in the market and had an excellent reputation. Then the companies would issue fictitious financial statements from which it followed that holding rates were drastically going up. LSVL brokers started to artificially raise prices for the shares of the holdings by tens or hundreds of times. And then LSVL carried out a new scam
In the U.S. stock rental business is common. Brokers rent stocks for some time and pay the owners 50% of market value. Then brokers have to return only the shares, regardless of the changes in the quotes. This is what Syroejine-Guss used in his scam. When the value of the securities reached the upper grades, he would use LSVL to rent shares in holdings he controlled and immediately sold them, after which the value of the securities fell by the same tens of times as it had been artificially raised by. LSVL then bought virtually worthless shares and returned them to owners.
How Syroejine-Guss holdings took control of holdings is well illustrated by the PSPP Holdings Inc. It was a small but quite successful business of the Gottschalks, until they met Larry Wilcox. In 2006 he told them that a number of large investors who are willing to invest in the holding were interested in the PSPP. The Gottschalks had no reason not to trust the former TV star and they were extremely delighted to see such attention to their business.
Wilcox was made a manager at the PSPP to monitor the use of investors' money. Soon, several large sums were transferred to the accounts of the holding. And in summer 2007 Wilcox told Leonard Gottschalk that a large investor was dissatisfied with how his 1.5 million dollars were used and that he wanted the money back. The family could not find the necessary sum and Syroejine-Guss, whom Leonard Gottschalk knew as a business partner of Wilcox, joined in the business.
In August 2007 several strong Russian guys came for the co-owner of PSPP. They put him in the Rolls Royce Phantom and brought to the California Office of Michael. He told Leonard Gottschalk that 1.5 million invested in PSPP were money of radical Italian Muslims, who "would go all the way to get their money back." Therefore, he must urgently return the money.
As the businessman could not do so, Syroejine-Guss asked him to sign a paper, which brought PSPP under control of Wilcox. These papers were immediately sent to the trash, but the former actor became the head of the holding. Furthermore, he signed all internal documents, as it turned out, with the electronic signature of Gottschalk. As a result, PSPP soon issued financial statements that indicated its unprecedented financial success. Shares of the holding began to soar in price. LSVL at first skillfully made money on this growth and then took the securities for rent. Then at a prearranged time stock prices rained down from 65 cents to 5 cents per share.
American law enforcement and supervisory authorities began to closely monitor the activities of entities under the control of Syroejine-Guss in 2007-2008. However, they never had anything to charge Michael with.
Thus, the Securities Commission of the US checked the activities of LSVL. Initially there were no charges against Katya Santiago as she was just the owner of the controlling stake and did not interfere with the business of brokers. LSVL top managers said that business transactions of the company were run by Syroejine-Guss, who had an injunction against such activities. But all they could present was e-mails to and from him, from which it followed that Michael took part in the selection of brokers and resolving technical issues. He never gave any written instructions as to the purchase of shares. Syroejine-Guss did it verbally through his confidants who, knowing who he was, would not rat him out.
U.S. prosecutor’s office investigated a case of fraud related to the PSPP. At first it was Leonard Gottschalk who was arrested, as it was his signature on all the documents. He testified against Wilcox and Syroejine-Guss. Then the former actor who serves as a PSPP top manager was incarcerated. But he gave no information against his partner Michael to the investigators (apparently he feared for his life). Thus, the prosecutor's office officers had nothing to charge Syroejine with. The last time Michael drew attention of law enforcers quite recently while carrying out another scam with the shares this time in Vancouver, Canada.
According to Russian investigators, Syroejine-Guss has turned into a major US crime boss, who has ties with Russian, Italian, Latin American mafia, along with connections in US intelligence agencies. Perhaps someone with such a biography would fit quite naturally in the current structure of the Russian government. But a criminal case and being on the international wanted list would not let him.
Thomas Petrov, Alexey Gordon, Rumafia.com