Investigation on how the Chekists privatized the national wealth
Mikhail Maglov, Roman Badanin, Maria Pevchikh
For more than 15 years, a group of Russian secret service officers has been carrying out secret business assignments, from dividing Yukos’ property to acquiring stakes in Gazprom’s most promising assets. Much of the luxury assets acquired by this group of “golden colonels” end up in the possession of Gazprom head Alexei Miller.
“Gazprom is more than just a stock company. The country’s entire economy is largely based on the gas industry,” said President Vladimir Putin a year after he was first elected, in May 2001, when he announced to the team of the gas monopoly that his confidant Alexei Miller had been appointed head of the company. This phrase was true in every sense, even the ones that Putin probably would have preferred to hide. From the first day of his presidency, Gazprom became more than a state company; it became a source of personal wealth for Putin himself and his entourage, including people from the security services.
It all began with words about the state benefit. The president announced to Miller that his goal was to regain state control over the gas monopoly
Even earlier than Vyakhirev, former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who was head of the Gazprom board of directors, was also expelled from the company. In 2000, Putin replaced him with Dmitri Medvedev, who was then just an obscure St. Petersburg lawyer. Within a year after Miller’s appointment, nine out of eleven other Yeltsin-era directors were removed from Gazprom’s management, one of whom even had to be kept in a detention center for a while.
Putin’s people at Gazprom ↓
By 2005, control over Gazprom had formally been returned to the state, only to have the gas monopoly’s most lucrative assets soon fall into the hands of people closely tied to Putin.
How Sibur was taken over by Putin’s friends and relatives
Russia’s largest chemical company Sibur was once part of the gas giant, but in 2002 its president Yakov Goldovsky tried to get his business out of Gazprom’s control. Goldovsky was arrested in Miller’s reception room, Sibur was returned to Gazprom, and Goldovsky, who had spent some time in pre-trial detention, fled abroad. But in 2007 Gazprom left Sibur ownership, selling the company to Gazprombank. Gazprombank, in turn, ceded Sibur to a group of private shareholders, including Leonid Mikhelson, Putin’s friend Gennady Timchenko, and Kirill Shamalov, former son-in-law of the president.
How Sogaz was taken over by Putin’s friends and relatives
Sogaz is Russia’s largest insurance company, created in 1993 by Gazprom to serve its employees. Beginning in 2004, Gazprom ceded 50% of Sogaz’s shares in several stages to structures affiliated with Rossiya Bank, whose shareholders include Putin’s friends from St. Petersburg and his mistress Svetlana Krivonogikh. As of 2020, Sogaz shareholders included Tatiana and Yuri Kovalchuk, the president’s nephew Mikhail Shelomov, Gazprom, and several individuals also associated with Putin’s inner circle. Read more about how Sogaz was taken over by the right people below.
How Gazfond and part of Gazprombank were taken over by Putin’s friends and relatives
Gazprombank was created by Gazprom in 1990. In 2007, the bank acquired a new shareholder, Gazfond, the largest non-state pension fund. 50% + 1 share of the bank were received in exchange for the block of shares in Mosenergo owned by Gazfond. Gazprom lost control over Gazfond back in 2006. Several unnamed legal entities made a contribution and joined the founding members of the pension fund. It later turned out that the contributors who had received almost 60% of Gazfond were Sogaz and companies affiliated with Yuri Kovalchuk, the main shareholder of Rossiya Bank.
How Stroytransgaz was taken over by a friend of Putin’s
Stroytransgaz was founded in 1990 to serve Gazprom’s infrastructure needs. In the 1990s, Gazprom provided Stroytransgaz with 80% of its orders. The company’s main shareholders were the children of Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. After Vyakhirev was ousted as head of Gazprom, the blocking stake was purchased in the interests of Gazprom by Alisher Usmanov. Usmanov then stated that he had no interest in the deal and conducted it to Gazprom’s advantage. However, in December 2007 the structures of Putin’s friend Gennady Timchenko gained control of the company.
How Stroygazmontazh was taken over by another friend of Putin’s
In May 2008, within the framework of getting rid of non-core assets, Gazprom put up for sale controlling stakes in five of its contracting organizations: Lengazspetsstroy, Krasnodargazstroy, Spetsgazremstroy, Volgogradneftemash, and Volgogaz. These companies were bought by Putin’s friend Arkady Rotenberg and merged into one legal entity, Stroygazmontazh.
How Gazprom-Media was taken over by Putin’s friends and relatives
The Gazprom-Media holding company was created in 1998 to manage the media assets, which at the time were owned by Gazprom. In 2001-2002, Gazprom-Media seized the assets of oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky, who had fallen into disgrace — this was perceived as an act of political censorship. At present, Gazprom-Media is one of the country’s largest media holdings, controlling the television channels NTV, TNT, Match TV, TV-3 and Pyatnitsa, the radio stations Avtoradio, Yumor FM, Relax FM, Energy, the television production centers Comedy Club Production and Good Story Media, the publishing house 7 Days, the websites RuTube and Sportbox.ru, and the movie company Central Partnership. Gazprom-Media is now effectively controlled by Gazprombank and, through it, by Putin’s friends, among others.
How an employee of Putin and Miller gained control of Gazprom’s oil business
In September 2005, Gazprom bought 75.5% of Sibneft, subsequently renamed Gazpromneft, from Roman Abramovich. Just before the sale, Sibneft’s shares went up by more than 30%, boosting the price of the deal to $13.091 billion. According to former Deputy Energy Minister Vladimir Milov, the Russian budget lost at least $6.5 billion on this deal, and the deal itself was “a thank you to Abramovich for his help in the Yukos case.”
Alexander Dyukov and Aleksey Miller, 2016. Source: gazprom.ru
Another acquaintance of Putin and Miller, Alexander Dyukov, was put in charge of Gazpromneft. In the 1990s, he managed the St. Petersburg oil terminal and the St. Petersburg seaport, which at the time was controlled by Ilya Traber, an “influential businessman” who had been acquainted with Putin since the 1990s. Miller also worked at that port after 1996.
All of these mega-deals could not have happened without the approval of the head of Gazprom. Did Miller act only out of loyalty to his boss and his friends or did the head of Gazprom have his own material interest? To answer this question, we will tell you three stories.
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How Alexey Miller created a mega-company dedicated to servicing himself
Not all of the Putin era billionaires were native Russians. The most famous example of another kind is Arab Ziyad Manasir, a Jordanian national who has made a spectacular career in Russia, where he moved as a student. In early 2013, at the peak of his career, Manasir’s fortune was estimated at $2.5 billion
When Manasir started working at gas projects in the Tyumen Oblast in the 1990s
Grigoriev is one of Putin’s closest friends from his time in the KGB. This officer was known for working against dissidents, in particular, under the guise of the priest “Father Alexander,” keeping an eye on dissent in the church, including supervising the future Patriarch Alexy II, who was listed in reports under the codename “Drozdov.” “If you want to live with the big people, you gotta share,” said our interlocutor who knows Manasir.
Manasir did share: two remarkable persons became co-owners of his growing business: Olga Grigorieva, the daughter of this same Putin’s friend, and Major General of the Federal Security Service Anatoly Tkachuk, who owned no less than 35% of the company. Tkachuk, like Grigorieva, had nothing to do with the gas or construction industries but he did have something to do with intelligence. As an officer of the military counterintelligence of the KGB, Tkachuk worked abroad and in 1986 was sent to the site of the Chernobyl disaster. There he was checking the version of a terrorist attack by foreign special services
Not only did Manasir give shares in his company to the right people, he had for years been registering luxury properties designed for Gazprom’s top executives, primarily for Miller, in his name. According to The Project’s calculations, the Jordanian and companies associated with him owned at least a dozen properties associated with Gazprom’s management, including the Millerhof palace complex near Moscow, a country house in Sochi near the Laura ski resort, and many others. It also built and managed real estate objects that were secretly intended for the top state officials. It was SGK that ordered Putin’s palace in Gelendzhik, and in Sochi, Manasir’s company Svod International managed the ski resort where Putin and Dmitry Medvedev like to ski
How Gazprom organized Putin’s skiing vacation in the Caucasus and blood baths in Altai ↓
However, in 2013 the warm relationship between Manasir and Gazprom came to an end
A long list of luxurious properties — houses and land plots in the suburbs of Moscow and Sochi, apartments in central Moscow and the buildings of the Millerhof palace complex on Istra — were transferred to legal entities affiliated with a man named Sergei Tregub
Like Miller, Yentaltseva began her career at the St. Petersburg city hall, was Putin’s secretary there, and when the latter was appointed president, she moved to the Kremlin, where she headed the president’s protocol for many years.
‘Ydypus complex’ and other complexes of Alexei Miller
There is a huge amount of luxury real estate and companies scattered all over the country — from the Black Sea to the Altai Mountains — that are registered to the entourage of the intelligence officer Sergei Tregub. Many of them are used by the head of Gazprom.
Estate in the Greenfield village ↓
Istra district, Moscow Oblast
Millerhof estate ↓
Istra district, Moscow Oblast
Estate in Znamenskoye ↓
Odintsovsky district, Moscow Oblast
An elite complex of residences “Imperial Yacht Club” ↓
Krestovsky Island in St. Petersburg
Villa on the territory of the Rus health resort↓
Sochi, Krasnodar Krai
Cottage on the territory of the Grand Hotel “Polyana”↓
Krasnaya Polyana, Krasnodar Krai
Villas in Sochi ↓
Five-star boutique hotel Gelendzhik-Park ↓
Шале и лес ↓
Vyborg district of Leningrad Oblast
Ydyp eco-hotel ↓
shore of Lake Teletskoye, Altai Republic
Altai red deer farm ↓
Ski resort ↓
Apartments in Moscow ↓
Trubnikovsky Lane, $2,2 млн
Two Mercedes-Maybach S 600 ↓
Even more surprising is that after Manasir’s disgrace, Tregub received not only his luxury real estate, but also a substantial part of his business. Formally, Stroygazconsulting, Manasir’s main company, became part of Gazprom’s so-called “mega-contractor,” Gazstroyprom, after a series of perturbations in 2018. Gazstroyprom subsequently incorporated two of Gazprom’s other major contractors, Rotenberg’s Stroytransgaz and Timchenko’s Stroytransneftegaz. This merger of Gazprom’s own once-sold-out assets was presented as an attempt to save on the gas monopoly’s expenses.
In reality, it looks like one big swindle. Back in 2015, when Manasir’s “legacy” was being divided, almost 75 percent of SGK went to companies associated with Tregub and his patrons. These are OOO Ancord, Intek Group, and Legato, which through a chain of legal entities were controlled by offshore companies, the beneficiary of which is now another person with the surname Tregub, Sergei’s nephew Vadim Tregub.
In 2018, some of SGK’s assets began to be transferred out under the umbrella of the Sphera company. It was this part of Manasir’s former business that would become part of the “mega-contractor” by 2019, but SGK itself continued to exist
In other words, the person in whose name the luxury real estate linked to Miller is registered still owns a business that was supposed to be part of Gazprom.
But what about the part of Manasir’s former assets that ended up being merged into Gazstroyprom? It turns out that people, including those acting in Miller’s interests, sold the business to the state company he heads. Some part of the money received in the deal — 34.4 billion rubles
However, this is not where the swindle ends either. If you look at the ownership structure of the “mega-contractor,” it turns out that 26 percent of it
In other words, the blocking shareholder of Russia’s largest state-owned infrastructure company, which claims 1.4 trillion rubles from the budget a year, is the driver of a man no one knows.
Perhaps Tregub is a big businessman with a long and successful history in the infrastructure business? That is also unlikely. Tregub has as little to do with this business as General Tkachuk. But like Tkachuk, Tregub is also deeply connected to intelligence.
Tregub had been on military service since the 1980s — he supposedly served at the Sary-Shagan firing range in Kazakhstan, where Soviet air defense equipment was tested. He worked for a long time in the Soviet-friendly Syrian Arab Republic in the nineties. He was a military attaché at the embassy in Damascus and dealt with air defense, “I think all the military attachés are affiliated with the GRU,” Tregub’s American colleague of those times, Rick Francona, recalled. In his small edition book, “The Orient is a Riddle. Jerusalem is Sacred,” orientalist Leonid Medvedko names Tregub among “honest servicemen and other intelligence officers devoted to their duty.”
One of the rare photographs of Sergei Tregub. It shows him with Rick Francona, military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, mid 90s
One of The Project’s interlocutors refers to Tregub as “a former resident spy in a Middle Eastern country”. Our spy finished his service in 1997 in the rank of colonel or higher, and in 2006 he was delegated to important business assignments (see next chapter). Since then, he and a group of his former intelligence colleagues, presumably also “honest intelligence officers committed to their duty,” (see diagram) have created an extensive network of shell companies controlling nearly $2.5 billion worth of business assets and property. Tregub holds a significant portion of these assets on behalf of the Miller family.
And Ziyad Manasir is now done with our country
The destiny of the agents
The nominal empire of Sergei Tregub is ruled by his colleagues and relatives
Nephew, graduate of the Zhytomyr Military University, where his father used to work for many years. Lives in Cyprus and Dubai. Owns 20% of the Ydyp and Katun eco-hotels in the Altai Republic. Director of the Cypriot company. Redensy Management that owns 99% of the Millerhof palace near Moscow and two apartments in the Arbat district of Moscow.
Employee of Gross Group M and former FSB officer. In 2000, he was on board the plane that was hijacked and flown from Makhachkala to Israel, due to which his name appeared in the press. Owns 80% of Ydyp and Katun eco-hotels in the Altai Republic
Researcher at the Foundation for the Promotion of Eurasian Integration, worked at a Rosneft subsidiary during the Tregub period, and later at his company Gros Group D. Owned a share of hotels in Altai before Akhkubekov.
Sergei Tregub Jr.
Son, graduate of the Scottish Institute of Business. Owns a red deer farm in the Altai Krai
Daughter, works for Villa Michetti, aka Millerhoff
Former employee of Vympel MIK. Owns apartments at the Imperial Yacht Club complex in St. Petersburg.
Partner, former fighter of the Vympel special forces unit, participant of the Chechen war. Together with Sergey Tregub he controls: the palace at Greenfield, еру Esto-sadok cottage, two Mercedes-Maybach S 600, a villa at the Rus sanatorium, 11 villas in Sochi, the Gelendzhik-Park boutique-hotel and a forest in the Leningrad region near the villa community for Gazprom executives.
Former fighter of the Vympel special forces unit. Owns 5% of the Sogaz Insurance Group
Partner, former fighter of the Vympel special forces unit. Together with Sergei Tregub and Alexander Smirnov (! through LLC VNPA-Nedvizhimost × he owns the Voronezh office of Yukos, which they inherited from LLC Prana.
Former FSB officer, employee of Gross Group D. Manager of a chalet in the Leningrad Region in a settlement for Gazprom top managersvilla community for Gazprom executives in the Leningrad Oblast
Driver of Sergey Tregub and his family. Owns a 26% stake in the Gazstroyprom company together with Sergey Filimonov
is the husband of an employee of Materhorn-Finance, Tregub’s company; Filimonov himself works as the director of Smirnov’s company Summa-Plus. Owns 26% of Gazstroyprom together with Sergey Furin
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How the Chekists took over Yukos
To understand how Tregub and his secret service cronies got into the Russian business world and how important their role is, one has to go back to the beginning of Putin’s rule.
Back in 2003, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the richest man in Russia at the time, told Putin in front of TV cameras about the large-scale corruption in the country. In response, Putin lashed out at Khodorkovsky and his oil company, Yukos. The “Yukos case” was the most notorious political trial of the 1990s — the company’s owners and managers were either jailed or forced to flee Russia, and Yukos property was taken over by state companies. However, it is now clear that some of the Yukos assets also went to a number of private individuals working for Putin’s entourage.
When the fate of the Yukos legacy was being decided, Gazprom was for a long time considered the main contender, while Rosneft, which eventually received the majority of assets, was never a favorite, recalls former company shareholder Leonid Nevzlin. The plan changed when Yukos’s Western shareholders began a legal fight over their assets and Gazprom could face legal problems
In the spring of 2007, the sale of some of the Yukos assets began. Rosneft or its affiliated companies won 9 out of 18 lots. But Rosneft lost the auction on lot #13 to an unknown entity called Prana established by a Belizean offshore company. This unknown Prana paid 100 billion rubles ($4 billion) of unknown origins for the lot. Journalists were keen to find out whose interests Prana represented, but no one confessed. A little later, it turned out that Prana too represented Tregub and his associates.
Just a month after the auction, Prana sold to Rosneft one of the main assets of the lot — a 22-storey building of the Yukos headquarters on Dubininskaya Street. A short time later, Rosneft sold to Gazprom a half of another former Yukos asset — Tomskneft. The sums of the deals are suspiciously similar — Prana bought the Yukos office for approximately the same price as the half of Tomskneft cost to Gazprom
A person involved in the “Yukos case” on the side of the state recalls that in the mid-2000s, Tregub did not work for Miller, but represented someone “higher up”. The interlocutor categorically refused to discuss it further. A source acquainted with Miller put it this way: “The intelligence services and expropriation of Yukos are not at Miller’s level, decisions were made at a higher level.
In other words, intelligence colonel Tregub, a citizen of Russia and Ukraine,
We have at our disposal the number of Tregub’s Ukrainian passport, issued in 2011 in Crimea, with residence registration in the town of Priluki, Chernihiv Oblast
and a branched network of nominees associated with him, not only hold assets in Miller’s interests, but have been carrying out sensitive assignments for the country’s leadership for over 15 years.
Prana retained a part of the received Yukos assets and used them in a very curious manner. In particular, Prana ceded the second Yukos office in Ulansky Pereulok in Moscow to Sogaz, the same Sogaz whose owners include friends and relatives of President Putin. Now one of the Sogaz offices is located in the former office of Yukos. Putin’s closest friend Yury Kovalchuk works there during his visits to Moscow
However, part of Sogaz itself was also taken over by the same mysterious Chekists.
How a Chekist linked to Miller got a stake in Russia’s largest insurance business
Among the people connected to Tregub (see the chart above), who managed the assets of the seized Yukos, was a man with an unremarkable name — Alexander Smirnov. He was a member of Vympel, a special division of the FSB, and participated in the Chechen wars. In the early noughties, Smirnov retired to the reserve and, together with his former colleagues, created a group of companies whose names invariably included the word “Vympel”
Smirnov has a partner, Dmitry Baikovsky, who is, not surprisingly, also from Vympel.
One could probably assume that Baikovsky is a successful entrepreneur. But this is hindered, among other things, by the fact that the personal car he registered was a 2005 budget Nissan X-Trail.
Whose shares does Baikovsky hold? Sogaz and Baikovsky did not reply to our inquiries, but a possible clue can be found in the accounts of the Cyprus-based company Redensy Management. At the beginning of 2021, this company received a stake in Sogaz controlled by Baikovsky as collateral, in exchange for which it transferred 3.5 billion rubles to the accounts of the security officer’s company. The company reports that Orbita needs this money to cover loans to companies controlled by Baikovsky himself, as well as the aforementioned Tregub and Smirnov. There are two important facts about Redensy Management itself: it lists as its owner the same Vadim Tregub from Zhytomyr, nephew of Sergei Tregub
Unknown hero of the Forbes ranking
Sergey Tregub and a group of nominal owners associated with him control shares and stakes in companies worth at least $2 billion. With luxury real estate in their hands (see above), Tregub and his group own and manage about $3 billion in assets.
Stroygazconsulting and related companies, $750 million
The Tregub group controls Stroygazconsulting itself and 22 other companies associated with it
Stake in Gazstroyprom, $660 million
26% of the company is owned by OOO MK-3, which is registered to Tregub’s driver Sergey Furin and the former director of the Prana firm Sergey Filimonov.
Gazprom and Sogaz shares, $522.4 million
Redensy Management owns
Deposit accounts, $136.8 million
According to a 2020 report, the Cypriot company Redensy Management, whose director is Vadim Tregub, the nephew of our spy, keeps more than 128 million euros on a deposit account in Gazprombank, which at current exchange rates equals about 8.7 billion rubles or almost 137 million dollars.
Gross Group D construction company, $3.8 million
Vadim Tregub did not respond to the editorial request for a conversation. His uncle, Intelligence Colonel Sergei Tregub, responded to the offer to talk about Miller’s assets with an expressive emoji:
* * *
In early 2022, Alexei Miller, who had just celebrated his 60th birthday, became a Hero of Labor of Russia. “For special labor merits before the state and the people,” reads the award decree signed by Putin, perhaps the only Russian before whom Miller really has special merits.
Editor — Roman Badanin
Fact-checking — Ekaterina Reznikova