See You In Another Life, London: Runaway Russian Oligarchs Are Now Fleeing MI5 With Riches in Tow
They fled to the foggy banks of the Thames with false passports. Their surnames were on the Interpol's blacklist.
Alexei Shmatko: «Yes, you may say that I ran away like a coward. But I had to, I just feared for my own life and that of my family. It was just an immediate risk of loss of life».
They've been hiding from the Russian justice for decades.
Anatoly Loktionov: If I return to Russia now, I'll certainly be detained at the border.
Some of them were even targeted by the British special services which prepared provocations.
Sergey Kapchuk: You are to accuse Putin personally and Russia of all these poisonings, murders, attacks on the British territory. Remember that we did protect you. It's time to take sides.
They've been labeled as «runaway oligarchs», but they are eager to prove their innocence.
Ernest Kim: «Everybody is always thumping their chest, saying they're right. But the same coin always has two sides, two different sides. So, as the saying goes, it's all in the hands of God and our country's law enforcement bodies».
Bakers, oil producers, developers, and politicians preceded by «ex-,» meaning have-beens. Their multi-million assets and high profile stayed in Russia which they fled with a one-way ticket. An attempted return may cost them their freedom. There could've been more of them, but only 17 people made it on the «Titov List.» Having been carefully checked, their profiles were sent to the Kremlin. They don't dream of London's sky, instead, they say: «London, goodbye!» Why do they dream of returning home at any cost? Will they be welcome home?
London, Goodbye!A film by Anna Afanasyeva
Alexei Shmatko: Every day in Wales is a holiday. It's a little fair with grilled meat, barbecue and so on. I have tacos, for example. Enjoy.
Alexei Shmatko is a businessman from Penza. He worked at a Gazprom branch office for several years to establish his own company that built boiler houses. Weren't he prosecuted in Russia, he'd have hardly settled down in the Principality of Wales.
Alexei Shmatko: The funniest thing about it is that there are even birches here. Everybody is surprised that we have birches here. Well, I answer: «Of course, it's a traditional British tree.
Alexei has lived here for several years as a political refugee. The British authorities are considering his extradition at Russia's request.
Alexei Shmatko: The British court holds that I must stay home and they've made me wear an ankle monitor to prevent my leaving my house between 1 and 4 am and limit my international travels. So, that's how it looks like. It's very simple.
Shmatko remembers that his problems in Russia started when his company's annual turnover reached a hefty $80 million.
Alexei Shmatko: A corrupt official summoned me to suggest that I give him 50% of the company's stock and pay him a tribute, so to speak. I disagreed. Of course, I disagreed, why should I share my company's money with anyone? Well, that's it. And I ended up in their crosshairs.
In 2010, a criminal case was initiated against Shmatko. He was charged with illegal VAT reimbursement for the construction of a boiler house. According to the investigators, the construction was a front for the embezzlement of public funds.
Alexei Shmatko: The sum is ridiculous. As a comparison, at that time my car cost over 3 million rubles ($48,000). It's just ridiculous. The procedure was absolutely legal. The tax authorities reimbursed 800,000 rubles ($12,000) of VAT not even to my company, but to the one that owned it.
Several months that Alexei spent in a remand prison would be the worst in his life.
Alexei Shmatko: I was beaten. For example, I was regularly beaten with nightsticks and kicked. I suffered multiple injuries. Well… In addition, they put people with Hepatitis C and AIDS in the same cell with me. It was a sort of threat.
The paradox of his personal fight against corruption is that he was released from the remand prison only thanks to a generous bribe.
Alexei Shmatko: The judge received money, the investigator received money, I pleaded guilty and was put on probation. Russian prisons are horrible. I was ready to do anything to be released.
Walking free, Shmatko was resolved to fight against his counter-parties. He launched his own investigation to set forth its results in a police report.
Alexei Shmatko: I'm now wanted in Russia on a police report that I filed by myself about corruption by tax officials who were stealing money from the Russian budget. After I filed the police report, a criminal case was initiated, and something went wrong. Corrupt officials started fussing and decided to put the blame on me. That's why I left Russia and am now on an international wanted list.
I actually didn't have a hired driver in Russia. I was driving my modest brand-new BMW X5. Of course, we were wealthier in Russia, and the life was better. But now I'm happier, so to speak.
Alexei remembers his escape. It was like a James Bond movie. Fleeing the Interpol, he first went to northern Cyprus and then tries to get to the USA.
Alexei Shmatko: I had a false passport. Border guard officers in Istanbul didn't like it for some reason, I don't know why, it was really cool. I wasn't let onto a flight to New York, and I had to shoot in the dark, and the first flight I saw was that to London. I didn't know whom to ask for asylum. But when I arrived in London, I saw a huge sign „For Asylum Seekers.“ I thought I'd be alone. No way! 4 people were waiting in line for asylum.
Having been given asylum in the UK, Shmatko started to plan his rehabilitation at home.
Alexei Shmatko: You know, I'm still holding grudges against the situation in Russia. Well… What did I do? I exposed corrupt officials, filed a police report on them. As a result, I fell victim to it while the Russian Federation should be grateful to me for helping punish the thieves who were stealing money from the budget. Instead, I was rewarded by spits, sticks, and kicks.
Seeking justice, Shmatko wrote to business ombudsman Boris Titov. 6-month talks resulted into a meeting at the Pushkin House, London, attended by about 40 businesspeople whose situation was similar.
Alexei Shmatko: Titov's office had no idea that there were plenty of people abroad who also needed help, that there were plenty of illegally prosecuted businesspeople.
Boris Titov says that meeting in London revealed the scale of the problem as well as the necessity of a consistent solution for it.
Boris Titov, Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights: People who evaded pre-trial restrictions in Russia and are residing abroad are on the wanted list. In such a case, the investigation in Russia is suspended, they actually can stay there forever, while the case halts as well as the investigation unless they return. But as soon as they return, they are to be arrested.
Titov's team analyzed the cases of the businesspeople on the final list, concluding that the majority of cases concerned internal corporate conflicts or the competitors' illegal actions.
Boris Titov: We believe that the pre-trial restrictions are unlawful for all the people on the list. They are all entrepreneurs. According to Article 108 of the Criminal Procedural Code, they aren't subject to the remand in custody. Thus, we protect them as concerns pre-trial restrictions and suggest our authorities to change the preventive measure from arrest to appearance in person. Then they'll be automatically excluded from the wanted list. There'll be no need to search for them as they'll provide their addresses. Even if they are residing abroad, they won't hide their addresses. You can talk to them, even involve them in the investigation procedures. And if their arrest is canceled, they will be able to return to Russia, to appear in court and testify in their cases.
Titov also stresses that many people can't defend their interests because of red tape. The only way for them to continue their fight for justice is to ask the Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights.
Boris Titov: We wrote to the President of the Russian Federation, the Government, the Prosecutor's Office. The President ordered the Prosecutor's Office to solve this problem. Thus, a regular process started in relation to every entrepreneur who contacts us.
Besides, Titov himself perfectly understands the businesspeople's desire to return home as he used to run a business in London, too.
Boris Titov: It's no bowl of cherries to live in a foreign country, belong to a foreign system, without friends, as it's hard to make friends among the citizens of that country. Thus, nostalgia is still there. All our compatriots want to live in Russia.
Knightsbridge is an exclusive residential district. Hyde Park is just opposite and the Royal Palace is just 1 km away. It's London's Golden Mile. Arab sheiks' and Chinese business elite's properties are neighboring Russian oligarchs' residences. Another businessman from the Titov List lives in a luxurious building opposite the Royal Mews.
Anatoly Loktionov, businessman: When Mr. Titov asked if anybody wanted to return to Russia to live and run businesses there, I told him to put my name on the list in the first place. I'm ready. Anytime, even tomorrow. I officially named my previous position as well as my last name.
Anatoly Loktionov was the vice-president of Rosneft. He's showing us around the district of London he lives in.
Anatoly Loktionov: There are a lot of cafes. To find a cafe to have a meal is a matter of seconds.
Knightsbridge is a traditional synonym of luxury, elitism, and wealth.
Anatoly Loktionov: To my knowledge, it's going to be another elite house over there. A sheik bought the ground.
He's been a prisoner of London for 8 years. Now, the ponds in Hyde Park seem to strongly resemble Chistye Prudy (Clean Ponds) in Moscow.
Anatoly Loktionov: When you're embroiled in such a case, especially at my age, being a defendant, you can't figure out why since they stole from you and are accusing you of it. And you are shocked. And I was shocked, for sure. I thought nothing would work. I applied to various bodies to get trite answers in 3-4 lines.
In London, Loktionov has spent much time reflecting on the value of money and a way to accept the betrayal of his former partners.
Anatoly Loktionov: Probably I shouldn't have bought this or that and spent money on this or that. I should have invested it elsewhere.
In 2004, Anatoly Loktionov left his high position in Rosneft to implement his own project to build a transshipment terminal in the Krasnodar Region intended for exporting oil extracted in Chechnya. But Loktionov says that even during construction, he already had differences with his partners.
Anatoly Loktionov: Since I applied to investigative bodies, they replied with counter-measures resorting to their administrative resources. They filed a police report on me as a false accuser. That was the beginning of the first criminal case.
Loktionov remembers that the investigator dropped him a broad hint that the case was framed up.
Anatoly Loktionov: If you refuse your stake in the company, the case will be closed. Secondly, what he said behind the scenes, to put it mildly, when leaving my ward, that he was ready to cut a deal. I got his hint, but I'm not used to bribing. So I refused. I respect the law. Unfortunately, the law was used against me. My report that was allegedly a false denunciation actually turned out the pure truth.
Another criminal case followed on a takeover. By that time, Loktionov had already moved abroad. The Russian consulate in London informed him that he was accused of violating the undertaking not to leave Russia, which he claims not to have given.
Anatoly Loktionov: I realize that if I return to Russia now, then I'll be certainly detained at the border. If I am put into a remand prison, I'm certain that investigators will only visit me 3-4 months later. Given my age and condition, anything can happen. I mean, in a cell.
Meanwhile, according to Loktionov, former partners sold the company, using proxies.
Anatoly Loktionov: I have no idea how Russian court can justify or recognize the legality of a deal with a fly-by-night company.
At Mr. Loktionov's invitation, we're going to visit his residence in London's elite suburban area. We're asked to turn off the camera before entering the restricted-access neighborhood. As for the house, its owner allows us to shoot only in his office.
Anatoly Loktionov: „Here are the papers I have to work with almost every day. Here are all the documents related to Naftatrans company. Correspondence concerning Naftatrans, reports on Naftatrans, Naftatrans executive boards“.
Now, Loktionov spends most of his time working on his criminal cases. Together with his lawyers, he files motions and reports to the law enforcement bodies.
Anatoly Loktionov: „These are my textbooks. The criminal code, the civilian code. I've learned to work with them and, I guess, acquired quite some skills to defend myself“.
Loktionov is sure that the only scenario that can play out is his prompt return home.
Anatoly Loktionov: „My family is not in Russia either. Can you imagine? They've been suffering for 8 years. They've been under pressure for 8 years. It's hard for my relatives.“
The 71-year-old businessman intends to continue his project which he still considers his lifework.
Anatoly Loktionov: „It's the last big project in my life I wanted to carry out. Indeed, it's the construction of a cutting-edge oil refinery. I did my utmost to promote this project. It's true. But unfortunately, I failed to do it last time. But if I have another chance, and I'm sure I'll have it, I'm convinced that justice will be served“.
Sergey Kapchuk, former Sverdlovsk legislator: „The circumstances in which the main document was lost… Confiscated by the Interpol in 2009.“ Shall I put it this way?»
The story of Sergey Kapchuk, former Sverdlovsk legislator, accused of the fraudulent use of State-owned property, seemed to be looming.
Sergey Kapchuk: I finally got my country's consent to defend me, which I've asked for publicly back in March via Russia's mass media. And Moscow agreed.
Kapchuk waited for this for years, forced to stay in the British capital. He was known in Britain as Sergey Windsor, like a royal.
«Your certificate of return is ready. Here you are. Your extra photos».
Sergey Kapchuk: «Thank you very much. It's my first document issued by the Russian Federation over the past 15 years».
The document expires in 15 days. He must cross the Russian border within this period.
Sergey Kapchuk: «Titov assures me that there won't be any arrests, custody and other extreme situations. I'm ready for any investigative procedures, trials, but only fair and independent. This was my stance and it remains so. I don't consider myself guilty, I don't recognize the guilt and will never do it».
Kapchuk seized the Russian media space after he declared that amidst the Skripal case the British special services targeted at him, preparing a provocation against him. Then he decided to flee London to end up in Zagreb.
Sergey Kapchuk: «It was very fast. I had a Eurostar ticket, but I still doubt if I were on the train or running ahead of it. Because… You know… I… Well… It wasn't out of fear. I wasn't scared as fear usually paralyzes you, while I acted quite quickly and efficiently».
It all started with Sergey's interview with British journalists. He says that conversation looked more like a harsh interrogation.
Sergey Kapchuk: «I believe it was the British intelligence. They demanded that I make a statement against Russia and Putin personally. I assume that it was part of a plan because the next day, I saw all British media feature photos of me and of Putin and claim that I was his worst enemy, his most consistent opponent and critic and thus the next victim. Because the British had previously speculated a lot on Putin's „death list“ which is used to eliminate Russia's worst enemies».
This list is still available on the embassy's website.
Sergey Kapchuk: «It's that very Glushkov murdered on March 13. He's ranked number 1, while I'm number 12. I don't know almost anyone on the list, but I know a man who has billions. He's labeled with „organized group.“ I have „fraud in collusion with abuse of power,“ though I never set eyes on that notorious million rubles; I have nothing to do with one million returned 15 years ago. Abusive exercise of power, you see?»
Sergey is convinced that the self-described people expected specific statements from him.
Sergey Kapchuk: «You are to accuse Putin personally and Russia of all these poisonings, murders, attacks on the British territory. Remember that we did protect you. It's time to take sides». I told him that in such a case, I chose Russia. I never made any statements against my Motherland, Russia, and Putin, and have no intention of doing so in future".
During the interview, Sergey also shared some details of his criminal case. The investigation has it that he received 2 billion pre-revaluation rubles to buy corporate housing in Moscow. He allegedly made his ex-wife the owner of the apartment to sell it after he resigned as the deputy governor.
Sergey Kapchuk: «I was 24 at that time. And I was granted an apartment by the government. I wasn't involved in registering the apartment. I neither owned it nor received money for it, or sold, or bought it. It was done by the regional government. But when Uralmash needed to make the case against me to win over me and seize the metallurgical complex, they resorted to all the forged facts, and the case was instigated by an anonymous letter».
The investigation says that Kapchuk shared the proceeds of the sale with his twin Constantine Kapchuk. In October 2006, he was found guilty. He spent 1.5 years in a remand prison.
Constantine Kapchuk, businessman, brother of Sergey Kapchuk: It was a small cell. Sometimes we were 2, sometimes we were 12. If truth be told, I believe that such incarceration conditions can be compared to tortures. Well… The court session lasted for almost a year. Sometimes the breaks were as long as several months.
Meanwhile, Constantine received multiple offers to accelerate the process.
Constantine Kapchuk: They suggested my father pay $ 400,000 for my release and to change the pre-trial restrictions from custody to the undertaking not to leave the country. Thus he had a blood stroke. Now he's officially disabled.
Constantine has been keeping in touch with his brother these days. He'll be one of the first to receive this video, signaling that the plan to return Sergey home was at risk of failure.
Sergey Kapchuk: I'm in Croatia now, not in Zagreb, in its suburbs. The owners of the apartment where my friends and I are living now have informed me that the police has organized a round-up. The streets are invaded by the police and prowl cars. I contacted the embassy, I'm now waiting for them to call me back. Seems like the embassy's car. I'm climbing uphill. Well, I'm off.
Constantine Kapchuk: The police took fairly awkward measures to find and detain him. Thanks to the embassy. As the saying goes, Russians never leave their compatriots behind.
Kapchuk is still on the territory of the Russian embassy in Croatia. Meanwhile, the certificate of return is expiring.
Sergey Kapchuk: “Russian raspberry! It's the territory of the Russian embassy in Zagreb. So, here I am. Here's the ambassador's car, the embassy itself. Thanks to Anvar Sarvarovich for sheltering me here. Now we're waiting for an order from Moscow, for them to choose the way of my leaving this place. We'll see. Thanks to everybody, the ambassador says the Motherland is waiting.
Ernest Kim is the second businessman released thanks to Boris Titov's team.
Ernest Kim, businessman: «I've often thought about the moment when I leave the prison in Moscow. But, I'd like to say that this feeling… I can't even describe it».
He spent 20 days in the remand prison number 4. Before it, he awaited the extradition to Russia for 1.5 years in the Athens remand prison.
Ernest Kim: «I expected much worse things. Having heard enough of stories about what's going on in Russia, I couldn't keep still, if I may, while I was on my way to the airport to be handed over to Russian authorities, to the Federal Penitentiary Service officials. To my surprise, the Federal Penitentiary Service officials who arrived to escort me to Russia were very polite».
Thanks to the business ombudsman, Ernest Kim's pre-trial restrictions have been changed for the undertaking not to leave Russia.
Ernest Kim: I'm to blame, and now, sitting and chatting here with you, I realize that it was a great mistake to leave the Russian Federation however legal and voluntary it was. You see, probably, I should have returned at the earliest opportunity, you know, to talk, to find a solution.
The investigation has some questions to Kim about his apartment in this house. His company was involved in its construction under a co-investment agreement.
Ernest Kim: «The windows face the other side. The windows face the other side. It's apartment number 129».
In 2009, Kim sold this apartment for 4.5 million rubles ($72,000) bypassing the partner company. The buyer didn't get the ownership. However, the issue was further settled in commercial court, money being fully reimbursed.
Ernest Kim: «I was on an international wanted list. Well… And thanks to Boris Titov, as far as I can judge, the Prosecutor-General's Office and the Moscow Region Prosecutor's Office, the investigation has been relaunched to finally come to an end».
In the yard, Kim talks to the locals who have also accumulated many questions to the developer for the past 10 years.
— When we bought apartments, you promised that the building would be finished.
Ernest Kim: But it so happened that I've just returned.
— Yes, we are sorry. We had no idea, we thought you were somewhere here. Will anybody help rectify your faults? There are still no fire plugs in the building.
— Well, you know… I'll come back to talk. I just arrived 3 days ago.
Meanwhile, the businessman is rushing to meet with Boris Titov to thank him in person for the involvement in his fate and the fate of those looking forward to the long-awaited return home.
Ernest Kim: There are many people in the same situation as mine, including, but not limited to London. Trust me, such people are residing all over the world: in the USA, the Arab Emirates, every European country, Asia… They are keeping a close watch on the developments. Trust me, I know it for a fact, not rumors on TV. Almost all of them want to come back.