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Sanctioned Billionaire Fridman Linked To Insurance On Russian Military Vehicles Used In Ukraine

Russian billionaire businessman Mikhail Fridman (file photo)

KYIV -- An insurance company co-owned by sanctioned Russian billionaire businessman Mikhail Fridman has underwritten Russian National Guard vehicles that were later deployed to Ukraine, Schemes, the investigative unit of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, has found. The discovery could lead to Kyiv attempting to seize Fridman’s assets in Ukraine.

Documents on Russia’s government procurement website show that AlfaStrakhovanie earned at least 63.4 million rubles ($800,000) in 2022, the year Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, from insuring National Guard vehicles. Using social media and Russian government websites, Schemes established that many of these insured vehicles took part in the invasion of Ukraine – though the insurance was not in effect when the vehicles were outside of Russia.

The company’s insurance also extends to vehicles used by a security detail for President Vladimir Putin.

A separate company in Fridman’s portfolio, X5 Group, registered in The Netherlands, runs a joint venture with Voentorg, a sanctioned vendor that is owned by the Russian Defense Ministry and supplies Russian troops with food and clothing.

In both Ukraine and the European Union, actions considered to have undermined Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence can lead to sanctions.

The Schemes findings were published on May 1. On May 3, the Luxembourg-registered holding company that is the parent of AlfaStrakhovanie, ABH Holdings, responded to the Schemes report and announced plans to disinvest from its Russian insurance and banking businesses. The firm, in which Fridman has a roughly 33-percent stake, denied that AlfaStrakhovanie had violated EU sanctions and stressed that ABH Holdings’ sanctioned shareholders do not take part in the company’s management.

AlfaStrakhovanie does not appear to have concealed its role in insuring National Guard vehicles. A press release published online in August 2022, bearing the corporate logo, announced that the company had begun insuring 340 vehicles for the Far Eastern branch of the Russian National Guard.

About four months earlier, in April 2022, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Directorate of Intelligence reported finding documents from this unit among a convoy of Russian National Guard “special forces” it said it had “destroyed” outside Kyiv.

Ukrainian Justice Minister Denys Malyuska (file photo)
Ukrainian Justice Minister Denys Malyuska (file photo)

Ukrainian Justice Minister Denys Malyuska told Schemes that if “law enforcement” confirms Schemes’ findings, it could lead Kyiv to file a lawsuit to confiscate Fridman’s assets in Ukraine.

Under Ukrainian law, a Russian citizen who is sanctioned for ties to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine can lose all of his or her assets in Ukraine without compensation. Kyiv sanctioned Fridman in October 2022.

Aside from a branch of AlfaStrakhovanie, Fridman is reported to have stakes in Sense Bank, one of Ukraine’s largest retail banks and a sibling of Russia’s Alfa-Bank; mineral-water producer International Distribution Systems; and telecommunications company Kyivstar.

The 59-year-old, London-based Fridman is listed on the Bloomberg Billionaire Index as one of the world’s 200 richest people, with a total net worth of about $11.5 billion. Both the European Union and the United Kingdom have sanctioned him for allegedly supporting the invasion of Ukraine financially.

Using a letter-writing campaign and lawsuits against the European Union, Fridman has contested both the British and EU sanctions. Though the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency has reduced its probe of criminal allegations against the businessman, an investigation into money-laundering allegations continues, The Financial Times reported in April.

In remarks to Schemes, Fridman, who in March 2022 called the war in Ukraine a “huge tragedy” that “should be stopped,” did not deny that he controls AlfaStrakhovanie -- EU sanctions bar him from selling his shares -- but noted that he resigned from the management of all companies in which he owns shares in February 2022. Russia launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

“At the moment, I have no right to participate in the work of these companies in any way,” Fridman told Schemes via a Telegram chat on April 26. “You should address your questions directly to the management of the companies.”

Insuring The Russian National Guard

A 2022 promotional video posted on YouTube for AlfaStrakhovanie’s 30th anniversary declares that the company offers insurance for everything from cell phones to “sea ships, space equipment, and nuclear risks.”

The video does not mention insuring Russian National Guard and presidential security vehicles. Using a Virtual Private Network, Schemes found proof of those transactions on Russia’s state procurement site, known as Goszakupki.

A series of official documents that confirm that a government client has received contracted services from a provider, known as Acts of Provided Services, shows that the Russian National Guard has ranked as one of AlfaStrakhovanie’s largest government clients since 2018, with over 280 million rubles ($3.5 million) in vehicle insurance policies.

In its May 3 press release, ABH Holdings board member Andrew Baxter said that all the “contracts” cited by Schemes were concluded before February 2022. An Act of Provided Services, however, is not a contract, but a log of services rendered under the terms of a contract.

Formed by President Vladimir Putin in 2016, the Russian National Guard, commonly known as Rosgvardia, has been “directly involved” in Russia’s combat operations in Ukraine, including using artillery to destroy targets, according to its director, Viktor Zolotov, a close Putin ally.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) with the chief of the National Guard, Viktor Zolotov (file photo)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) with the chief of the National Guard, Viktor Zolotov (file photo)

An April 2023 film by the government-aligned NTV network identified Rosgvardia’s “most important function” in Ukraine as ensuring “the security of facilities of special importance,” including the Russian-held Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant.

AlfaStrakhovanie’s compulsory motor vehicle liability insurance for the Russian National Guard – a type of policy known by the acronym OSAGO -- provides up to 400,000 rubles ($5,200) for repairs to vehicles and up to 500,000 rubles ($6,500) for victims involved in accidents with Rosgvardia vehicles in Russia.

In the May 3 press release, ABH Holdings’ Baxter emphasized that “these contracts are NOT valid on territory where hostilities are taking place” – an assertion Schemes independently verified.

That restriction, however, does not appear to apply to vehicles traveling in Russia on their way to Ukraine.

A December 22, 2022 document details AlfaStrakhovanie insurance services in 2022 for regional Russian National Guard units, all of which have spent time fighting in Ukraine. It is based on a December 27, 2021 contract, signed before Fridman’s resignation from his management positions.

A video posted in late April 2022 on RuTube, a Russian alternative to YouTube, shows the Russian National Guard’s commander for the Bryansk region, Colonel Ivan Vanchugov, congratulating troops recently returned from Ukraine on the end of their “business trip in the area of the so-called special military operation.”

An Act of Provided Services states that a Bryansk-based Rosgvardia unit received services from AlfaStrakhovanie worth roughly 1.17 million rubles ($15,100) in 2022.

A video posted on April 16, 2022 on the Russian social-media platform VK by Lenin’s Testament, a local outlet in the Voronezh region, which also borders Ukraine, shows a column of KAMAZ trucks bearing the Russian flag returning from Ukraine.

Schemes traced the registered license-plate numbers of two of the vehicles seen in the video to Russian National Guard units in the Kaluga region, southwest of Moscow, and the Voronezh region.

License plate 0766KA15 belongs to Russian National Guard unit 6681, which Goszakupki reports paid over 1.08 million rubles ($14,000) to AlfaStrakhovanie in 2022:

License plate number 0369ОМ15 belongs to the Voronezh region branch of the Russian National Guard, which received services from AlfaStrakhovanie at a cost of just under 947,270 rubles ($12,000) in 2022:

A video posted on RuTube in early July 2022 shows Russian National Guard troops from the city of Tula, south of Moscow, returning home from Ukraine to cheers from residents.

Schemes identified one of the convoy’s vehicles as the property of the Tula region branch of the Russian National Guard:

The Russian government procurement site indicated that as of December 12, 2022, AlfaStrakhovanie had provided to the Tula region branch services valued at over 850,000 rubles ($11,000).

AlfaStrakhovanie also insured military unit 5598, which is part of the Russian National Guard and is based in Kazan, the capital of the Tatarstan region.

In early March 2022, Ukrainian military intelligence said it had identified 5598 as a Russian National Guard special forces unit that carried out “punitive operations” against civilians in occupied areas of Ukraine.

Protecting Putin

AlfaStrakhovanie’s vehicle insurance services for the Russian government extend beyond the Russian National Guard, however, to Putin’s security.

A February 7, 2023, Goszakupki document states that the company will cover four vehicles from military unit 26116 – a mini-bus, truck, plow, and jeep -- for 7,161.41 rubles ($90). The contract expires by the end of 2023.

According to Russia’s registry of legal entities, military unit 26116 answers to the Main Directorate of Special Programs of the President of the Russian Federation, which oversees the concealed emergency facilities popularly called Putin’s “bunkers.”

Z-Shirts, Food, And More For The Russian Military

Another company in the so-called “Alfa” family, X5 Group, which is traded on the London Stock Exchange, cooperates with the Russian military in a different sphere – retail.

A joint venture between the X5 Group’s Pyatyorochka chain of hypermarkets and the Russian Defense Ministry’s Voentorg, which outfits and feeds Russian troops and manufactures Z-emblazoned T-shirts, has expanded since the 2022 fighting began. In August 2022, the 57th Voentorg-Pyatyorochka store opened in the Volga River city of Engels, the site of an air force base from which heavy Russian bombing raids against Ukraine regularly depart.

The European Union and Switzerland sanctioned Voentorg in June 2022 for "material and financial support for actions that undermine the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine."

The X5 Group, which is registered in the Netherlands, did not respond to Schemes’ request for comment about this retail partnership.

Written by Elizabeth Owen based on reporting by Heorhiy Shabayev of Schemes.
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    Heorhiy Shabayev

    Heorhiy Shabayev is a journalist with Schemes (Skhemy), an investigative news project run by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. He is a graduate of the Institute of Journalism at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and the author of a dozen investigations into corruption in the government, the construction industry, and in large state-owned enterprises.