MOSCOW, January 18 (RAPSI) – Investigation into a criminal case over organization of a criminal gang or participation thereof (Article 210.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation) against beneficiaries of Togliattiazot OJSC Vladimir and Sergey Makhlai, Ameropa AG owner Andreas Zivy and TOaZ ex-CEO Yevgeny Korolev is in progress. On December 30, 2021, it was taken over by a new investigator of the Russian Investigative Committee General Roman Nesterov, according to sources close to the lawyers of the defendants. 

Nesterov has been since long well known in the professional community as a skillful and experienced investigator from the Committee's "elite squad." Yet when taking a post in the city of Volgograd he distinguished himself by bringing to completion a case over extortion and fraud against ex-head of the Novoanninsky District Alexander Vanin and former head of the Novoanninsky District Department of Internal Affairs Keyrzhan Sadykov. The General could also prove that Judge of the Voroshilovsky Disrict of the city of Volgograd was involved in corruption. 

In 2011, then President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev said that Nesterov was one of the most experienced investigators in the country and decorated him with the Order of Honor. In 2018, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree awarding to Nesterov the second-class Medal of the Order of Merit for the Motherland for the successful completion of the investigation of a case against ex-Minister of Economic Development of Russia Alexey Ulyukayev.  

Lawyers taking part in cases investigated by Nesterov tell that they remembered him as a principled officer unwilling to seek compormises. According to experts, with Nesterov taking over the case it is to be expected that the investigation of the Makhlais and other ToAZ owners will be given a new impetus. It needs to be reminded that these figures have been already sentenced in absentia under Article 159.4 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (especially large embezzlement committed by an organized group) for the crimes committed in 2008 through 2011. 

A court ruling granted a 87.6-billion-ruble ($1.15 billion) civil claim of Uralchem; of the total amount 77.3 billion rubles ($1 billion) was due to Togliattiazot and 10.3 billion rubles ($135 million) to JSC Uralchem in compensation of damages suffered because of the fraud. The damages are to be compensated at the expense of the assets owned by ToAZ (JSC Tomet) beneficiaries, as well as in the framework of personal bankrutpcy of Sergey Makhlai, whose properties, including shares in ToAZ,  has been seized and are to be sold to repay the debt. 

Last December, Uralchem initiated a 53-billion-ruble ($700 million) civil lawsuit against ToAZ beneficiaries. Now, the total claimed amount makes over 141 billion rubles (about $1.9 billion at the current exchange rate). Besides, the company does not rule out that it will initiate new claims as to periods after 2013. 

Experts believe that the claimants have very good chances to win the suit. 

"In the framework of the new 53-billion-ruble ($700 million) suit there are available all legal options to secure the amount of the claim. Thus, foreign companies which are nominal owners of ToAZ shares belonging to Makhlai may be seized as an injunctive relief. For this purpose, the Russian Prosecutor General's Office may employ the existing international legal mechanisms, which in the present situation can be successfully applied," according to Maria Spiridonova, expert of the Association of Russian Lawyers, Managing Partner at Leges Bureau legal firm.    

The expert reminded about a relevant precedent: in the framework of a criminal case over fraud investigated by the Investigative Committee a court seized the majority stake in and the property complex of Togliattiazot.  

Moreover, even the funds stolen from ToAZ and moved overseas can be returned through courts. After the sentence of Togliattiazot beneficiaries became final in 2019, the U.S. Connecticut District Court granted an Uralchem petition for receipt of information on Nitrochem’s Distribution AG historical transactions through UBS Stamford. The court further granted the disclosure motion lodged by two related entities – UBS Financial Services and UBS Group AG. The information obtained from UBS has led to the identification of a number of highly suspicious money transfers between Nitrochem Distribution AG and foreign offshore companies with no apparent links to the chemical industry. Since the transfers were carried out through six banks in New York, Uralchem JSC also requested disclosure of information about those transactions from the New York banks. The Southern District Court of New York granted this motion on May 18, 2020.

There is a good chance that after the scheme employed to transfer ToAZ funds abroad via a system of offshore entities is revealed these funds will be returned to Russia, what is to have a positive effect as to the prospects of further development of the enterprise.