Leak suggests pro-Kremlin Ukrainian politician secretly profited from Russian oil field sale
In 2021, we knew
Two prominent pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk and Taras Kozak, have made tens of millions of dollars through friendly deals that have allowed them to buy valuable stakes in Russian oil fields for next to nothing.
In 2022, we discovered
Taras Kozak also appears to have owned a valuable Arctic oil field through an offshore structure run by an obscure Hungarian proxy.
Service provider dad
In August, Belarus’ state-owned oil company Belarusneft announced the acquisition of a small Russian company called Purneft, which operates 69 oil wells just south of the Arctic Circle.
Purneft made an after-tax profit of around $ 10 million in 2020, and may have been even more valuable since its oil field was next to that held by Belarusneft, which was looking to combine the licenses.
The deal could have fetched its owner around $ 50 million, according to Belarusian media estimates. But no one knew who it was.
Behind Purneft was an obscure British Virgin Island shell company called Brimipana Trading, and the owner of Brimipana was hidden behind the strict corporate secrecy laws of the Caribbean tax haven, meaning the real beneficiary of the deal with Belarus would remain a secret.
But documents from the Pandora Papers – a massive leak of 14 offshore service providers obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists – allowed OCCRP to shed new light on the deal.
They show that Brimipana belonged – at least in company documents – to Aleksandr Kiszel, a low-key Hungarian citizen of Ukrainian descent. Julia Korablyova of the Moscow law firm Lidings, who advised the case, confirmed to OCCRP that it was Kiszel who sold the oil company to Belarusneft.
Yet Kiszel appears to be just another layer of obscurity hiding Brimipana’s true owner. The OCCRP has identified links suggesting that the Hungarian is just a front for pro-Russian politician and media mogul in Ukraine, Taras Kozak.
In February, Kozak, his wife and his three pro-Russian TV stations were sanctioned by Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council for broadcasting Russian-funded anti-Ukrainian news.
Three months later, Kozak and Viktor Medvedchuk, former boss of Kozak and longtime business and political ally, were told by Ukraine’s Attorney General that they were suspected of treason regarding three episodes of illegal activity and cooperation with Russia. Kozak then fled Ukraine for Russia or Belarus, according to conflicting reports.
Kozak’s connection to Brimipana and its reported flight to Russia suggests that Belarus’s purchase of Purneft was “”[a]n early retirement gift for the apparent seller from Ukraine, ”said Jason Corcoran, an independent expert on the Russian oil sector.
The Hungarian proxy
Aleksandr Kiszel does not have the profile of an oil tycoon. His address is any house in a Hungarian village. While a social media profile, last updated in 2017, lists Kiszel as living in Kiev, Ukrainian company records do not indicate that he has ever done business there in his own name.
Nothing in the family photos posted online by those close to him living in the Ukrainian province, where he was born, shows that he is a successful businessman, let alone the owner of an oil field.
However Kiszel has several ties to companies owned by Kozak and his wife.
According to documents filed with Eurobank Cyprus in 2016, found among the Pandora Papers, Brimipana was one of the two main sources of funding for the Cypriot company Soferco Trading Ltd, owned by Kozak’s wife, Natalia Lavrenyuk. Brimpana provided direct funding to Soferco with cash transfers rather than loans, suggesting that the Kozak family was behind Brimpana as well as Soferco.
“Track the money, not the paperwork,” said Martin Woods, an expert on anti-money laundering, explaining that while beneficial ownership can be concealed by agents, financial flows can provide better clues as to the real ones. interests.
Brimipana also paid the Kozak Turul Investments company $ 1 million in December 2018 allegedly to buy an Austrian company Onyx Aviation, which was liquidated within a year, however.
The sons who helped journalists link Kiszel to Kozak
Kizsel is connected to Kozak in several ways, many of which are buried in corporate documents. More directly, Kozak granted Kiszel a power of attorney for Hakail Ltd, an offshore company owned by Kozak, according to Pandora Papers records.
Company documents show the couple are also linked via Ian Marchenko, Kozak’s former parliamentary aide and the “group director” of Kozak companies, according to a leaked memo. Kozak and Marchenko have at least two clear ties: Marchenko is a partner in the Ukrainian law firm Private Counselor, of which Kozak was chairman of the board, and he owns Prekone Limited, which was previously owned by Kozak himself.
Meanwhile, Kiszel and Marchenko are linked by the Cypriot company Pilawer Ltd, a holding company for real estate developments in Kiev. Kiszel is listed as the owner of Pilawer, while Marchenko is a director of a subsidiary of Pilawer, also technically owned by Kiszel.
Examination of Kiszel’s social media profiles reveals additional links to Kozak’s network. Kiszel is friends with Wlodzimierz Salamacha, a Polish citizen born and based in Ukraine who acts as another Kozak attorney in Cypriot companies. He is mentioned in the media as having been a partner of the Kozak family in a Lviv-based corruption scheme.
Salamakha and Kiszel are both friends on Facebook with Vitaliy Krasnokutskiy, who according to the Pandora Papers was a lawyer in the Kozak office and overseeing the offshore conglomerate Kozak. Krasnokutskiy told OCCRP that he no longer works for Kozak.
“These facts indicate that Aleksandr Kiszel is apparently Taras Kozak’s attorney and therefore Taras Kozak may be the real beneficiary of Brimipana Trading Ltd,” said Antonina Volkotrub, analyst at the Ukraine Anti-Corruption Action Center.
A former Kozak associate agreed to pass the questions on, but Kozak did not respond. Kiszel also did not respond to a request for comment.
Kozak’s apparent use of proxies may have already paid off. After Ukrainian prosecutors informed Kozak of suspected high treason on May 11, they also obtained a court order to seize the assets held in his name. But everything he owns via proxies like Kiszel looks set to escape seizure.