Friday, December 8, 2023

How a secret Lithuanian partner helped a Belarusian oligarch make billions

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Belarusian businessman Yury Chyzh was once considered “the wallet” of Alexander Lukashenko, the country’s dictator. He gained access to cheap Russian oil with the help of his Lithuanian partner Vitold Tomaszevski. In just a year and a half, the pair earned more than $5 billion in Belarus from the manipulation of customs codes for petroleum products by marking them as “solvents”.  They avoided paying export duties on petroleum products by using a Singapore-registered company named Savoil LLP, owned by Tomaszevski.

Chyzh’s earnings – he is the second wealthiest man in Belarus and a former member of Lukashenko’s Council on Development of Entrepreneurship – were approximately the same as Tomaszevski’s during the period, but with Lukashenko’s backing in 2011-2012, a so-called “solvents scheme” was able to enter into a new phase of far larger transactions, with Triple, Chyzh’s company, as the main conduit.

Belarusian statistics soon began to record a boom in the exports of “solvents and thinners”. In September 2011, a month after Tomaszevski registered Savoil LLP, an unnamed source working in certain business circles confirmed that it was through the Singapore-registered company that solvents and thinners were mainly sold.

Chyzh and Tomaszevski cooperated on a number of other projects in Belarus. According to an extract from the Belarusian Ministry of Justice, the pair still own JLLC NefteKhimTrading, with Chyzh registered as a direct private investor, and Tomaszevski through the British Virgin Islands-registered company Globecast Limited.

“Tomaszevski left all projects with Yury Chyzh in 2013 and is no longer his partner. Since 2014, Tomaszevski has not been in Belarus and does not have any current connections to Chyzh,” a Tomaszevski representative was quoted as saying.

Longtime partners despite their alleged decoupling

Chyzh and Tomaszevski have known each other for roughly 20 years. With the help of the Cyber Partisans, since 2005 the Lithuanian has accompanied Chyzh to Istanbul, Berlin, Paris and other cities on various business trips.

Tomaszevski first started visiting Belarus in 2003, when, at the time, Chyzh had just started building the first ProStore, a local hypermarket. In 2008, the British company Redcast Limited, which is associated with Tomaszevski, became a co-owner of Prostor-Trade, a company that manages shopping centers which host ProStore outlets.

In 2008, through another British company, Globecast Limited, Tomaszevski received a stake in the company NefteKhimTrading, which directly links him to Chyzh.

By the time he met Tomaszevski, Chyzh had already gained Lukashenko’s personal trust and access to the oil industry. In the early 2000s, Chyzh’s company Triple replaced the main former players in the Belarusian oil market – Yukola, Jurimex and Schwebel. By the end of the decade, the company expanded to other fields: it founded a pharmaceutical factory, received state contracts for the construction of housing for the military, was granted other exclusive pieces of land for residential construction in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, and built an ice arena in Chyzh’s native Biaroza, a town in the west of the country.

Chyzh’s state-awarded companies bought out the Bereza Silicate Products Plant without a public bid. In 2012, another enterprise owned by Chyzh, KvartsMelProm, received a sand and chalk deposit for development in the Brest region, again without a public auction.

Lukashenko’s favors also extended to joint projects for the Chyzh family, along with those for Tomaszevski. The Danprod pig farm was issued a massively subsidised loan of almost €40 million by the state. The main stockholders of Danprod are Tomaszevski and the eldest son of Chyzh, Sergei.

To date, the main joint project between Chyzh and Tomaszevski was the aforementioned “solvents scheme”, where they earned about $5 billion through Triple and Savoil – an amount that is roughly comparable to 7% of Belarus’ GDP. The alleged mastermind of the scheme is believed to have been Chyzh’s then-subordinate, Alexey Aleksin. With the help of the Cyber Partisans, investigative reporters have learned that in 2011-2012, Aleksin regularly traveled with Chyzh and Tomaszevski on various business-related trips around the world.

Tomaszevski openly admitted in 2017, while registering his HNSL Trading LTD in a secret jurisdiction located in the British Virgin Islands, that he had made his fortune through the sale of certain items through Savoil.

How Tomaszevski spends his Belarusian-earned money in the EU

The scheme involving “solvents” was initially halted by then-Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in late 2012, which, coincidentally, was the last time that Tomaszevski flew to Minsk from Alicante, Spain, where he has a 3,000 square-meter. $15 million villa; a property managed by his own Spanish real estate company, DOMUS UNIQ SL.

Tomaszevski, who is thought to be the richest man in Lithuania, also owns another 3,000 square meter chalet at the foot of the Swiss Alps overlooking Lake Lugano. He also has real estate in Vilnius, the capital of his home country. His assets include a five-room apartment worth €500,000. That property is managed by a Lithuanian firm, EC Turtas, which is owned by Tomaszevski.

A private Boeing 737 business jet is also a part of Tomaszevski’s collection. The plane was built in 2014 and was later registered to Hansel Jet Ireland Limited, one of Tomaszevski’s assets.

Most of Tomaszevski’s holdings were acquired during his association with Chyzh. Now he is engaged in the oil business in Russia through the company Invest Trade, where he is connected to the development of the Kamenskoye deposit in the Komi Republic.

Tomaszevski owns half of the firm carrying out the project through a Cypriot company – Senistano Holdings Limited. The remaining 50% is owned by Nemerson Finance Limited, another British Virgin Islands registered entity, whose owner is the former vice-president of Lukoil, Valery Subbotin.

According to the Russian association Assoneft, in 2019 Invest Trade produced almost 12,000 tons of oil, and increased its production by another 5,000 tons in 2020. Data on production for the last year isn’t publicly available, but in 2021 the net profit of Invest Trade amounted to more than €10 million.

Chyzh’s break with Lukashenko

According to media reports, Chyzh lost Lukashenko’s trust because he allegedly took an estimated $1 billion out of Belarus and hid it abroad. After the incident occurred in March 2016, Chyzh was charged with tax evasion and forced to pay $12 million in damages. In March of 2021, however, he was detained in a new tax evasion case. According to Belarusian media reports, however, Chyzh was pardoned in September.

Having fallen out with Lukashenko, Chyzh did not lose all of his business holdings or his access to his influential partners, including those linked to Lukashenko. As stated before, many of his assets are in his children’s names, while several others were deliberately sold to individuals closely associated with Chyzh.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Chyzh, as far as is publicly known, does not currently have any source of income, and no longer has any real estate holdings in Europe that are registered in his name. He does, however, have several multi-million dollar properties and businesses in Belarus, all of which are registered to members of his family.

An unfinished tourist complex, which Chyzh began to build on Lukashenko’s direct orders, was purchased at an auction by Prostoriteil LLC, which is controlled by the Russian firm Standardtinvest. The company was originally run by Maria Chernenkaya, the wife of Chyzh’s former driver. Standartinvest is, as far as publicly known, is now controlled by Anna Popova, a Belarusian who also owns ROS-VTS, a firm that rents filling stations from NefteKhimTrading – one of the companies jointly controlled by Chyzh and Tomaszevski.

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