Russian payments for water do not go through Western banks and cannot be frozen due to sanctions, and therefore the oligarchs are showing interest in housing and communal services in large cities. The company of Mikhail Fridman, who now and then announces the exit from Russian assets, claims a large concession in the capital of the Urals, along with the structures of Viktor Vekselberg and Samvel Karapetyan. While billionaires are eyeing the asset, Vodokanal of Yekaterinburg is shaken by personnel scandals and criminal cases.
Following Alfa-Bank, Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven will cease to be the beneficiaries of the Alfa Insurance group, which they also own through the Luxembourg offshore ABH Holdings. According to the Vedomosti newspaper, the insurer is waiting for the restructuring of ownership, and not the sale to a new owner. According to sources, other co-owners of Alfa Group German Khan and Alexei Kuzmichev will continue to oversee the Russian business of ABH. In March last year, due to sanctions, they sold their shares in an offshore holding.
In fact, we are talking about the division of ABH Holdings business into Russian and foreign blocks. The second of them will be supervised by Friedman and Aven, who decided to stay in London after the start of the well-known events in February last year. They do not lose hope to get out from under the sanctions. In March, it became known about a letter to the European Commission, in which a number of well-known Russian emigrants asked to lift sanctions against the founders of Alfa Group. The sale of their business in Russia, it seems, should contribute to this. “Now it is impossible to do business both here and there. We expected the Iron Curtain to close from our side, but it closed more tightly from that side, so it is impossible to do business in Russia and in the West, ”an interlocutor close to Mikhail Fridman explained to the BBC. However, the billionaire in Russia will still have something.
Mikhail Fridman directly, as an individual, continues to own 40.65% of Rosvodokanal, the country’s largest private operator of centralized water supply and sanitation systems. The other day the company confirmed that it is ready to take Yekaterinburg MUE Vodokanal for concession, the struggle for which has been going on between the oligarchs for three years already.
The line of billionaires
Yekaterinburg Mayor Alexei Orlov told reporters about his meeting with Alfa-Bank President and member of the board of directors of Rosvodokanal Oleg Sysuev. “If we take such a decision (on the transfer of Vodokanal to the concession), they will participate,” Ura.Ru quoted the mayor as saying.
The oligarchs literally lined up at the Yekaterinburg Vodokanal. The issue of concession has come up regularly over the past three years. At the end of 2022, the situation around the utility company escalated again – it became known that Samvel Karapetyan’s Tashir Moscow holding intends to take control of MUE. The general director of Vodokanal, Yevgeny Luzgin, opposed the concession, after which the mayor extended his contract. Against this background, law enforcement agencies found significant abuses in the MUP. The check, carried out on behalf of the Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov, led to the initiation of two criminal cases.
However, Tashir is not the only contender for Vodokanal in the capital of the Urals. Viktor Vekselberg, JSC Russian Communal Systems, also expects to conclude a concession agreement. The Renova business group, controlled by the billionaire, apparently decided to firmly establish itself in Yekaterinburg – for example, it became a sponsor of the Ural football club, which plays in the Russian Premier League.
For reference: Vodokanal in Yekaterinburg is an enterprise that consistently generates profits. Until 2018, it was expressed in billions, later it was estimated at “only” hundreds of millions of rubles (in 2022, net profit amounted to 493 million rubles). Now his “informal curator” is considered to be a local billionaire, the owner of the Motiv mobile operator Vitaly Kochetkov.
In February, we suggested that the criminal cases initiated after the prosecutor’s check would lead to a change in the leadership of the MUP. And so it happened.
A ball of intrigue
The general director of Vodokanal, Yevgeny Luzgin (the man of the mayor Alexei Orlov), was removed from his post in early April and Anton Gusev, who is considered a creature of Kochetkov, took his place. Earlier, as the local press writes, on the instructions of the mayor, he “cleansed” the enterprise from Kochetkov’s people or their influence. In particular, Vyacheslav Voronkov, a protege of a businessman (security director), controlled the production service before the prosecutor’s check. But Luzgin reassigned it to the new Deputy General Director Sergey Karyakin. Karjakin, however, was fired immediately after Luzgin lost his post (April 11), and it is said that this happened at the initiative of Kochetkov.
On April 20, City Duma deputy Anton Gusev became the new general director of MUE Vodokanal. Almost on the same day, the security forces came to the enterprise with a search. Some sources suggest that this could be due to the fact that a few days earlier, similar investigative actions were carried out in the homes and offices of businessman Alexander Gorbunov, another person of Vitaly Kochetkov.
The ex-head of Vodokanal, Luzgin, believes that the decision of the city authorities to dismiss him is purely political. The replacement of the management of the enterprise took place on the eve of the meeting of the city duma, which was supposed to reformat the system of city elections. Versions were put forward that the deputies, who are controlled by Kochetkov, could disrupt the adoption of a decision, so Luzgin was allegedly “exchanged” for the necessary behavior of Kochetkov’s Duma members. And indeed, the adoption of amendments to the city charter, according to the media, “went surprisingly smoothly.”
The security forces are involved in the case around Vodokanal in several directions. So, in mid-April, the FSB detained two former bailiffs who were trying to transfer a bribe to an employee of the FSSP so that he would help transfer the then general director of Vodokanal, Luzgin, to the status of a suspect in one of the criminal cases against the enterprise.
Feds on the low start
Political scientist Alexander Belousov believes that Vodokanal has been transferred under Kochetkov’s full control, but this may be a tactical move, and the final fate of the enterprise will be decided after the elections to the city duma, which will be held in September.
Belousov believes that the reason for the aggravation of the situation around Vodokonal may be related not only to the upcoming elections, but also to the deliberate policy of large financial and industrial groups that also apply for the enterprise. “This turmoil is beneficial to the federal players: the more mess, shuffling and tugging of the blanket, the more Vodokanal will be a stumbling block, the more likely this situation will end with the transfer of the facility to the federals. So in this case, the ongoing chaos may be in favor of some federal structures,” the expert believes.
Today, Mikhail Fridman’s Rosvodokanal operates in ten cities: Arkhangelsk, Barnaul, Voronezh, Krasnodar, Lipetsk, Orenburg, Omsk, Orsk, Tyumen, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. It is highly probable that Yekaterinburg may be added to this list in autumn. Friedman’s exit from the capital of Alfa-Bank and Alfa Insurance was perceived by many as the final farewell of the billionaire to Russia. But the situation around Rosvodokanal looks like it not only retains business in our country, but also seeks to increase it.
BY THE WAY
Companion of Mikhail Fridman, Pyotr Aven, continues to own vast hunting grounds in the Arkhangelsk region. More than 4 million sq. m of agricultural land is at the disposal of Medved LLC, where Aven owns 15% of the capital. Other co-founders: timber merchant Vladimir Butorin (60%), Alfa Group shareholder German Khan (15%) and JSC Rosterminalugol (10%). The media called Medved LLC a closed hunting club, which can only be entered on the recommendation of regular participants. It is noteworthy that in the summer of 2022, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Arkhangelsk Region applied to the court with a demand to recognize the agreement on the transfer of municipal land to the company as null and void, but subsequently the department abandoned the claim.