We take offshore in the British Virgin Islands – one of the most secret tax havens in the world. We add an alliance with Metalferos, a state-owned company that is the market leader in metal assemblers. We season with a loan from the Moldavian Metallurgical Plant in Rybnitsa, one of the economic pillars of the self-proclaimed Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR). And in conclusion, we decorate all this with a Cypriot company, the exclusive dealer of the Rybnitsa MMZ on the international market. Here is the recipe by which one of the key figures from Vladimir Plahotniuc’s entourage entered the Moldovan metal market.
The case was in 2008. The initial connection has been established.
March 9, 2010 The director of a company providing services for the registration of offshore companies turned to a European partner with a request to provide her with urgent additional information about one firm. In particular, she wanted to receive information about the activities of the company, as well as the name of its ultimate beneficiary.
The company for which information was requested is called Travis Group LTD and is registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) – “one of the oldest and most respected offshore financial centers in the world“.
The next morning, she receives a copy of her Moldovan identity card by email. The document was issued in the name of citizen Sergei Noskov.
Sergey Noskov, 71 years old. An inconspicuous character from the entourage of the oligarch Vladimir Plakhontiuk. No photos and participation in public events. Of the available data – only the old registration in a 43-meter apartment in the Botanica sector of the capital.
With the development of Plahotniuc’s business structures, he was associated with some of them, in particular, as a trustee of offshore companies.
Among the businesses with which Sergei Noskov was directly or indirectly associated are the following:
hotels Codru and Nobil Club (the first was sold in 2016 to Moldova Agroindbank, the second was arrested in 2019 by the prosecutor’s office in a money laundering case),
an unfinished communist party office in the center of Chisinau (which later passed to the Democratic Party), also confiscated by law enforcement in 2019,
TV channel NIT (currently closed)
security agency Argus-S.
At the time when the registration company from the British Virgin Islands was interested in the ultimate beneficiary of the Travis Group, the power in the Republic of Moldova belonged to the Alliance for European Integration, led by Prime Minister Vladimir Filat and Speaker of Parliament, as well as Acting President Mihai Ghimpu. Plahotniuc at that time still remained in the shadows, where he will come out in a few months, in part, – his first TV interview and, secondly, – following the November 2010 election, when he became a deputy from the Democratic Party.
From the documents examined, it appears that the Travis Group was incorporated with 14 other companies in 2007 at the request of a Cypriot registrar who intended to later sell them as shell companies. In most of them, the director and the only partner was the same person – a citizen of Cyprus Lana Zamba.
Whether Noskov bought the company’s shares or whether they remained according to the documents for Zamba is unknown. There is no doubt that Noskov has been a beneficiary of the Travis Group since at least the beginning of 2009, when the Communists, led by Vladimir Voronin, were still in power. The information is taken from the declaration of commercial activity, signed on behalf of Noskov.
“Unfortunately, I can’t help you. Sorry”– Noskov told us by phone, having heard a question about Travis Group.
The statement, signed on behalf of Noskov, states that Travis Group’s activities consisted of the sale of scrap metal and metal products that the firm purchased from the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine and the Russian Federation. The document also lists the main partner of the Travis Group, the Cypriot company Panfermag Holding LTD.
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Since 2003, Panfermag has been the exclusive dealer of the Moldavian Metallurgical Plant (Moldovan Metallurgical Plant – MMZ) on the international market. In the same year, control of the plant began to pass to companies affiliated with Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov.
Panfermag Holding LTD – over the years, the company has been led by more than 10 people from different countries. Among them: Anatoly Belitchenko, former general director of MMZ for 20 years; Valery Markotenko, at that time chairman of the board of MMZ; Kharess Yousef is a Syrian-born Ukrainian businessman and adviser to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.
Another document from #PandoraPapers shows that the beneficiaries of the Travis Group planned to invest half a million dollars in the company’s operations, with some of the money borrowed directly from MMZ.
In the mentioned document, MMZ appears as one of the main clients of Noskov’s company from the British Virgin Islands. In the same capacity, Metalferos is also mentioned, a state-owned enterprise that until 2019 was officially a monopolist in the metal trading and export market, as well as one of the main suppliers of raw materials for the MMP in Rybnitsa.
We sent several questions to the MMZ administration regarding cooperation with Travis Grup, but did not receive a response.
In turn, Igor Kuzhba, director of Metalferos, in an official response told us that the company “did not buy waste and metal residues” from Noskov’s company in the British Virgin Islands.
On the other hand, Kuzhba confirmed that “in 2008, 2009 and 2010» Metalferos had a trading relationship with the Travis Group. However, he did not disclose details of “volume and price of delivery”referring to the fact thatthe storage period for export documents is 6 years ».
As follows from the audit report of the Accounts Chamber, at that time both MMZ and Metalferos were among the main companies that exported their products through offshore firms.
The document showing Travis Group’s connection to MMZ and Metalferos is undated, but it bears the signature of Moldovan citizen Vladimir Marian. It is not clear how Marian was connected to the BVI company, but this is the same person who would later appear alongside Sergei Noskov and Vladimir Plahotniuc in the #MetalLeaks case as the ultimate beneficiaries of the offshore companies that parasitized Metalferos.
Vladimir Marian is 67 years old, he comes from one of the villages of the Kaushansky (in the past – Keinarsky) district. According to the Public Services Agency, the man is alive and registered in Oksentya village, Dubasari district. This was confirmed by the mayor of the settlement Valeriu Rusu, who has been holding this position for 14 years. However, Rusu assured us that he did not know Vladimir Marian and would even like to know who he is: “I [примар] since 2007, the fourth mandate, and I know my people.”
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Marian’s signature on the document sent by the registrar from the British Virgin Islands was accompanied by a recommendation, also without a date, from the director of the auditing company from Chisinau, Natalia Rusu. The latter assures that, according to her information, Marian has never participated in criminal activities and is a conscientious person.
We tried to find out from Rusu when and in what context she signed the recommendation for Vladimir Marian and asked to be connected with him. However, to the questions we emailed her, Rusu answered abstractly: “I hereby inform you that I have no information on your questions.”
It should be noted that Russu’s audit firm used to be a censor in the Petrom-Moldova company, which at that time was headed by Vladimir Plahotniuc.
According to the same document, signed by Vladimir Marian, representatives of the Travis Group estimated sales at $1 million in the first year of operation. However, from the data published in #PandoraPapers, it is not clear what kind of benefit Noskov’s company received from the steel business, including from a partnership with Panfermag, the official dealer of MMZ.
In 2008-2009, Panfermag made a profit of almost $53 million on half a billion dollars in sales. In subsequent years, however, the firm recorded mostly losses and was liquidated in March 2021.
Noskov closed his company in the British Virgin Islands much earlier. In fact, the company was liquidated in June 2011 for “failure to pay annual fees”. However, after that, Noskov will retain ties with the metal market in the Republic of Moldova, as we showed in #MetalLeaks, through other companies in offshore zones, but with the same Vladimir Marian, as well as with Vladimir Plahotniuc. In relation to the latter, criminal cases were opened in the Republic of Moldova for the creation of a criminal group, fraud and money laundering on an especially large scale.