In the 2000s, Sergei Polonsky owned one of the largest development corporations Mirax Group. The company was engaged in the construction of business-class housing, erected the residential complex “Korona” and “Golden Keys – II”. The most significant project for Mirax Group was the construction of the Federation Tower in Moscow City. However, Polonsky’s company did not complete the skyscraper.
In 2012, a criminal case was opened against the businessman. The developer was suspected of major fraud during the construction of the Kutuzovskaya Mile complex. According to investigators, Polonsky stole 5.7 billion rubles from equity holders of the residential complex, did not fulfill his obligations to them and froze the construction site. The developer was charged in absentia: at that time he was in Cambodia on his own island in the Gulf of Thailand. Polonsky was put on the international wanted list.
At first, the authorities of Cambodia did not extradite the businessman: he was one of the largest investors in the country, but in 2016 Polonsky was nevertheless extradited to Russia and taken to Matrosskaya Tishina right in shorts and slippers. The court found Polonsky guilty, but released him from punishment due to the expiration of the statute of limitations for the crime. As soon as he got out of prison, Polonsky rushed to look for the assets of his company Mirax Group with a total value of $4.5 billion, which, as the scandalous entrepreneur assured, his partners had stolen from him.
According to Polonsky, he did not own a car or an apartment. Meanwhile, the Federation Tower has already been completed by its new owner, Roman Trotsenko. At other sites that belonged to the Mirax Group, projects continued to be built, for example, the residential complex Myakinino Park. Polonsky himself still has a large debt – 225 million rubles, but this did not prevent him from flying to Dubai with the start of mobilization in September 2022. Now the entrepreneur is preparing to launch a development project in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Dubai miracle – Moscow omission
“I relocated, but arrived on a long business trip without a return ticket. I already made myself a residence permit here. I am sure that Dubai is a new world-class hub that brings together all IT people, all active people. Even two or three years ago, no one imagined that such an amount of energy would gather here. What’s the alternative? Singapore, Hong Kong are, in fact, Asia, there is a completely different mentality. America is already old money, or you must have some kind of already powerful business. But here, after all, the conditions for business are good, and taxes are practically zero, and security is one hundred percent.
Moscow, too, was once such a place. From 2000 to 2008, Russia’s economy grew even faster than China’s. It was at this time that we created Moscow City. Then there was a clear vision of the future, there was stability. Actually, real estate is a litmus test, because the state of the economy is the state of the psyche of people. When a person buys apartments or offices, he looks at the future, for 10-15 years. When we started in 2000, in the 1990s, people, at most, planned their future for one to three years, then the horizon increased to 15-20 years. Now it, unfortunately, has decreased again – within a week. Here, in Dubai, you don’t even have to watch the news, because you know: what’s today, what’s yesterday, what’s tomorrow – plus or minus everything is the same. There can be no major upheavals.
But there are certain rules of the game. It has been said that one cannot speak badly about Dubai, about the sheikhs. They themselves take care of everything here: so that it is clean and tidy. On the one hand, this is another planet. On the other hand, everyone manages to work here. Money is very timid: if there was chaos here, no one would invest here and would not move. Zero crime: you can leave the car, the apartment (open). If you violated something, then there are no questions – you will be treated to the fullest extent of the law.
Business after prison
“It’s one thing when you’re 20 years old and you’re running from one thing to another. But when you have half a coin, and you actually need to start everything from scratch, you have to spend more time and effort on some elementary things that were previously done with one click. Of course, when you have a big company and support, that’s good. On the other hand, the absence of this gave me the opportunity to rest a little.
Now I have draft developments for a high-rise building – this is one project. On the other hand, we are also considering an artificial island (as the second project. – Forbes). I don’t want to take on small projects. I’ll take two or three at the most. I am not a fan of creating a big corporation today. To create it, firstly, you need five or more years. This is a huge effort. But I still want to be calm.”
The first business of Sergei Polonsky
“At school, I raised fish and sold them in the market. And after the army, I got into ice cream: we took ice cream, sold it four times more expensive on the train and earned in one day as much as a miner in a mine earned in a month. Then we (Polonsky started a business with a friend from Gorlovka – Artur Kirilenko, who today owns shares in several development companies. – Forbes) took up Herbalife (food supplements – Forbes). In just a month we opened five branches in Volgodonsk, Yalta, Simferopol, Donetsk and Gorlovka.
As for real estate, at first we suddenly decided to take miners (from Gorlovka. – Forbes) and transport them to Moscow and St. Petersburg – they are building a metro there. Then we connected plasterers and painters there. And in the end, we took the first object in the construction trust: we found an unfinished house in Novo-Devyatkino. It was the largest house – 22,000 sq. m. That year, the entire Leningrad region passed, probably less. I thought they would thank me there, but the woman who came to receive the house refused to accept it for another six months for various reasons. Passed only by a miracle.
Then Vitaly Mutko – he just became the head of the elective headquarters of Valentina Ivanovna Matvienko. He asked: “Help organize the process.” As a result, Vladimir Yakovlev (the governor of St. Petersburg at that time. – Forbes) found out and blocked the first object for us, the second, the third. And so my partner and I think: “Since this is the situation, let’s decide: either I stay in St. Petersburg, and you go to Moscow, or I go to Moscow, you go to St. Petersburg.” He says: “I will stay in St. Petersburg.” I say: “Okay, I went to Moscow.” Thanks to Yakovlev for kicking me out. And now – to Putin – that I am here (in Dubai)!
“We, in fact, then had to create a new building complex, because they knew how to build 20-30-story buildings, and a 100-story building is a completely different level. Yes, and another level of responsibility, quality and engineering.
Before taking on the construction of Moscow City, I flew around all the high-rise buildings in the world and only after that agreed. Imagine – a 100-story building, and I’m practically a kid. We immediately realized that we needed to collect only the best of the best, so we invited Turner Construction from the USA, the #1 project management company in the world. At that moment, we were building the City together with them, and they were building the Burj Khalifa. Sometimes I had to dive deep (into the topic): starting from elevator systems, concrete grades, facade systems, because we didn’t have anything then. I just had to fly to all the countries of the world and study it all from scratch. Somewhere, on the contrary, you need to learn to delegate and create a team, because when everything is focused on you alone, of course, such companies are not created. This is not possible in any country in the world.
One of the main rules is to be able to have fun. If you do not know how to have fun, and take on such a project, then you will definitely get a heart attack or a stroke. You need to look for the best coaches and the best trainers. Without mentors in this life it is impossible to create anything. “Logbook” must be. This is a diary where you write down your tasks, goals. And I believe that there should be 30% free resource. If you work for wear and tear, then the slightest failure in the system – and you do not have additional capacity, you start to shake. If the goal is small, then you will forget it along the way. If it is too big, then you will overload and overstrain. You need to be able to measure your abilities.
I did not study at the institute, I was there only five days. Many people who study at the institute, then fight off the desire to gain knowledge. And entrepreneurship is such a profession where you always have to be at the forefront of all technologies. Without obtaining this knowledge, it is impossible to understand the picture of the world, so we invited the best lecturers in history, philosophy, and brains. I even paid one of my teachers $300,000 and two years later I was on Forbes.”
Lessons from Sailor’s Silence
“To some extent, you are even more free there, because you are already in prison. Nothing worse can happen. I read books there, looked at the criminal cases of friends, and talked. But prison stopped me. I had very serious plans for development. And the prison is like a concrete wall – bang and that’s it. And you understand that you are nobody in this country and there is no way to call you.
Everyone who gets into the “Kremlin Central” is a prison under the control of the FSB – everyone’s acquaintances and friends immediately disappear. But then there are those from whom you never expected anything like this, who are not afraid to correspond with you. The rich all disappeared at once. They disappeared as soon as the persecution began against me in the twelfth year. At first I thought I was the only one. And then, when I met my neighbors, it turned out that everyone had the same situation. The Russian person still has a very big fear that he will fall into this space.”
Business in Russia
“There are no social ties in Russia, no business community. I believe that there is no business in Russia, no market. I do not believe that any new powerful entrepreneurs will appear today. All normal – left. Where is Tinkoff? Where is Durov? Where is Polonsky?
No business can grow where such things happen: from sanctions to blocking, closures. For me, in general, the mystery is those people who are doing business in Russia today. Probably, you can run some kind of business that is located within your cafe or restaurant. But it is impossible to create Mirax today. Today it is impossible to create some kind of large technology company without the participation of the state in it. And the participation of the state automatically means that you close the opportunity for yourself to work in other countries of the world: no one will work with companies that are under sanctions.”
“We still have eight islands in Cambodia. And there is now a very powerful energy – 400 casinos have been built there – more than in Las Vegas and Macau. Huge growth. The Cambodians are very interested in attracting investments and interesting projects. There is more money in the world than ideas. If you have projects, then people are happy to invest in good ideas. I was there two and a half years ago, before the coronavirus. I was very well received there – all the Cambodian pirates brought back all the fish they caught. I came there, in fact, when there was not even electricity there, I was one of the first investors. People remember this very well, appreciate it, and we have very good friendly relations with Cambodia.”
The heyday of Polonsky
“We had free money in the account, a maximum of $ 450 million. But I never had my own private jet. I have never owned a Hummer limousine. This money is needed, but the person does not need it personally. If you’re building a Federation Tower and it costs a billion, you must have some capital. I, at least, have not heard that money somehow intoxicates businessmen. You need $100 million to live in a quiet mode. Everything else is needed only to launch some business projects. Moreover, the more money you have, the more you are under a magnifying glass and the more energy and effort you spend to protect and protect it.
The world of the future through the eyes of Sergei Polonsky
“What I am sure of is that those people who scattered to other countries of the world — it is they who will have to create a new Russian economy. Because, of course, there will be lustration, there will be reparations.
Futurologists today do not see the future as a whole, because the world is changing very quickly. And if earlier science fiction could be written 50-100 years ahead, today, objectively, you cannot describe what will happen in five years. Look at artificial intelligence that solves amazing problems. Literally over the past three or four months, he just blew up the whole space. What does it mean? This means that by 2027-2029, half of the professions will definitely disappear. I think there will be an unconditional basic income: from every barrel of oil produced, governments will give each person $200 to live on. At least I don’t see how else humanity can evolve. Moreover, we will most likely switch to a four-, three-, and then a two-day work week, because the amount of movement that we do is absolutely not necessary. What it is? The 21st century, and five days a week we both worked and still work in order to have a rest for two days. Is this not slavery? What is the difference?”.