The case of the Tri Kita [Three Pillars] furniture shopping complex that procudced a high-profile scandal at the end of the 2000s is again on everyone's lips. The Arbitration Court of the Moscow Region has delivered a judgment that led to a U-turn in this story.
A New Twist
On July 15, the court ruled that businessman Sergei Zuyev was the legally entitled beneficiary of the Tri Kita shopping mall. In addition, the management company, which had controlled the shopping center for many years, was doing so illegally. The court also invalidated the appointment of new top executives of the Lamax company, which had run Tri Kita.
Zuyev, the holder of a 70% stake, is the legal co-owner of the shopping mall with Alexey Petrukhin (30%). However, there is the question of who will be responsible for the fact that for about 10 years Tri Kita has been actually managed by other people who, in fact, took the company away from the legal owners.
Therefore, recently, Sergei Zuyev has filed an application with the Investigative Committee and the police demanding to bring to account the raiders who seized his business, estimated at $350 mln.
The scandal around Tri Kita was in the highlight in the early and mid-2000s years. Zuyev himself was even handed a real sentence with regard to this case. So, in September 2000, the Investigative Committee under the Russian Ministry of the Interior initiated a criminal case on smuggling. It did so at the behest of the Federal Customs Service. The case was closed two times as a minimum but was reopened. In general, there are numerous bizarre twists in the story around the complex. So, the top officials of the Prosecutor General's Office, the International Monetary Fund, the Federal Customs Service, and the Federal Security Service (FSB) are somehow involved in the case. Therefore, a number of media outlets sized up the story of the shopping mall as a confrontation between the Investigation Committee and the Federal Customs Service, on the one hand, and the Interior Ministry and the FSB, on the other.
However, this is just one of possible scenarios. As a matter of fact, it was Sergei Zuyev who got the real problems. In 2006, he was arrested together with other participants in business operations, and then got real prison terms. In 2010, under the sentence of the Naro-Fominsk City Court, Zuyev went to jail for 8 years for illicit trafficking of goods under the definition of Article 188 of the Criminal Code, although he himself did not admit guilt on his part.
There are Three Pillars, and Nothing More
In 2011, at the behest of then President Dmitry Medvedev, the State Duma decriminalized a number of offenses, including the ones specified by the article on contraband, in accordance with which Zuev was imprisoned.
However, when he was released at the end of 2011, he discovered that the shopping complex was already under the control of other people. In the autumn of 2019, Zuyev found out that even formally he had no links to Tri Kita. It was owned and managed by other people. As it turned out, in October 2012 the Tri Kita mall passed into the ownership of the Monte Cristallo Foundation registered in Liechtenstein. Moreover, Alexander Mordkovich became the CEO of Lamax, and the assets were managed by lawyer Igor Romanov.
Zuyev filed a lawsuit claiming that the change of top executives of the Lamax company, which runs the Tri Kita shopping center, was illegal and demanding that the decision be revoked.
The fact is that Zuyev and Petrukhin know Romanov very well. Initially, he represented the interests of Petrukhin, Zuyev’s business partner, who owns a 30% share of the company.
According to Stanislav Akimov, Zuyev's lawyer, in 2006, “while under investigation, Mr. Zuyev gave the lawyer Igor Romanov a power of attorney for asset management.” While the client was in prison, Romanov decided to snatch control of Tri Kita, simultaneously duping both Zuyev, the main beneficiary, and Petrukhin, his business partner. In this case, Romanov was helped by a number of people who are very likely to be defendants in the current criminal case. Notably, there is more than one defendant. For example, his own wife Irina Zaitseva, whose father worked for the FSB, and lawyer Kirill Polischuk, who formalized control over Zuyev's assets in the interests of Romanov. The list also includes Alexander Mordkovich, the officer of the department for fighting economic crimes, who filed criminal cases against “undesirables.” Interestingly, since the fall of 2019, Mordkovich has been the CEO of Tri Kita, but the court cancelled his appointment earlier.
But the most interesting thing is that no one could ever explain to the court how Monte Cristallo Foundation from Liechtenstein owned Lamax and vicariously Tri Kita. The Arbitration Court made an inquiry demanding the documents to show on what grounds 100% shares of the shopping complex were transferred to Monte Cristallo Foundation but no answer was given.
Additionally, the last rotation of Lamax top executives looks extremely bizarre. As it turned out, the decision to appoint a new manager by proxy was made by Sergei Moroz, the Ukrainian resident who officially works as a huntsman on Zuyev’s private hunting farm. To be more precise, this farm is located in the Tver region and previously belonged to Zuev. Then Romanov re-registered it in his own name, as well as the Tri Kita shopping complex. It is crystal clear that huntsman Moroz has absolutely nothing to do with the specifics of the furniture business. In fact, at the request of the court Moroz prudently did not report for the court hearing. Well, what could he have said there?
In understandable terms all this means that in reality, the beneficiaries of Tri Kita have not changed. So, Sergei Zuyev with a 70% share is still the owner of the shopping center, as in the early 2000s.
In fact, in July, the Arbitration Court of the Moscow region recognized Zuyev as the main beneficiary of the Tri Kita shopping center.
“The plaintiff is the ultimate beneficiary of the Lamax company with a 70% stake, which is confirmed by a consistent chain of the structure of corporate ownership through non-resident individuals,” the court’s resolution said. According to it, all the transactions as well as the appointment of CEO were annulled.
Furniture Through Prison Bars
However, it would be unfair to say that the case of the Tri Kita shopping complex is finally closed. Chances are it will be continued. At present, Sergei Zuev and Alexey Petrukhin, the legal owners of the mall, finally received confirmation that they are on the right track and have a chance to regain control over their business asset.
Again, there is an open question what will happen to the criminal aspect of the case. Today, Zuyev is going to demand that Romanov pay out compensation. Preliminary, it might be 100 mln dollars. Also, if the investigation confirms that Zuyev and Gorin's accusations are justified, then lawyer Igor Romanov and his fellow defendants might have arraignments under several articles of the Russian Criminal Code. In particular, these are likely to include the charges with large-scale fraud, money laundering, bribery, extortion, tax evasion, and so on, and so forth.
Therefore, it is highly likely that the unexpected twist which restored Sergei Zuyev’s rights of as the legal owner is far from the last one. Chances are in the near future, such details of Romanov's and his company's tricks as kidnappings and even murders will go public.
At the same time, the resolution of the Moscow Region Arbitration Court inspires the hope that justice can be still obtained in Russia by legal means. Frankly speaking, a conclusion of this kind is worth a lot. Since the law is just one of the pillars on which any viable state is based.