Spanish Anticorruption Prosecutor to Curb Russian Organized Crime

Spanish Anticorruption Prosecutor to Curb Russian Organized Crime


Spanish National Court of Justice has reopened a criminal case over the alleged involvement of Mikhail Fridman, a Russian business magnate, and his inner circle in the deliberate bankruptcy of Zed Worldwide, a Spanish multiplatform digital entertainment company.

Manuel Garcia Castellón, the investigator of the court of justice, who tried to close the case in December 2020, reversed his own decision at the request of the prosecutor's office, Meduza news aggregator reported citing Deutsche Welle and the press service of the judicial chamber.

Previously, the office of Spain’s special prosecutor against corruption had already announced its plans to continue legal proceedings against Mikhail Fridman. In Spain, Fridman is suspected of commercial fraud. Allegedly, as result of his actions, the Spanish corporation Zed that had had operations on the Russian market became bankrupt, Radio Liberty reports * with the reference to the Spanish edition of El Confidencial. In the documents of the Spanish prosecutor's office, Fridman was portrayed as "the leader of a criminal organisation who inspired fear in his subordinates."

Interestingly, public prosecution against Mikhail Fridman in Spain is personally chaired by special prosecutor Jose Grinda. He has a reputation of an extremely principled and consistent fighter against the so-called “Russian mafia.” In particular, it was he who over the years investigated the knotty case of 27 defendants from the so-called "Gennady Petrov and Alexander Malyshev’s gang." In the frame of this case, the famous "Operation Troika" with sweeping arrests and searches took place. During the investigation of this case, prosecutor Grinda had to grapple with threats against himself and his family more than once and, moreover, also with mudslinging.

For example, on the eve of the start of the crucial trial in 2017, Ignacio Peláez, the defendants' lawyer, said on a Spanish TV channel that prosecutor José Grinda was "a child rapist and hard core criminal." According to Peláez, Grinda had allegedly sent intimate messages to a minor via Twitter. The inquest was then opened against Grinda but no grounds for prosecution were found. In the end, he was not only able to protect his reputation but also retained his position to take on Mikhail Fridman’s case with his usual perseverance and commitment to the principles.

The case on the premeditated bankruptcy of the Spanish ZED group was opened back in 2017. However, Mikhail Fridman has long denied that he could be a defendant in it. The Vedomosti newspaper even had to publish a denial of its investigation that pointed to Fridman's ties to the Zed+ shareholder companies. This article was a condition of the peace agreement between Fridman and Vedomosti.

However, as early as September 2019, the Spanish prosecutor's office, together with the police, summoned Mikhail Fridman for official questioning in this case. The meeting was postponed twice at the request of the Russian side. It took place only in late October of the same year.

The defence made attempts to refute all of the charges. According to it, Fridman had nothing to do with Zed. The defense lawyers claimed it was a conspiracy orchestrated by former Zed owner Javier Perez Dolcet. The latter had allegedly robbed and bankrupted his company himself. Mikhail Fridman, answering questions from the prosecutor and the investigator, said that he simply could not have committed any of the offences the prosecution charged him with.

Over the following year, the ZED investigation was muddling along. In mid-December 2020, the website of LetterOne, Friedman's investment company, published a press release. According to the information, the Madrid court had allegedly finally cleared Mikhail Fridman, the billionaire businessman and the founder of Alfa Group, of suspicion of Zed+ deliberate bankruptcy. Manuel Garcia Castellón, the head of the 6th investigative division of the National Court of Spain, did indeed make an attempt to end the legal proceedings against Fridman at the end of 2020. To his thinking, Fridman’s involvement in the story around the Spanish corporation Zed was impossible to prove. The justification behind the decision to acquit Fridman included such absurd passages as: "The investigative measures carried out do not allow us to assert that Mikhail Fridman had any control over Veon [a telecommunications company.]” At the same time, LetterOne’s website had the publicly available information that Mikhail Fridman's holding was the largest shareholder of Veon.

It should come as no surprise that prosecutor José Grinda disagreed with Castellón's arguments. He still believes that ZED has been the victim of an illegal takeover although he admits that no violence was used. In this case, purely economic methods were applied. As noted by Deutsche Welle, the Spanish prosecutor's office insisted on continuing the investigation against Mikhail Fridman after they found some documents including emails testifying to Fridman's involvement in the bankruptcy of Zed. Moreover, his Fridman’s confidants Anton Kudryashov and Alexei Azarenkov were also involved in the case.

* Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has been included by the Ministry of Justice in the register of foreign media performing the functions of foreign agents

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