Sergei Girdin, a real estate developer from St. Petersburg, has become a defender of the world against Ebola and a partner of Ozon, a new Russian Internet trading website on the U.S. stock market. He is the only surviving beneficiary of the Moldovan laundromat, a scheme used to move money out of Russia from 2010 to 2014 through a network of global banks. Many of them were located in Moldova and Latvia.
Recently, information has been published suggesting that Ozon, one of the first e-commerce companies in Russia which is sometimes referred to as “the Russian Amazon,” is going to open a new warehouse in St. Petersburg. It could have remained a lackluster news item in an industry-specific media outlet that publishes materials on the real estate, online retail and logistics market , had it not concerned some really big names.
First of all, Ozon itself. The company conducted a successful IPO in the US. In other words, on the territory of a conventional enemy. Then it changed its status from a Russian start-up to a US public corporation.
The consequences of this move have already affected the Crimean customers. Their OZON Cards were blocked at once. This is a discount and payment card that was touted for all customers living in Crimea. Apparently, it was good for general statistics.
The new status and lineup of Ozon's shareholders forced the company to abandon the commitments it had made previously. A new rank imposes obligations. Now, all operations and transactions of the company will be scrutinized. All the more so, it turned out that other parties to the transaction were also well-known outside the real estate market. Namely, Sergei Girdin and Andrey Sharkov. This “popularity” might become a much more serious problem for Ozon.
Our People in Guinea
Sergei Girdin is known as the co-owner of Marvel, a St. Petersburg company. It is a supplier of computer and office equipment and other expendable materials.
Due to this very modest business activity Girdin presented himself as an IT entrepreneur and a visionary who made public the position of society. Allegedly, he could easily get in touch with the management of the State Hermitage Museum. Moreover, it was not about the supply of new printers to the accounting department of the museum but about much more important issues. For example, on the subject of African art.
Of course, Girdin got acquainted with these people not as a distributor of office equipment. In 2014, he managed to become Honorary Consul of the Republic of Guinea in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region. Thus, the knowledge of African art helped Girdin to be introduced to the top officials of the Hermitage museum. However, this promotion was not so much due to the interest in African culture or art. It stemmed from the necessity to rehabilitate his image. Girdin’s reputation was damaged after a story with the so-called Moldovan laundromat, an international network of banks and companies that siphoned and laundered Russian money of illicit origin. The total amount of the transfers exceeded $20 bln. A lot of people were involved in the scheme. In the summer of 2014, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Novaya Gazeta published an article on this story.
Three Little Black Boys
The media named Alexey Krapivin, a contractor of the Russian Railways (RZD) state corporation, Georgy Gens, an owner of Lanit Group, and Sergei Girdin, a co-owner of Marvel Holding as beneficiaries of the scheme.
Alexey Krapivin is a co-owner of the notorious 1520 Group of Companies. He is the son of Andrey Krapivin, an advisor to Vladimir Yakunin, the former president of RZD. In many respects, this might be an explanation of the situation. Alexei Krapivin was forced to become a beneficiary not by choice but as a result of his father's death in April 2015. That is, almost immediately after the scandal started gaining momentum.
Exactly three years later, in April 2018, Georgy Gens, the owner and president of Lanit Group, passed away. He was skiing in Kamchatka on vacation and died from a blood clot.
Thus, Girdin remained the only one of the three beneficiaries, the most important element of the whole financial part of the scheme. In this situation, the connections with Guinea, cultural and not only cultural, might be very remarkable. Guinea plays a key role in supplying raw materials for the whole Russian aluminum industry. The development of bauxite deposits there began back in Soviet times. It was controlled by very competent authorities. They retained their influence even after the collapse of the USSR, the only exception being that now the country is no longer part of the socialist camp but of a corporate one. Rusal, the world's second largest aluminum company by primary production output, belonging to Oleg Deripaska, is playing the key role there. It received the heritage of the Ministry of Non-Ferrous Metals. The company not only has influence on the economy but also provides the country with protection from Ebola. It is the worst known virus of our time from which humanity is saved only by the fact that an infected person dies too quickly, and there is simply not time to infect people outside the local area.
Girdin considers himself a participant in this invisible war who "regularly receives news from the Embassy of the Republic of Guinea.”
One might call the statements of this kind ridiculous. But it should be recalled that Sputnik V, the main Russian COVID-19 vaccine, was made in St. Petersburg on the basis of the Ebola vaccine. So, Girdin's system of protection is quite elaborate.
However, this is not enough to restore his reputation. Especially since the historical basis of his empire is falling apart. While information about the liquidation of Marvel itself two years ago was just a simple entry in the databases, the revocation of the license of Nevsky Bank was a much more significant event. This happened exactly one year after the closure of Girdin's firm.
As of December 18, 2019, Nevsky Bank was owned by a "soccer team" of shareholders. It was clear that 12 individuals, each owning no more than 10%, came to the scene to liquidate the institution. Even two years before that, Girdin who controlled the bank at that time, was going to increase the bank's equity capital to 1 bln rubles ($13.58 mln.)
Clients and depositors of Nevsky Bank never got their money back. These events did not ruin Girdin's business but only changed it. Now, he is the king of industrial real estate in St. Petersburg. Marvel Logistics facilitated its expansion. As a result, a real advanced ecosystem was formed together with the PNK Group development holding belonging to Andrei Sharkov.
It is no doubt that competing against Sergei Girdin's tremendous glory is a difficult task for Andrei Sharkov. However, he also has a lot of achievements. His portfolio includes 33 industrial parks in Russia, Europe and the US. Sharkov decided to capitalize on the newfangled idea that it was better to rent than to own. Moreover, even a special fund was created to attract investors. By buying shares of PNK Rental, an investor gets a chance to become a part of a large machine for leasing high-quality industrial premises.
PNK Group promises to do the rest. The company has plenty of opportunities for charging rent. The method which is as old as times and comes from Russia’s wild newborn capitalism of 1990's became the most popular among them. The principle of the method is that a customer has the right to store but not to get to the place of storage. The right to pass and drive through the territory is the subject of a special agreement.
Withdrawal of profits which do not allow a lessee to reimburse VAT is also a scheme from the troubled times. The monopoly conditions of the power supply system and other things were part of this gorgeous ecosystem.
Perhaps, it is time for Ozon as well as for its US shareholders to get acquainted with new reality.