Business against corruption Investigation

The Head Of The Major Internet Access Provider Is Obliged To Pay Half A Billion Rubles Under Forged Contracts

The struggle to take control over IT infrastructure in Ural Federal District may result in no Internet access for Ural and part of Siberia. Its connection with Rwanda and corruption in Russia is represented by the International Anti-corruption Portal investigation.

Behind The Wires

Access to the world wide web for tens of millions of people from Tyumen to Salekhard and from Omsk to Moscow depends on the Zummer Company. It is listed among the TOP-10 companies which provide their own optical carriers. It has established a strong partnership with the major three mobile providers: Beeline, MTS, Megafon. As well it works with Sberbank, Rostelecom and all providers in the region. The Internet users from Urengoy or Tobolsk do not even know that they pay Zummer for their Internet access. Moreover Zummer was well known to the Taxation Authorities because it was one of 35 largest taxpayers in the Tyumen Region while the company was connected neither with oil nor gas business, which is quite a rare case for this area. In 2017 the company became well known to the wide public – its founder Michael Trotsky was inflicted record penalty of 416 million rubles. This amount was levied execution according to the lawsuit brought by his business partner Sergey Sorogin.

Run Business With Your Neighbor

Michael Trotsky (on the right) founded the Zummer Company 25 years ago.

Sergey and Michael met in the so called “tumultuous 1990s” when they both were members of the same house-hold cooperative and became neighbors. Michael ran landline business while Sergey was occupied in trunked radio communication. Trunked communication was a format of mobile communication which lost its success in technology battle. In 2006 Mr. Sorogin offered Mr. Trotsky to establish a fiber-optics communication service operator. However Mr. Sorogin put his wife as a founding member instead of himself. At that moment Mr. Sorogin took a significant loan in Sberbank which was not convenient to the newly established company.

Zummer creates fiber lines while the common Severnoye Volokno Company of Mr. Trotsky and Mrs. Sorogina (“SV”) becomes a “show-case” to provide public sales.

It looked like the Partners hit the jackpot – they became the first ones beyond the Urals, who ran fiber lines using ETL capacities. This resulted in monopoly, because according to the rules it is restricted to lay another line in the same place. So the Partners seemed to be destined to enjoy their wonderful careless lives. However instead of basking in their success they separated from each other in 2014 and now spend all their time in legal battles.

Banking Secrecy

In 2014 according to the internal audit it was revealed that almost 10 million rubles which were received as service payments from Sberbank returned back to Sberbank. As it turned out Mr. Sorogin repaid his loan to Sberbank using SV funds. Mr. Sorogin insists that it is not a theft but a market-speak. Because the fact that he can repay his loan was an ace up his sleeve during the talks with the bank. So Sberbank indeed became one of the SV clients. However Mr. Sorogin’s arguments were not appreciated in the Company: It is an honor to have the country’s major bank in the customer list, however there is no benefit to provide free services even to such a significant client. After such a scandal the partners started a series of legal battles, where in one of the major suits Mr. Sorogin blamed Mr. Trotsky in a grand theft of 4.7 billion rubles.

During 2010–2012 Zummer was performing a substantial running of fiber lines. According to Mr. Sorogin’s claims all fibers with the total cost of 4.7 billion rubles Zummer should have transfered to SV however the Company did not do it. Mr. Sorogin supported his evidences with a large document package: contract agreements, novations and a supplemental agreement. As a result of investigation it was determined that SV did not spend a penny to run the lines which was admitted by Mr. Sorogin as well. While the evidences provided by Mr. Sorogin to the court turned out to be not just the copies, they revealed falsification facts inside. All final pages containing signs and stamps of the parties were taken from the actual agreement between OOO “Zummer” and OOO “Severnoye Volokno” dated 2009. Moreover communication lines, which Mr. Sorogin laid his claims to, were sold with his participation long before the “evidential” agreements were concluded. All the disputes were finished by the Supreme Court which took the side of the Zummer Company.

Mr. Sorogin has its own hard-hitting opinion about the arbitration. He believes that “Commercial Courts are simply the for-profit organizations, which make their decisions for cash.” Mr. Sorogin explains his defeat by the statement that “Mr. Trotsky achieved Commercial Court decisions (sometimes senseless ones) bringing moneybags to them.”

Criminal Cudgel

Sergey Sorogin (photo taken from a social network account)

Together with the claims to the Commercial Court Mr. Sorogin begins to provide criminal complaints against Mr. Trotsky. The grounds are still the same as previously. The only change is the amount claimed by Mr. Sorogin – it went down till 1 billion rubles. The prosecution base was supported with the same documents, copies containing falsification attributes, which we rejected by the Supreme Court as non-evidential. Roscomnadzor could not find the originals of the respective documents as well.

It is surprising but but the Court declared Mr. Trotsky to be guilty on the questionable wording: “He brought property damage… in the absence of stealing evidences.” The Court declared Mr. Trotsky to pay 416 million rubles to Mr. Sorogin.

There are a lot of mismatches in this case. Mr. Sorogin stated impairment of his rights as a member of OOO “Severnoye Volokno” in 2010-2012. However at that time his wife was a member of the Company instead of Mr. Sorogin himself. He obtained his stake of 35% as a gift from his wife only on 2013. These grounds were enough to finish investigation. However this “mismatch” was ignored by the investigative authorities. While Evgenia Sorogina (the wife of Mr. Sorogin) runs a real estate company, she is successful and financially independent from her husband. So in case her rights were really impaired she could have filed a charge by herself. So why did Evgenia and not Sergey become the co-owner of SV? Mr. Sorogin declares that his main investment into the company is not the Money but the Relations. How did he obtain those relations?

Relations Of The Operator

On July 26, 1988 in Rwanda the forum of National Revolutionary Movement for Development was opened by Grigory Goloschapov, who read off a salution from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR. This is really a special event for the selected participants. Who is this unknown diplomatic official? Mr. Goloschapov is the second secretary of Tyumen region committee. During USSR times he was responsible for the entire construction works in this strategic region. Like other pioneers exploring the North he was a legendary person. Nowadays he is a founder of a number of companies connected with real estate market. Moreover Mr. Goloschapov is a member of board of directors of “Tyumenenergobank”. And it was Sergey Sorogin who was lucky to marry Mr. Goloschapov’s daughter. Being in relations with such a significant person as Mr. Goloschapov can open any door on one’s way.

Brothers Standing Up For Each Other

Sergey has other relations which he does not like to show off. Until quite recently his younger brother Vladimir was a head of AO “TALK” – the Company founded by the Property Relations Department of Tyumen Region. The tasks of this company can be revealed out of its name: “Tyumen Agro-Industrial Leasing Company”. Billions of rubles are spent to support Siberian farmers. So how did Sorogins family help local farmers?

The Tyumengasinvest Company, headed by the younger Sorogin before he moved to TALK Company, purchased a building in Tyumen for 9 million rubles and later it successfully sells it to AO “TALK” for 397 million rubles, which is 44 times more!

After the building was purchased TALK authorities “understand” that they “acquired a non-core asset”. So they sell it with land to ООО “Menedzhment Imuschestva” for 445 million rubles. The founder of ООО “Menedzhment Imuschestva” is no other than Sergey Sorogin.

Just before the purchase was made there was quite a number of cash flows. AO “TALK” (director – Vladimir Sorogin) transfered around 30 million rubles to OOO “Usilk” (founded by Vladimir Sorogin), then the same amount was transfered to KSP ROST (founder – Doroshev, affiliated with AO “TALK”), later the money went to Tyumengasinvest, and finally 30 million rubles came to ООО “Menedzhment Imuschestva”. Another amount, around 54 million rubles, was transfered from the AO “TALK” accounts to OOO “Turent” (established by the KSP ROST founder), then the same amount appeared on Tyumengasinvest accounts and later it was registered on Menedzhment Imuschestva accounts.

The taxation authorities suspected that the money was transfered to Menedzhment Imuschestva by AO “TALK” and later the amount came back to AO “TALK”.  However it was not considered as a violation of law. Agro-Industrial Leasing Company treated this building as a non-core asset and decided to get rid of it quickly. No damage was registered under this transaction. Law enforcement officials did not look into this matter. We directed our inquiry to the Property Relations Department of Tyumen Region to find out any competitive interests in the younger Sorogin’s actions.

The brothers act in the interests of each other aggressively. So the problems of Michael Trotsky emerged since February 2014. At that time Vladimir and Sergey came to him and offered to sell Severnoye Volokno Company to purchasers from Moscow. Mr. Trotsky refused, and then Mr. Sorogin offered to divide the business and pay him 250 million rubles of compensation. According to Mr. Trotsky “this sum is absolutely unrealistic because it equals to an income of an enterprise just for several years.”

Mr. Trotsky said: “Mr. Sorogin refused to accept economically reasonable sum, and promised some problems to me.” Our reporter arranged the meeting with Mr. Sorogin in order to receive particulars of the conflict between two co-owners. However Sergey ceased to answer the phone calls and SMS messages at the last moment.

Transit of Millions From The Budget

Sergey Sorogin shortly after his conversation with Trotsky and while he still was with the SV Company opened a bank account on behalf of the company, and from those account the sum of about 5 million rubles was transfered in favour of different companies. The money gets through the handful of companies, including OOO “Technocenter”, the affiliated company of TALKA. Finally it suddenly turned out that the SV Company is deeply indebted with the sum of 5 million rubles to some unknown debtee.

When they began to see into the situation, it became clear that the transactions were made on the basis of a counterfeit contract whereby the SV Company assigned the fiber lines to two business entities in 2014. Whereas those fiber lines were conveyed to OAO “MTS” in 2012. The Commercial Court declared the transactions null and void.

Unilateral Investigation

The SV Company submitted an application to Investigative Department of Investigation Committee in Tyumen Region regarding all the facts of Mr. Sorogin’s abuse of authority in Augest 2017. An investigator had concluded the following: “The investigation materials testify to the mercenary motives of S. A. Sorogin aimed at the stealing of cash that does not belong to him and deriving property benefit through the false pretences and forging documents.”

As a result the investigation materials, which can be used in order to initiate the case using four criminal articles, were passed on in accordance with the jurisdiction.

The investigation is now carried out by Economic Security and Anti-Corruption Department in Tyumen, which had initiated a case against Mr. Trotsky based on Mr. Sorogin’s application.

The institution of a criminal case has been denied eight times by detective Grigory Panin . It is surprising that it was Mr. Panin who took active part in pre-investigation check against Mr. Trotsky.

The Economic Security and Anti-Corruption Department sees no essential elements of offence though the Investigation Committee detected them. To be more exact they found an excuse for refusal every time.

For example they want to ascertain the order of profit allocation in SV. However it is necessary to just read the Statute Of Association to find that out. Or they cite as the reason that they can not examine a person who refuses to testify on the basis of Article 51 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which allows not testifying against oneself. But if the person refused to testify they will not be able to examine this person.

However one should consider that fact that these are economic crimes. It is just enough to read documents with attention to be able to investigate them, because those documents contain a lot of interesting facts. For instance a very interesting document was revealed while hearing the case regarding the transit of 5 million rubles in the Commercial Court. It was an OOO “Technocenter” bank statement, and 5 million rubles run through that company. In addition to confirming that fact, some amazing thing was discovered there.

The same month the TALK Company provided OOO “Technocenter” with a loan under annual 7% condition. The same OOO “Technocenter” provided TALK’s affiliated company, TALK-Servis, a loan under annual 16% condition. These are quite strange operations, aren’t they? These funds were taken from the budget! Don’t these operations result in the costs increase for Tyumen agricultural producers? What famous names can come into light? No one is asking these questions.

What are the reasons for such a procrastination during Severnoye Volokno Company’s application check? If the case will be initiated and come to a trial, it will turn out that the previous investigation against Mr. Trotsky was based on forged documents. Does it concern the esprit de corps protection or something more? We have just begun to examine this cat’s cradle, and for the time being we are waiting for the answers to our requests from the law enforcement officers.

The Court Sees No Breaches

The Judge of Kalinin District Court in Tyumen Pavel Bushmelev did not make an appraisal of the Criminal Procedure Code breaches, admitted at the investigation stage. The procurator’s office in Tyumen Region also did not notice any breaches. Moreover the Judge Bushmelev believes that the cases won in the Commercial Court of Tyumen are not the prejudice. The Tyumen Regional Court, where the appeals of both sides are to be considered, will certainly answer the questions whether an individual who is not even a member of the Company allegedly harmed may be sufferer. The appeals instance will certainly explain how exactly the damage to Mr. Sorogin was calculated. He claimed 4.7 billion rubles, however was adjudged a sum of 416 million rubles. Moreover the court did not transfer the civil lawsuit, brought in the course of the criminal case and considered it with the verdict simultaneously. How could the Judge calculate the damage? It is not clear.

Employees of the Zummer Company often work in difficult conditions. However it tuned out that the most difficult conditions are not on the filed but in the court.

The payment of 416 million rubles, which Mr. Trotsky should pay out, will bankrupt the company, and more than 200 employees of the Zummer Company will be thrown out of work. Their rights are not protected by any means. The criminal prosecution of an individual, including illegal one can unfortunately destroy any business in Russia.