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Unregistered cash: The mysterious death of a Russian billionaire may be connected to the FSB-driven reshuffling of the cash register market

In January 2024, a court in London is set to decide who will inherit the multimillion-dollar estate of the Russian billionaire Vladimir Shcherbakov, who passed away several years ago in Belgium under mysterious circumstances (officially ruled as suicide). Connected to the leadership of the FSB, the businessman was one of the main beneficiaries of the “cash regsiter reform” that took place in Russia in the 2000s and 2010s. The changes, formally aimed at combating the shadow economy, were promoted by the FSB: the state was able to increase tax collection, and the security service gained a new tool for surveillance, allowing people with connections to earn billions in what effectively became a monopolized market. By the mid-2010s, a reshuffling was evident in the market of cash registers and product labeling. Shcherbakov was squeezed out of business. His family was left without inheritance after he suddenly “took his own life,” although none of his colleagues and acquaintances believe the official cause of death. The court is now poised to unravel the intricate web surrounding Shcherbakov's fortune, shedding light on the power play within the cash market and its ties to the enigmatic demise of the Russian billionaire.

RU

Content
  • The FSB Pushes Forward with the “Cash Reform”

  • Vladimir Shcherbakov, a man with connections

  • The Mysterious Death

  • Market reshuffling

The FSB Pushes Forward with the “Cash Reform”

In June 2002, the Russian government announced a reform aimed at combating the shadow economy. It was decided to introduce the “protected electronic control tape” (PECT) for cash registers. The cryptographically protected module, a kind of “black box” for cash registers, stored all information about transactions but had to be replaced every year. The market volume was estimated in the tens of billions of rubles. Some entrepreneurs opposed the innovation, but they couldn't halt the new law. By 2005, the supplier of PECT was still undetermined, and FSB Director Patrushev sent a letter to State Duma Speaker Gryzlov, stating that there were already “industrial enterprises” in Russia that had developed technology “whereby fiscal data is protected from destruction or modification using cryptographic means,” and everyone should simply be required to acquire it.

At that time, the newspaper Kommersant suggested that the FSB-affiliated Research and Development Center Atlas would become such an enterprise, but it turned out that the FSB allowed other suppliers to get rich on cash registers. The main player turned out to be LLC Bezant, which gained control over a billion-ruble market. In five years, the total revenue amounted to 22 billion rubles ($245 million).

Behind the Bezant entities (there were three LLCs named “Bezant” in total) was Andrey Cheglakov, now residing in the United Kingdom. In Russia, Cheglakov was primarily known as the person who conceived and organized the production of the Dendy game console, which at some point began to be manufactured at the Tensor plant in Dubna (he acquired it at an auction selling properties which belonged to the Russian State). One of Cheglakov's business partners was Vladimir Shcherbakov.

A Singaporean company, whose beneficiary was Vladimir Shcherbakov.

A company also owned by Shcherbakov.

The document provided by the seller to the buyer, containing a list of goods and services, their quantity and price, the formal specifications of the product, processing, and delivery conditions, tax charges, as well as information about the sender and recipient.

RIK was co-owned by Omega Holding, a company owned by Shcherbakov.

For Vladimir Shcherbakov's ex-wife Elena, the legal battles ended in tragedy. In one of the lawsuits, she attempted to challenge the transfer of Omega-Holding to Oreshina. One of Shcherbakova's arguments was that she had been married to Shcherbakov until 2016 when their marriage was dissolved by a court in Belgium. According to the law, Shcherbakov could not dispose of common property without the consent of his spouse. Although the court rejected the lawsuit and refused to consider it, Oreshina filed a fraud complaint against Shcherbakova, claiming that the former spouses had divorced much earlier. Ultimately, Oreshina and Komissarova's testimonies, combined with the loss of the 1991 divorce decree, led to an accusatory verdict against Shcherbakova, who was sentenced to 5 years and 11 months in a general regime colony.

Andrey Cheglakov
Andrey Cheglakov
Forbes.ru

Vladimir Shcherbakov, a man with connections

From 2003 to 2017, Tensor was involved in the production of not only gaming consoles but also PECT. However, Cheglakov could not enter the multibillion-dollar market of cash register equipment without securing the support of the main lobbyist for the reform—the FSB. For this, the «proper connections» were needed. And these connections involved Vladimir Shcherbakov.

Throughout his life, Shcherbakov maintained a high level of privacy. The limited information available about this man born in Sakhalin indicates that in the 2000s, he worked in the public sector, specifically in industry and trade, before venturing into the banking industry.

A Singaporean company, whose beneficiary was Vladimir Shcherbakov.

A company also owned by Shcherbakov.

The document provided by the seller to the buyer, containing a list of goods and services, their quantity and price, the formal specifications of the product, processing, and delivery conditions, tax charges, as well as information about the sender and recipient.

RIK was co-owned by Omega Holding, a company owned by Shcherbakov.

For Vladimir Shcherbakov's ex-wife Elena, the legal battles ended in tragedy. In one of the lawsuits, she attempted to challenge the transfer of Omega-Holding to Oreshina. One of Shcherbakova's arguments was that she had been married to Shcherbakov until 2016 when their marriage was dissolved by a court in Belgium. According to the law, Shcherbakov could not dispose of common property without the consent of his spouse. Although the court rejected the lawsuit and refused to consider it, Oreshina filed a fraud complaint against Shcherbakova, claiming that the former spouses had divorced much earlier. Ultimately, Oreshina and Komissarova's testimonies, combined with the loss of the 1991 divorce decree, led to an accusatory verdict against Shcherbakova, who was sentenced to 5 years and 11 months in a general regime colony.

Vladimir Shcherbakov
Vladimir Shcherbakov
Forbes.ru

The bank in question was called BVA-Bank, and Shcherbakov was its shareholder along with Cheglakov. Additionally, it is known that in the mid-2000s, Shcherbakov was a co-owner of a company, with another shareholder being Valery Sokolov, the husband of Boris Gryzlov's assistant.

In July 2012, the Russian Federal Tax Service (FNS) announced plans for a second ambitious reform — to replace the electronic cash register system with a new online reporting system. In the competition held by the FNS, the company Atlas-Kart emerged victorious, offering its services for a symbolic one ruble. Behind the seemingly charitable act was a cold calculation — to gain a monopoly in the cash register equipment sphere.

However, a real change in the monopoly did not occur as behind Atlas-Kart, which had been operating in the market since at least 2008, were the same Vladimir Shcherbakov and Andrey Cheglakov. When the reform was enshrined in law in 2016, the total cost of transitioning to new equipment for Russian entrepreneurs amounted to 55 billion rubles ($612 million).

A Singaporean company, whose beneficiary was Vladimir Shcherbakov.

A company also owned by Shcherbakov.

The document provided by the seller to the buyer, containing a list of goods and services, their quantity and price, the formal specifications of the product, processing, and delivery conditions, tax charges, as well as information about the sender and recipient.

RIK was co-owned by Omega Holding, a company owned by Shcherbakov.

For Vladimir Shcherbakov's ex-wife Elena, the legal battles ended in tragedy. In one of the lawsuits, she attempted to challenge the transfer of Omega-Holding to Oreshina. One of Shcherbakova's arguments was that she had been married to Shcherbakov until 2016 when their marriage was dissolved by a court in Belgium. According to the law, Shcherbakov could not dispose of common property without the consent of his spouse. Although the court rejected the lawsuit and refused to consider it, Oreshina filed a fraud complaint against Shcherbakova, claiming that the former spouses had divorced much earlier. Ultimately, Oreshina and Komissarova's testimonies, combined with the loss of the 1991 divorce decree, led to an accusatory verdict against Shcherbakova, who was sentenced to 5 years and 11 months in a general regime colony.

The total cost of transitioning to new equipment for Russian entrepreneurs amounted to 55 billion rubles

In the early 2010s, Shcherbakov and Cheglakov expanded their business interests, employing similar methods. In June 2012, a law was enacted in Russia mandating the compulsory use of “technical control devices” to monitor information about vehicles, including speed and route of travel, as well as the working and resting hours of drivers. This device was named the “tachograph.” Similar to the situation with cash registers, this not only represented a significant market but also provided another suitable means for the FSB to monitor Russian citizens.

Antimonopoly case data reveals that, akin to the PECT mentioned earlier, the new regulations essentially favored a single company — none other than Atlas-Kart. By the time the tachograph certification requirements came into effect, the company had become the market's sole developer and supplier.

The Mysterious Death

Shcherbakov's tenure as a monopolist in the lucrative niche was short-lived. The first setback came in November 2014 when the Central Bank revoked the license of BVA-Bank, a bank he controlled in collaboration with Cheglakov. In May 2015, a criminal case was initiated concerning the illegal transfer of funds abroad. According to the case materials, the companies Smartronics Projects PTE and OAO Technotransservice Engineering were involved in supplying specific products to Goznak, where Cheglakov worked, such as nickel particles and acrylic resin. These substances were used in the production of excise stamps for alcoholic beverages. Accompanying documents for the goods were issued on behalf of supplier firms registered in Singapore and Lithuania. According to the investigation, invoices were forged, and the price of the goods was inflated by more than 100 times. Subsequently, money from the criminal group's clients was funneled to Singapore under the guise of payment for supplies through a series of Moscow banks. Goznak received the requested products at the regular, not inflated, price. BVA-Bank served as the primary bank for funds withdrawal, and Vladimir Shcherbakov became one of the suspects in the case.

By that time, Shcherbakov had not been living in Russia for quite some time (according to available information, he had been permanently residing abroad since at least 2009 and held Belgian citizenship). In Russia, Shcherbakov was last seen in 2015, precisely when the criminal case regarding the transfer of 10 billion rubles ($111 million) abroad was initiated. Interestingly, the theory of his connections with the FSB is supported by the fact that he had been traveling abroad all these years using an “official” passport usually issued to government officials.

A Singaporean company, whose beneficiary was Vladimir Shcherbakov.

A company also owned by Shcherbakov.

The document provided by the seller to the buyer, containing a list of goods and services, their quantity and price, the formal specifications of the product, processing, and delivery conditions, tax charges, as well as information about the sender and recipient.

RIK was co-owned by Omega Holding, a company owned by Shcherbakov.

For Vladimir Shcherbakov's ex-wife Elena, the legal battles ended in tragedy. In one of the lawsuits, she attempted to challenge the transfer of Omega-Holding to Oreshina. One of Shcherbakova's arguments was that she had been married to Shcherbakov until 2016 when their marriage was dissolved by a court in Belgium. According to the law, Shcherbakov could not dispose of common property without the consent of his spouse. Although the court rejected the lawsuit and refused to consider it, Oreshina filed a fraud complaint against Shcherbakova, claiming that the former spouses had divorced much earlier. Ultimately, Oreshina and Komissarova's testimonies, combined with the loss of the 1991 divorce decree, led to an accusatory verdict against Shcherbakova, who was sentenced to 5 years and 11 months in a general regime colony.

Shcherbakov had been traveling abroad for years using an “official” passport usually issued to government officials

Vladimir Shcherbakov received a double “red notice” in March 2017. Russia submitted a request to Interpol to declare the businessman wanted internationally. Meanwhile, the other main suspects in the case of transferring funds abroad were released from custody. At the same time, Deputy Andrei Lugovoi, the same person who had poisoned Alexander Litvinenko with polonium in London and later became a member of the State Duma, accused Atlas-Kart, RIK, and Bezant of monopolizing the market. According to Lugovoi, the situation where RIK became the only producer of fiscal data storage devices certified by the FSB arose because “someone, artificially is doing everything, at the government level, at the level of law enforcement agencies, to prevent new fiscal data storage devices from appearing on the market.”

Three months later, on June 10, 2017, Shcherbakov was found hanged at his home in the suburbs of Waterloo. He was discovered by a neighbor who entered through the unlocked back door. No one else was in the house. There was no suicide note next to the body. According to Belgian laws, permission for an autopsy and forensic examination is granted by the spouse; at that time, it was Shcherbakov's “civil partner,” Brigita Morina, the mother of his children, but she refused to give permission, and the death was interpreted as suicide.

Immediately after Shcherbakov's death, as if on cue, the Investigative Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs closed the criminal case “due to the absence of elements of a crime.” Simultaneously, the reshuffling of the multibillion-dollar cash market began. Shcherbakov's business partners, who spoke with The Insider on condition of anonymity, stated that they did not believe in suicide. Despite facing criminal prosecution and forced emigration, the billionaire retained significant assets, was full of energy, and discussed his plans with partners until his last day.

Market reshuffling

In the last years of Vladimir Shcherbakov's life, three women served as his support and trusted individuals in Russia: personal assistant Elena Komissarova, Oksana Oreshina, who managed several of his companies, and Elena Ionova, who rendered services to Shcherbakov's common-law wife Brigita Morina and was the godmother to the couple's children. They inherited Shcherbakov's key asset — the company Omega-Holding, which controlled Atlas-Kart, the producer of cash register equipment. However, when Shcherbakov's children and his first wife launched a wave of lawsuits attempting to challenge the transfer of the business entities to Oreshina, Ionova, and Komissarova, the court concluded that Shcherbakov's signature on the resolution to transfer Omega-Holding was likely forged.

A Singaporean company, whose beneficiary was Vladimir Shcherbakov.

A company also owned by Shcherbakov.

The document provided by the seller to the buyer, containing a list of goods and services, their quantity and price, the formal specifications of the product, processing, and delivery conditions, tax charges, as well as information about the sender and recipient.

RIK was co-owned by Omega Holding, a company owned by Shcherbakov.

For Vladimir Shcherbakov's ex-wife Elena, the legal battles ended in tragedy. In one of the lawsuits, she attempted to challenge the transfer of Omega-Holding to Oreshina. One of Shcherbakova's arguments was that she had been married to Shcherbakov until 2016 when their marriage was dissolved by a court in Belgium. According to the law, Shcherbakov could not dispose of common property without the consent of his spouse. Although the court rejected the lawsuit and refused to consider it, Oreshina filed a fraud complaint against Shcherbakova, claiming that the former spouses had divorced much earlier. Ultimately, Oreshina and Komissarova's testimonies, combined with the loss of the 1991 divorce decree, led to an accusatory verdict against Shcherbakova, who was sentenced to 5 years and 11 months in a general regime colony.

Brigita Morina
Brigita Morina
Daily Mail

A few months later, a 49% stake in Atlas-Kart came under the control of the Center for the Development of Promising Technologies (CRPT), owned by Alisher Usmanov and Alexander Galitsky. They couldn't have taken control of Atlas-Kart without the involvement of Komissarova and Oreshina. Simultaneously, the Automatika concern (an entity within the Rostec conglomerate controlled by Chemezov) joined CRPT as the third partner. By 2020, CRPT's revenue had grown from zero to 7 billion rubles ($78 million).

Another beneficiary of the market reshuffling was businessman Grigory Berezkin. He gained control over RIK, previously controlled by Komissarova, and over Ospina Company LTD, a Cyprus-registered entity. How did Oreshina, Komissarova, and Ionova manage to remain holders, if not full owners, of the largest assets in the cash register market along with such giants as Usmanov and Chemezov? Perhaps it is somehow connected to the fact that shortly after the creation of the newly structured CRPT, Oreshina provided an interest-free loan of about 1 million euros to Garry Minkh (documentary evidence is available to The Insider), who is the long-time representative of Vladimir Putin in the State Duma.

A Singaporean company, whose beneficiary was Vladimir Shcherbakov.

A company also owned by Shcherbakov.

The document provided by the seller to the buyer, containing a list of goods and services, their quantity and price, the formal specifications of the product, processing, and delivery conditions, tax charges, as well as information about the sender and recipient.

RIK was co-owned by Omega Holding, a company owned by Shcherbakov.

For Vladimir Shcherbakov's ex-wife Elena, the legal battles ended in tragedy. In one of the lawsuits, she attempted to challenge the transfer of Omega-Holding to Oreshina. One of Shcherbakova's arguments was that she had been married to Shcherbakov until 2016 when their marriage was dissolved by a court in Belgium. According to the law, Shcherbakov could not dispose of common property without the consent of his spouse. Although the court rejected the lawsuit and refused to consider it, Oreshina filed a fraud complaint against Shcherbakova, claiming that the former spouses had divorced much earlier. Ultimately, Oreshina and Komissarova's testimonies, combined with the loss of the 1991 divorce decree, led to an accusatory verdict against Shcherbakova, who was sentenced to 5 years and 11 months in a general regime colony.

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