Another money laundering scandal broke in Transnistria this April. It was followed by the resignation of Talgat Baytaziyev, General Director of Moldavian Metallurgical Plant and a strong supporter of the current president Yevgeny Shevchuk.
The charges came from Galina Antyufeeva, vice-speaker of the unrecognized republic. During her speech in the Supreme Council of the Transnistrian Moldavian Republic (TMR) on April 11, she said that T. Baytaziyev had a key role in the criminal schemes. Antyufeeva claimed that short-lived and shell companies (including those created under MMP) were used to launder substantial means from Transnistria. Moreover, as suggested by the vice-speaker, these schemes were set up and implemented with the approval of the President Ye. Shevchuk, and they were among the causes of the acute economic crisis in the country. The vice- speaker claims that the plant was used to launder at least $ 100 million.
As quoted by REGNUM News Agency, Baytaziyev announced his decision to resign when the President of TMR Yevgeny Shevchuk had a meeting with the workers of the plant: "I wrote a letter of resignation. I can explain this decision by the fact that Baytaziyev is an irritator for the Supreme Council. So, I'm withdrawing, leave the plant alone", he said. In his turn, Shevchuk highly rated Baytaziev’s work on the post of general director of Moldavian Metallurgical Plant. In addition, the Prime Minister Pavel Prokudin said, "in the midst of an acute crisis MMP remained afloat only due to the exceptional work of its management team".
Yevgeny Shevchuk replied to Antyufeeva’s statement with regard to Baytaziyev and called it a lie. In his view, this statement is said having in mind the upcoming presidential campaign. At the same time, the President ordered to the law enforcement agencies to check the information.
Baytaziyev Talgat Altybaevich was born in Kazakhstan in 1966. Most often, he is said to be a Kazakh businessman, a billionaire and an oil tycoon. He was appointed General Director of JSC Moldavian Metallurgical Plant at the personal invitation of the President of the TMR Yevgeny Shevchuk. Later, Baytaziyev himself said that he was invited as a "crisis manager".
In Kazakhstan, Talgat Baytaziyev served as Director of the Atyrau Oil Refinery from 2004 to 2012. In February 2013, Baytaziyev was wanted on charges of illegal export and trade of petroleum products. He was accused of forming a criminal group of 35 people and damaging the state in the amount of 71 billion tenge ($ 200 million).
By the time they have built some criminal cases against him in Kazakhstan, Baytaziyev was already in Georgia, and in December 2012, became the head of the Georgian company Batumi Industrial Holdings, which includes Batumi Oil Terminal and Batumi Sea Port. After some time Baytaziev was accused of oil smuggling. At the beginning of 2015, Georgian law enforcement bodies sequestrated Batumi Oil Terminal.
In March 2015, Yevgeny Shevchuk, the leader of the unrecognized Transnistrian republic, invited him to the position of director of the Moldavian Metallurgical Plant.
Charges of money laundering appear on a regularly basis in the history of Transnistria. Most often, such claims come from Moldovan authorities and law enforcement agencies. One of the most reverberating charges was made in October 2012, when the deputy director of Moldovan Information and Security Service (ISS), Vadim Vrabie, accused the left bank of the Dniester that "local and foreign financial and criminal groups use the Transnistrian banking system for tax fraud and money laundering". This, in its turn, undermines the economic security of the Republic of Moldova. Moldovan ISS considered that banking structures of the TMR were used for illicit trade, remittances from conflict zones or unstable countries, as well as for financing of dangerous actions. This uncontrolled banking sector, according to V. Vrabie, is of great interest to organized criminal groups, engaged in drug trafficking, sale of living goods, weapons and other illegal and profitable businesses.
Vadim Vrabie emphasized the fact that international financial transactions of the Transnistrian banks are carried out with the help of banking institutions from CIS. He concluded that some of the economic entities of the Commonwealth countries use the banking system of Transnistria to carry out suspicious financial schemes through offshore zones.
The authorities of the unrecognized republic reacted radically to these statements. Foreign Minister of TMR, Nina Shtanski, demanded that the Moldovan party provide evidence of money laundering, and called Vadim Vrabie’s statements unfounded.
TMR central bank also issued a statement claiming that the statement of the deputy director of the Moldovan ISS on the use of banking system of the Transnistrian Moldavian Republic in tax fraud and money laundering are "absolutely provocative, opportunistic and populist in nature".
In 2001, President Vladimir Voronin spoke openly about money laundering in the Transnistrian Republic. "About $ 580 million were laundered through three Transnistrian banks and one bank in Chisinau, given that the gross income of the republic is about $ 220 million", stated V. Voronin. "Smirnov's regime is a mafia, corrupt regime, and it is a burden on the people of Transnistria", - claimed the President of Moldova. The announcement was made shortly before the next elections in Transnistrian Moldovan Republic.
High-profile criminal cases on suspicion of laundering of large sums of money were built in Russia, too. In 2011, Oleg and Marina Smirnova, children of the then leader of Transnistria, were accused of money laundering.
As reported by the Investigating Committee of Russia (ICR), in 2006 the Russian Federation allocated humanitarian aid to Transnistria exceeding 1.5 billion rubles, part of it, about 160 million rubles, was stolen. The investigation found that instead of making payments to pensioners, these funds were provided to Gazprombank JSC (Tiraspol) under the guise of loans at 0.1%, and then issued to borrowers at an interest rate of 15% per annum. The odds went to Cyprus, Comoros, and Mongolia. At that time, Marina Smirnova headed Gazprombank and her husband was deputy chairperson. According to investigators, in 2010- 2011, the Smirnovs regularly received money from a Cypriot company totaling $ 1 million. Investigators considered the money was a form of legalization of funds, obtained by the Smirnovs from the theft of Russian humanitarian aid.
Later, Gazprombank was renamed into Bussinessinvestbank and then t Export-Import Bank (Eximbank PMR) was established on its basis.
According to the ICR, the Smirnovs used the stolen money to buy several apartments in Moscow, and in 2007, they bought a house for 75 million rubles in Pavlovo, a luxury cottage village near Moscow. There is information that relatives of the former president of Transnistria also own real estate and assets in Ukraine.
There are other charges against Oleg Smirnov in connection with misuse of funds from the account of Tiraspoltransgaz - Transnistria OJSC. Despite the fact that Transnistrian residents regularly paid gas bills, money was not transferred to Russia, it settled in the accounts of Gazprombank and then was sent to cover for the internal needs of the region, as well as spent to finance the Patriotic Party of Transnistria, headed by Oleg Smirnov.
Gas debt at that time exceeded $ 2.6 billion. It should be noted that subsequent change of power in Transnistria did not affect the payment of Russian gas. As of July 1, 2015, the debt of Moldovagaz to Gazprom amounted to $ 4.85 billion, of which $ 4.356 billion was the debts of Transnistria.
Charges of the Investigating Committee against Oleg Smirnov appeared almost immediately after Igor Smirnov announced his candidacy for the next, fifth term. The administration of the Russian president openly opposed his nomination, insisting on the emergence of new forces in Transnistrian politics. Nevertheless, Igor Smirnov took part in the elections in December 2011, but lost to Yevgeny Shevchuk.
Igor Smirnov reacted to the charges of Investigating Committee against his son and demanded that the case of embezzlement of humanitarian aid was investigated in Transnistria. He also claimed that his son was innocent: "Generally, when people ask me, I say - my children are adults, I’m probably used to think that they will sort it out by themselves. If they are guilty, they will be punished justly. If not, I will never allow it. And I think, I am sure that this will never happen, they are well-bred”, - said Igor Smirnov, commenting on the accusations in an interview with one of the Transnistrian TV channels.
Besides Oleg and Marina Smirnova, the case involved the former president of the TMR, Igor Smirnov, and his wife, Jeannette, the former head of the Central Bank of the Transnistrian Republic, Oksana Ionova. The case included companies, allegedly affiliated with the family of Smirnov: Russian companies Rich OJSC, Elantra, Rusinvest, Torginvest, as well as Cypriot and the Mongolian companies Inmobiliarios Comerciales Solutions Ltd and MN NBFI Landorf Finance Co Ltd.
Still there is no conclusion in the investigation of the criminal case against Oleg and Marina Smirnova. It was reported that the term of the criminal case N201 / 713138-11 had been extended until July 27, 2012. According to the Investigating Committee of Russia, at that time they had to find Smirnov and to charge him.
European and American officials also expressed their concerns about the use of illegal schemes to withdraw funds from Transnistrian banks. Thus, in July 2009, British and Canadian regulators warned customers about the dangers of illegal transactions with eight banks from Transnistria, including Gazprombank and Transnistrian Republican Bank. US State Department report on money laundering in the world in 2009 contains data about "criminal activity" connected with the local banking system in Transnistria.
According to some experts, the size of shadow sector in Transnistria can be from 26% to 40% to the level of GDP. Additionally, Transnistria is regularly criticized for having schemes for money laundering.
However, despite serious charges and involvement of Russian and Moldovan law enforcement agencies in the investigation, no reverberating sentences have been made so far.