Papers wrote hundreds of columns on the former Russian intelligence officers (KGB, GRU) who control the new networks of organized crime spreading all over the world. Different groups, led by individuals originating in the Russian secret services control various economic fields and have managed to get major political influence in quite a few countries. Such a group of investors, close to the Russian secret services, acquisitioned a Romanian bank. The forefront figure of the deal, Armen Calin is a controversial businessman, involved in several financial scandals in Russia and skillfully infiltrated within Romania’s financial. It is not by chance that close to Armen Calin we discovered Emil Botea, the former manager of the Unirea Bank and of the Banca Populara Romana (The Romanian Popular Bank) – which generated a huge financial scandal in Romania. The network spreads in several Western European countries and has even reached the United States
Armen, the pretended parliamentary councilor conman
At a first glance, Calin Armen seems nothing more than a petty crook who got hold of a forged business card to extort more than ROL 1 billion from the local transport company in Buzau. A few months ago, Armen concluded a leasing contract with Trans-Bus, located in Buzau; Armen was to deliver 10 buses, each with 24 seats. His leasing firm cashed in the management fee, amounting to ROL 1,3 billion and then claimed he could no longer close the deal. Calin Armen was left with the money and the Buzau tax payers had to cover for the loss. Calin Armen waves under everybody’s noses a forged business card stating he is a councilor with the Chamber of Deputies. Armen is in fact displaying, in the windscreen of his car, a silver BMW 320, registration number B 98 CPL (from Compania Populara de Leasing – the Popular Leasing Company) a badge allowing him access to the premises of the Chamber of Deputies. Our investigations revealed that “Compania Populara de Leasing”, Armen’s firm is guilty of other similar felonies, especially in eastern Romania. In Galati, a local businessman was bankrupt following one of Armen’s schemes, who took over his gas station at the entrance of the town following a leasing contract for a great quantity of gas. “Compania Populara de Leasing” is now featured on the internet under a different name, “Eurofinance Leasing”. Its web domain is still the previous one though, www.cpl.ro, reserved by Calin Armen, 48, Titulescu Blvd., Bucharest. On a closer inspection of Calin Armen, we discovered a complete Russian-based mafia-like structure.
Armen the free mason
As Armen Calin has many faces, we will review them one by one. As a Romanian citizen, Armen is a shareholder in several companies and a free mason, one of Constantin Iancu and Gheorghe Comanescu’s “brothers”. (Constantin Iancu’s name was featured extensively by the Romanian press, under a less than favorable light). Armen Calin is also one of the financers of the “Forumul Masonic” review – “the Free Masons’ Forum”. The same free masons organization was also attended by the Turkish mobster Fatih Kesser, who ordered the downtown Bucharest murder of one of his fellow countrymen and who was convicted in the first money laundry file investigated by the Romanian authorities. We will tackle him in another issue. One of Armen’s other positions, an extremely interesting one, which he employed on numerous occasions, is that of foreign relations manager with the Banca Populara Romana (BPR) – the Romanian Popular Bank. Yet Armen’s ties with the BPR and with the mastermind behind it, Emil Botea are much tighter. Our investigations actually revealed that Armen is in fact one of Botea’s henchmen. Talking to Mrs. Botea we learnt that Armen was never employed by the BPR, and his only connection to the bank was through his wife, who worked as a clerk.
“Compania Populara de Leasing (CPL) – the Popular Leasing Company – was established in 1999, and was located at the same address as BPR – 48, Titulescu Blvd., Bucharest. The main shareholders in CPL are Mihaela Botea, the banker’s wife, Georgeta Calin, Armen’s wife, Girjabu Mihai Dragos, former manager with the BPR and three firms: “Interbrok” SA (the BPR brokerage agency), Compania Internationala de Asigurari (CIA) – “the International Insurance Company” – located on 8, Splaiul Unirii, Bucharest – and the BPR. As managers, apart from the abovementioned, two new names, Puiu Ionel Hatos and Armen Calin. “Interbrok” and CIA, both established in 1998 have in their turn close ties with Botea and the BPR. The first firm, the brokerage company has as main shareholders Mihaela Botea, CIA and the BPR, while the managers are Mihaela and Emil Botea and Girjabu Mihai Dragos. Furthermore, “Interbrok” is featured in the telephone directory at the same address as CPL, 48, Titulescu Blvd., Bucharest. CIA, an insurance company, has as main shareholders Mihaela and Emil Botea, Girjabu, and “Interbrok”. This is in fact a sort of financial Bermudas Triangle, engulfing large sums of money. Apart from this mind-dazzling network of firms, “Compania Populara de Leasing” is also a shareholder of “Flash Adv. Trade”, established in 1997 and located in Bucharest. The sole manager of “Flash. Adv. Trade is Calin Armen.
Straight from da hood
Calin Armen was born on the 2nd of May 1968 in Tbilisi, in the former USSR. Until now he gained citizenship from not less than four states: Russia, Armenia, Georgia and Romania. Although he was born in Tbilisi, Armenia, he grew up in Moscow, with his mother. He claims he had a famous father, one of Armenia’s personalities. Furthermore, he also claims he has influential friends in Vladimir Jirinovski’s entourage. Like all self-respecting Russians, on his first visit to Romania he checked in at the Intercontinental in Bucharest, where he lavishly exhibited his thick wallet in front of the locals. He took on the name of Calin after his marriage with Georgeta Calin, honest tramp at the Sexy Club. On this occasion, the Russian-Georgian-Armenian officially became Romanian, living in Bucharest, on the Amaridiei Street. His birth name is in fact Gouchtchian Armen Eduardovici, and he lived in Moscow, in Solntsevskaya, famous as a mobster seedbed, where one of the strongest organized crime networks in Russia is located – the Solntsevskaya.
In Romania, Armen only recorded one firm on his previous name, in 1994. The company was “Orion Financial Group” SA, located on the Carol Blvd. in Bucharest. Although its name would suggest some financial activity, the alleged scope of the firm dealt exclusively with “restaurants”. Besides Armen, the firm is co-owned by two Romanian citizens: Ion Olteanu, living in Bucharest and Dumitru Petras, living in Petrosani. The rest of the shareholders’ names bear a strong Russian ring: Zvetlana Morozova (born in Ukraine, living in Moscow), Sevelov Alexandr Nikiforovici, Zaitev Serghei Vladimirovici and Otcherin Valeri Fedorovici. The firm was erased from the Commercial Records and the names of its owners can only be found in the archives. This could be in fact an attempt to hide Armen’s connection with the other shareholders. As we will see, the Russian-Georgian-Armenian-Romanian citizen had very good reasons to cover his tracks.
Armen’s Russian associates
BPR entered judicial liquidation procedures in 2001. Subsequently, the former managers (Botea & Co.) ceded the Unirea Bank shares to 12 firms located abroad. Unirea Bank had been acquisitioned and then sold for USD 3.5 per share (for a total of 65,000 shares). The BPR legal liquidator explains the scheme: “BPR paid the sellers of the Unirea Bank real money. The money paid by the 12 firms could not be found in the BPR account, so the sale was fictitious. On this deal, with the blocking of a series accounts and of their due interest, BPE lost over 5 million USD.” In order to recover the sum, the liquidator attempted to reach an understanding with the new owners of the Unirea Bank. They made a mock offer of ROL 4 billion (approximately USD 130,000). So, let us see who are in fact the foreign investors who swindled BPR. The Unirea Bank was acquisitioned by 12 foreign firms and by the “Commercial Bank for Investments and Technologies”, established in Singapore and located in Moscow, managed by Patron Anatoly (or Anatoli). Patron Anatoly is also the manager of the Unirea Bank. The list of the 12 offshore companies is as follows: Griffith Trade & Finance Ltd, from the British Virgin Island (represented in the board of the Unirea Bank by Savtchenko Elena);- Andrews Ventures, from the British Virgin Island (represented by Miliaguina Maria);- Bornholm Holdings Ltd, from the British Virgin Island (Patron Anatoly);- Copery Trade and Finance Corp, from the British Virgin Island (Svetlov Sergey);- Alitrade AG, from Zug – Switzerland (Morozova Zvetlana);- Maco Management Ltd, from the British Virgin Island (Voskoboy Alexei);- Uniglobal Holidays Pte Ltd, from Singapore (Yam Tee Kuang);- Reaptec Sdn. Bhd., from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Hoe Peng Ann);- Global Corporation Pte Ltd, from Singapore (Shatalov Dimitry);- Global Holidays Sdn. Bhd., from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Chang Wee Fatt);- Lamberton Trading Inc, from the British Virgin Island (Kovalev Stanislav);- Durberry Invest Ltd, from the British Virgin Island, (Sushchinskaya Tatiana).
All these firms are offshore, eluding the control of the Romanian state, and the ever-present Russian owners are conspicuous to say the least. Even more so when we discover Armen’s associate in the Orion Financial Group – Morozova Zvetlana, from Alitrade AG, in Zug, Switzerland. Armen is also very close to the chairman of the Unirea Bank, Alexei Voskoboi. We could therefore consider that BPR fictitiously sold Unirea Bank to a group of Russian nationals close to Armen, the fake Romanian parliamentary councilor. This scheme had been masterminded long before, when Botea publicly released, with much ado, the news that a strong group of foreign investors would take over Unirea Bank.
Alexei Voskoboi, councilor of the Russian businessman Arkadi Volski became the manager of the Unirea Bank. Arkadi Volski is a close friend of the infamous Romanian businessman George Constantin Paunescu and chairman of the Russian Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists. In order to distract the Romanian National Bank’s attention, the take over operation of the Unirea Bank was conducted by the Industry and Technology Bank in Moscow, which negotiated with the 12 offshore companies. Avoiding a possible refusal of the National Bank to license the new shareholders of the Unirea Bank, each of the new investors purchased under 5% of the shares.
Armen’s connection with the organized crime
Armen is also familiar to the underworld of criminals such as Fatih Kesser and Mohannad from the Planet Diner. Fatih Kesser sold Armen a flat on the Calea Victoriei, in downtown Bucharest, for USD 45,000. The contract was signed at the beginning of 2000 between the Compania Populara de Leasing (represented by Armen) and Petrom International Impex (represented by Fatih Kesser). Also at the beginning of 2000, the Romanian Police froze Kesser’s accounts, as he was already a suspect in the first money laundry case in Romania. The two fought, as Armen owed Kesser more than USD 100,000. The debt was never fully paid off, and Kesser sent a team of bullies to take care of Armen and recuperate the money. This is the reason why Armen spread the rumor that he was in fact in Germany. We looked for him on several occasions and when it seemed we had managed to convince him to see us, his lawyer, Mihai Dragan showed up at the meeting and tried to deceive us into believing that he was in fact Armen.
Botea breaks silence
We learnt incredible things from our discussion with Emil Botea. He told us that he met Armen while he was looking for financing and he used him as a translator, as he had repeated contacts with the Russians. Armen told the former BPR chairman that he had been in fact a deputy in the Russian Duma, but he had to flee from Russia and frame his own death as he was involved in a huge scandal connected with the Russian pensions fund. Allegedly, Armen’s firm had laundered huge sums of money. Armen left behind in Russia a wife and a child. After his marriage with a Romanian citizen, Armen gained Romanian citizenship. Bota knew Armen’s present wife, Geta, yet told us she never worked as a clerk with the BPR, she had worked at the Sexy Club. Talking of the Unirea Bank, Botea told us that Alexei Voskobov, the chairman of the bank was officially employed by the KGB. So was manager Ivanov, former manager of a Soviet tourism firm in India (Inturist). Both Voskoboy and Anatoli Patron were recommended by a large consultancy firm in Switzerland. They insisted on paying in cash, yet the Romanian National Bank rejected their demand and they transferred the money through the Russian Invest, a company located at the same address as BPR. Botea did not know the connection between Armen and the group of Russians who took over Unirea Bank. Botea told us that other Russians were also interested in Unirea Bank. One of them was Anatol Bakajef, whom he had met in Germany, recommended by a group of Russians. Bakajef wanted to finance his bank, but Botea turned him down, as the Russian wanted to actually gave him a suitcase full of cash. Bakajef is a former KGB general, and at present he lives in Germany, near the Swiss border. Bakajef is the owner of the Eltana holding, where Armen’s wife is one of the shareholders, and which conducted the Buzau leasing swindle. The next Russian interested in the Unirea Bank was, according to Emil Botea, a certain Vitali Kozliakov. Kozliakov was the son of a KGB general, former minister of technology in Ukraine and the chairman of a rare metals research institute. Botea told us that he turned him down, as he seemed extremely dangerous. When he asked Kozliakov of his citizenship, he took out a bag of passports… Among them there was also a Romanian one. Botea was extremely surprised to learn from us that Zvetlana Morozova, legal representative of the Unirea Bank and representative of the Russian Commercial Bank for Investments and Technology, established in Singapore, was also Armen’s associate in Orion Financial Group. We know that Zvetlana Morozoba specializes in offshore companies. One such firm, established by her in Switzerland, bought the former BID building for the Unirea Bank. The Commercial Bank for Investments and Technologies is featured on the website only to deceive the Romanian National Bank. In 1995, Orion was established in Romania by the Russian investment group MMM. MMM was the mastermind behind one of Russia’s greatest financial schemes, similar with the Romanian Caritas, yet on a far larger scale. It appears that the Orion laundered in Romania the dirty money made by MMM through a series of bonds guaranteed by Russian oil. Orion bought all the bonds, sold them, bought them back and so on, until bonds were worth USD 100,000 each. The bonds were finally bought by Deutsche Bank, which became the owner of the Russian oil guaranteeing the bonds. After the scheme, Orion was dissolved and the German Mark was severely devaluated. All these are in fact a school-book case of money laundry and it is rumored that 50 billion USD hemorrhaged out of Russia towards private accounts abroad.
Emil Botea also confirmed us that he organized the meeting between Armen and Kesser (who was also a possible investor in the bank).
The US dimension of the whole deal
The MMM bonds are not Armen’s only operation in this field. Specializing in this kind of business, Armen has recently issued a series of bonds in Romania, each one worth USD 100,000,000. Bonds were issued by a US-based company, the Sostec Monitor Inc. supported by Fleet Bank in Boston and by INFINCO, based in the USA, with branches in Moscow. Sostec appeared out of the blue at the end of 2000. Sostec bonds are now schoolbook material for the World Bank in what concerns money laundry operations. The scheme was actually carried out in ex-Soviet area. Involving the American companies was only aimed at increasing the trust of the investors. It was later proved that the American companies were established in fact by Russians living abroad.
In fact, the scheme is rather simple and was tested in the main regions of Russia. The companies involved, representatives of American companies operating in Russia proposed tempting financing solutions. Managers or owners of large companies received financing offers from Sostec, Infinco and a certain charity fund. The Russian companies had to file a financing application and submit it to the Russian-American companies. They would then issue guarantees on properties or shares. The financing companies would then allegedly look for investors. The companies would thus act only as intermediaries, for a commission. In fact, the scheme was based on the fact that managers knew little international law. The guarantees were to be issued prior to the actual credit. Thus, the intermediary gained the right to claim the property regardless of the actual foreign investment. As suspected, intermediaries did not even bother to look for the investment. It was later discovered that the mastermind of the entire scheme, Vadim Kobzar, the representative of the Charity Fund had been sentenced to an extensive term in jail in 1983 in Russia for tax evasion. Russian mobsters would use this operation in both ways. They would cash in their claims and they would then issue coverless bonds, which were then sold at extremely tempting prices or used as collaterals for various credits. The market was flooded by bonds with a nominal value of USD 100,000,000, which proved worthless. Russia was the victim of these bonds between 1995 and 1996 and Ukraine between 2000 and 2001. We still have to discover how many fell victims to this operation in Romania or if Armen employed these bonds in one of his money laundry operations.
Stefan Candea, Dan Badea, Sorin Ozon, Paul Cristian Radu