How a Notorious Arms Dealer Hijacked Niger’s Budget and Bought Weapons From Russia
At least $137 million of public funds was stolen from one of the world’s least developed countries through corrupt arms deals.
In the 1990s, “Angert’s Gang” in Odesa, Ukraine, was a powerhouse of crime. It diverted fuel sales from the reliably corrupt Odesa Refinery, extorted local businessmen, and even arranged the murders of local enemies and politicians.
Then it disappeared, its only visible legacy the political career of Gennadiy Trukhanov, a former member and now Odesa’s mayor. Over time, the gang’s crimes have been forgotten and the money they stole was presumed to be long gone.
Thanks to a leaked dataset known as the Paradise Papers, a new investigation by Slidstvo.info and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), reported alongside the BBC Panorama investigative program, reveals that the gang members and their families have parked their criminal profits in London real estate.
Reporters found eight luxury apartments in elite areas of the city currently owned by these men, their associates, or their families, on which they spent tens of millions of dollars over the last 22 years. Four other apartments were also bought by the group, but have since been sold.
The Ukrainians worked through a trusted relative in the city who set up offshore companies that hid their ownership of the apartments — and the source of their money.
Although the gang members’ activities were well-known, the purchases went through unimpeded — another example of London’s failure to adequately investigate dirty money. Lawyers, registration agents, and real estate agents in the city have been under increased scrutiny for their willingness to turn a blind eye towards those who make use of London’s financial services.
“This investigation further illustrates the extent to which the UK’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are at the heart of a secretive financial system that offers a way for individuals to obscure their identities and sources of wealth,” said Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, which assisted the BBC on their investigation.
Three doormen in traditional top hats greet residents and guests at the entrance of a luxurious multi-story building at 199 Knightsbridge Road in central London. The building overlooks the famous Hyde Park. Harrods, the department store beloved by the rich of the former Soviet countries, is just steps away. Deep in the interior — past a huge lobby filled with opulent sofas — is a 20-meter swimming pool, a spa, a sauna, and a gym.
“How can I help?” the man in the top hat asks reporters.
“We’re looking for a person who lives here. Can you help?”
“What is the name?”
“Yes. Do you have an appointment?”
“I cannot let you in without her permission.”
Two concierges in the lobby overhear the conversation and interject to say that no Anya Angert lives there. Despite being shown documents from the British real estate registry that show Angert owns three apartments in the building, they continue to insist that there is no owner by that name. It’s not certain that she really lives there, either — the concierges shake their heads at pictures of Anya and other Ukrainians. One says he’s worked there for six years and would know if she were a resident. While one of the concierges starts to record video of the encounter, they allow reporters to leave an envelope with a message to Angert.
The documents the concierges pushed aside show that, in 2015, Anya Angert, then 22, bought an apartment on the fourth floor of the building for £12.5 million (US$ 19.3 million). They also show that she has two adjacent apartments (although no price was specified).
Angert’s busy social media posts show some glimpses of her life in London. According to her Instagram account, she recently got a fluffy dog she named Monkey.
She never mentions her parents by name in her posts. Her father, with whom she posts childhood photos, is just “daddycoool.”
His real name is Aleksander Angert, 62, and he’s known outside the family as the “don of dons” — a major criminal figure who controlled Odesa’s ports in the 1990s and maintained a big influence over the city, in part with the help of Gennadiy Trukhanov, allegedly a fellow former member of the gang who is now the city’s mayor.
According to a 1998 Italian police report, Angert was one of the leaders of what was termed the “Neftemafia” or “oil mafia.”
The Italian report is one of the most important documents available on Angert’s gang.
“Odesa is the town where the criminal organization under investigation is presently operating,” the report reads. “It is the most important Ukrainian port on the Black Sea as well as the principal port for the trade of oil coming from Siberia … every year 13 million tons of oil are exported [from the port] and the profit amounts to about 6-7 dollars per ton.”
The Italians identified Leonid Minin, 70, as the group’s leader, and Angert as his closest aide.
“Angert is strictly linked to Minin,” the report says. “He is interested in the same business in the oil sector. He is certainly one of the most influential persons of the criminal organization under investigation.”
The report details the group’s meetings in Italy and the frequent flights Angert took on Minin’s private plane. Trukhanov, a lower-level figure at the time, accompanied Angert and Minin on these trips. The police also found that Angert had a residency permit in the United Kingdom (UK).
The Italians also detailed the group’s criminal activities, including their control of the Odesa Oil Refinery, a infamous plant that has been involved in major scandals during the reign of almost every Ukrainian government and continues to make news. In addition to controlling oil sales through the plant, the report found, the group’s crimes included extortion, arms trafficking, and planning the murder of opposing criminal figures and politicians.
Minin drew attention from other bodies as well. He was sanctioned by the UN in 2004 for financing former Liberian President Charles Taylor. And a British government report on Ukrainian organized crime published in 2016 identifies Minin and Angert as being involved in selling Ukrainian arms and ammunition to Africa.
“One major [Ukrainian] node along illicit weapons trafficking routes has traditionally been the port of Odesa, out of which notorious arms trader Leonid Minin operated in the 1990s in concert with Odesa organized crime boss Aleksander Angert to deliver weapons to Charles Taylor in Liberia, the [Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone], and others,” the report reads.
Odesa law enforcement officials were aware of his activities as early as the 1980s, when the city was still a part of the Soviet Union.
Alla Korystovska, 80, who worked as a police investigator at the time and had direct knowledge of these activities, said that Angert had been convicted and sentenced for murder. Documentation of this conviction — which took place while Ukraine was controlled by the Soviet Union — could not be found by reporters. Many such records are missing or lost.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Angert himself has redacted all information from operational databases and court archives so that nobody could find documents about his criminal record,” Korystovska told Slidstvo.info reporters back in 2013.
The Knightsbridge apartments owned by Angert’s daughter aren’t the only London residences associated with the Odesa crime boss.
Kensington is another luxury neighborhood near Hyde Park, quiet and filled with embassies and elegant old buildings. OCCRP reporters went there in search of the first known apartment Aleksander Angert bought in London.
According to documents from the Panama Papers leak, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) called East Corner Properties Limited gave Angert power of attorney to buy a flat at Kensington Court Garden in 1996.
This turns out to be an old red brick building with a blue plate honoring the fact that British poet T.S. Eliot once lived there. Reporters found that Angert sold the apartment in 1999 for $2.5 million.
Ukrainian media has reported that Angert is dead.
But American businessman Sam Kislin, an acquaintance of Angert originally from Odesa who often spends time in Ukraine, says otherwise. “Angert now lives in Turkey. He was persecuted in England and he moved to Turkey,” Kislin says. He says he last saw Angert in Odesa last year.
Asked about reports that Angert had died of cancer in May 2017, Kislin laughed. “When someone wants to hide, he says to all that he died. He is not dead. I know 100 percent that he’s alive,” Kislin said. A second source also personally familiar with Angert confirmed to reporters that Angert lives in the Turkish resort town of Bodrum.
Moreover, according to records from Ukraine’s customs service obtained by Slidstvo.info reporters, Angert used a British passport to take chartered flights to Odesa.
For example, on Oct. 18, 2017, Angert travelled on a Cessna airplane owned by the Serbian charter airline Air Pink from Tel Aviv to Odesa. In December 2017, he travelled from London’s Luton airport to Odesa, returning 11 days later on a chartered business jet.
Reporters were unable to contact Angert.
Other people associated with the oil mafia have apartments in this exclusive areas of London.
In the building at 199 Knightsbridge, where Anya Angert has her three apartments, three more likely belong to people associated with the group.
The man who connects all these properties is Alexander Popivker, 51, a London lawyer of Ukrainian origin whose company manages dozens of offshore firms associated with the gang. He is also likely married to Angert’s sister, Anna Angert Popivker.
Dozens of Angert’s associates use Popivker to manage their businesses and to take care of their London real estate.
The proof lies in the Paradise Papers, a leak of data from an offshore services firm called Appleby. Popivker sent and received hundreds of emails discussing a number of London properties bought by people connected to the Odesa oil gang.
The Paradise Papers is a major leak of documents from two offshore services firms based in Bermuda and Singapore, as well as from 19 corporate registries maintained by governments in secret offshore jurisdictions. The documents were obtained by the Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which organized a collaborative investigation with dozens of outlets across the world, including the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
Volodymyr Galanternik, who is reported by Ukrainian media to have business ties with Angert, is a long-time client of Popivker. Documents attached to an email between Popivker and Appleby obtained by OCCRP, show that Galanternik lives on the third floor of the same Knightsbridge building where Anya Angert owns three apartments. According to the UK land registry, in January 2015 this apartment was purchased by a company from the Isle of Man for £4.6 million (about $7 million). Galanternik is in the construction business and has benefitted from his relationship with the Odesa city administration run by Trukhanov, which has allowed him to buy public property, often at low prices.
When reporters showed a Knightsbridge concierge a photo of Galanternik, he began to take photos of the reporters and their documents with his phone camera. But he refused to say if Galanternik lived there.
The company that manages the 199 Knightsbridge property reported in its July 2015 annual report that a company called Brightside Properties No. 4 Limited owned two apartments in the building. Brightside’s owner in 2015 was Nickolay Fomitchev, described in the Italian police report as Alexander Angert’s right hand. Fomitchev died in 2015 at the age of 57 in Belgium.
These apartment on the 4th floor are today owned by Anya Angert.
It appears that the apartments passed to the daughter of Fomitchev’s former boss, rather than to his own family.
According to the records from the Panama and Paradise Papers, Brightside Properties No.4 is not the only company in the series — numbers 1, 2, and 3 exist as well. According to documents from Companies House, the first two own two apartments at 199 Knightsbridge, but their owners are not identified. The similar names of the companies and their identical creation date imply the transactions and assets are all related.
As a result, in just one London building, six apartments belong to people connected to organized crime in Odesa. Currently, a three bedroom apartment in the building costs £8.95 million ($12.5 million).
Other properties with connections to the Odesa gang lie to the south of the Thames river:
Reporters left a message with the current apartment owners asking them to contact and talk about former owners, but no one replied.
“If a very rich individual, particularly from a foreign country, comes to the UK and wants to buy a luxury property, the owner of the property or the agent who represent the owner should check and be satisfied that the money is clean,” says Nick Mathiason, a journalist who covers foreign ownership of UK property. “Unfortunately in the London real estate industry this hardly ever happens.”
Mathiason mentions a new UK law aimed at ascertaining the origin of assets (called “Unexplained Wealth Orders”), which could help law enforcement to stop corrupt investments. Owners could be asked to prove that their wealth is legitimate.
“Because the law is retroactive, it extends to those purchases that were made years earlier,” he says.
If the law is to work, Anya Angert, like other owners of luxury property in London, will have to explain the origin of the tens of millions dollars used to buy several apartments. OCCRP reporters left messages for Anya Angert asking that she explain how the properties were purchased, but she did not reply.
While Angert owns the apartments in Hyde Park, she appears to live in a modern, comfortable apartment on Paddington Street.
That apartment is owned by a offshore company that was once owned by the ex-wife and daughter of Gennadiy Trukhanov, the Odesa mayor who was once part of her father’s mafia.
Correction, April 26, 2018: The story has been updated to more accurately reflect how long members of the Odesa “oil mafia” have been buying apartments in London. The correct number is 22 years. OCCRP regrets the error.
At least $137 million of public funds was stolen from one of the world’s least developed countries through corrupt arms deals.
Every quarter, members of OCCRP’s Accomplice program submit questions to an OCCRP journalist about one of their investigations. For our first Q&A, Co-Founder Paul Radu answered questions about our recent investigation into a Romanian criminal syndicate that we’ve dubbed the “Riviera Maya gang,” which made over 1 billion dollars from rigged ATMs, mainly in Mexico.