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Vladimir Yakunin, President of Russian Railways, attends the opening day of the St. Petersburg International Forum in St. Petersburg May 22, 2014. (SERGEI KARPUKHIN/REUTERS)
Vladimir Yakunin, President of Russian Railways, attends the opening day of the St. Petersburg International Forum in St. Petersburg May 22, 2014. (SERGEI KARPUKHIN/REUTERS)

Russian Railways paid billions to secretive private companies Add to ...

To examine what happened to Russian Railways’ funds, Reuters studied the flow of money into and out of Setstroienergo, as recorded by Gorbuntsov’s database. Reuters established the authenticity of the database by verifying sample transactions with independent sources.

Between 2007 and 2009, Russian Railways paid $772-million into Setstroienergo’s account at STB, according to the database. Those payments, and subsequent transactions, appear to follow the pattern described by Gorbuntsov.

For example, Russian Railways made 98 payments to Setstroienergo, worth $211-million, where the money was moved on to other bank accounts almost immediately. In each of these transactions, Setstroienergo received a sum from Russian Railways and either that day or the next working day paid out exactly the same amount to a company called StroiMontazh.

The money went into StroiMontazh’s account at a bank called Industrial Credit Bank (Incred). That bank was also run by Gorbuntsov; Krapivin was not a shareholder.

It is not clear who controlled StroiMontazh and its account at Incred, or why the company received payments from Setstroienergo. StroiMontazh was liquidated in 2010, and its previous shareholders and management could not be traced. Setstroienergo declined to comment.

Gorbuntsov’s database contains transactions by both Incred and STB. The database indicates that StroiMontazh rapidly transferred most of the money it received to other entities. Some went to accounts outside STB and Incred, but most moved around numerous accounts within those two banks.

In one 30-month period, starting in 2007, StroiMontazh paid a little more than a third of the funds it received to accounts outside STB and Incred. This money appeared to go to railway contractors for work such as installing new track and signalling equipment, judged by an examination of public records and interviews with local railway officials and company executives.

But nearly two-thirds of the money StroiMontazh received moved on quickly to other companies with accounts at STB or Incred. A search of corporate filings, tender records, court judgments, business directories and media reports found no reference to these companies carrying out railway work. No officials from these firms could be traced for comment.

One recipient was a company named Legatta, which banked at STB. According to its published accounts, Legatta’s revenue totalled only $3,800 in the year to the end of December 2007. Yet in the same period, the bank database records the company was paid $115-million by StroiMontazh. Reuters was unable to contact Legatta.

A company called Univolt was another recipient of funds from StroiMontazh. It received $67-million between May 2007 and October 2007, according to the database. Reuters could find no accounts for Univolt and was unable to trace it. In a 2010 Moscow court case unrelated to Russian Railways, tax authorities said they had ordered the suspension of Univolt’s bank account at Incred because they suspected the company carried out no genuine business.

At some companies that received money from StroiMontazh, the people registered as owners said they knew nothing about the firms they purportedly owned.

One recipient was a company called Trastkom, which banked at STB. Its listed owner, Nadezhda Korostelyova, was registered at an address in a southern suburb of Moscow. Korostelyova’s daughter Vasilisa answered the door and said her mother no longer lived there. She said that many people had come to ask about her mother’s companies.

“Several years ago a friend of a friend asked her to set up a company,” the daughter said. That person had taken a copy of her mother’s passport and asked Korostelyova to sign some forms. “Firms are still being set up in her name.”

In addition to the $772-million that Setstroienergo received from Russian Railways between 2007 and 2009, the contractor also won Russian Railways’ tenders worth $223-million between 2010 and 2013, according to public documents.

Setstroienergo declined to comment for this story. Public information about the company is limited. It is a “closed joint stock company,” which means it does not have to disclose its owners.

Its official headquarters is a single room in a run-down business centre in a block of flats in Moscow’s northwestern suburb of Tushino. When a reporter visited the address during working hours, no one was there.

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