Oligarch investor in Sibir moves to Israel
Tycoon Chalva Tchigirinski facing tax investigation

The Iindependent | October 14, 2009
By Mark Hollingsworth

Chalva Tchigirinski, the beleaguered Russian tycoon who is being sued for alleged improper use of funds belonging to the London-listed oil company Sibir Energy and whose Russian companies are being investigated for supposed tax violations, has moved to Israel, The Independent can reveal.

Mr Tchigirinski has taken an apartment in Tel Aviv and is planning to host an "oligarchs' party" to celebrate his new base. The disclosure is likely to frustrate Russian prosecutors, who are investigating the Moscow Oil and Gas Company, MNGC and the Moscow Oil Company.

All three companies were managed by Mr Tchigirinski between 2002 and 2006 and The Independent has obtained reports by the Russian tax authorities, who have been investigating alleged tax violations. State investigators recently raided the offices of a company called Magma, which is linked to the two Moscow Oil companies.

Mr Tchigirinski's lawyer, Christopher Grierson, said of the tax investigation: "I cannot say anything. I'm not being deliberately unhelpful, but this is one of those things that neither I nor anyone else is able to comment on."

Mr Tchigirinski's move to Israel is also likely to infuriate the directors and shareholders of Sibir Energy, which is suing the Russian tycoon in the High Court. Mr Tchigirinski still holds a 23.5 per cent stake in the UK-listed oil company, which has been heavily dependent on his connections in Russia.

The High Court writ alleges that, together with other Russian shareholders, Mr Tchigirinski pressurised Sibir Energy to act in his interests at the expense of other shareholders. Sibir claims that $328m (£208m) of its money was improperly transferred to Mr Tchigirinski and his companies. They also allege that he persuaded Sibir to pay off $62m of debts owed by the tycoon.

As part of its legal onslaught to recover the money, Sibir was allowed to seize the proceeds of the sale of Mr Tchigirinski's assets. This includes the sale of Hugh House on Eaton Square, Belgravia, which was recently sold for £33m. The house used to be owned by Lily Safra, the widow of the billionaire banker Edmond Safra, and was bought by the property mogul for £19.8m. As the mortgage was £15m, Sibir recouped an estimated £18m.

Meanwhile, other creditors are laying claim to what remains of Mr Tchigirinski's business empire. He has been ordered by the High Court to repay the 3.3bn roubles (£71m) he owes the Russian bank VTB. Reachcom, a subsidiary of the Moscow investment bank Renaissance Capital, is also seeking substantial loan repayments.

The Independent has secured a list of Mr Tchigirinski's other assets, which include the Villa Marie Irine in Cap Martin, on the south coast of France near Monte Carlo. He paid €13.7m (£12.9m) for the mansion in 2001, and he also owns a luxury apartment in Moscow. The list, which was submitted by Mr Tchigirinski to the courts, reveals that he owns shareholdings in 29 companies. Many of them appear to be property and investment companies, some registered in Cyprus.

Mr Tchigirinski also disclosed that he controls 54 bank accounts. Four are in his own name and the rest are company accounts in Switzerland and Cyprus. One account is at the Belgravia branch of Barclays Bank under the name of Evergem Holdings, the Cyprus company used by Mr Tchigirinski to own his house on Eaton Square.

The tycoon also owns two Mercedes, one Renault Espace, a Bentley Continental, an Aston Martin and a Gulfstream G550 private jet, which is heavily mortgaged to Credit Suisse.

It is not known how many of Mr Tchigirinski's assets have been sold off before he moved to Israel. However, it has been a remarkable fall from grace for the Moscow property developer.

Last year he was listed as Number 618 on the Forbes billionaires list with a $1.6bn fortune. If he remains in Israel, he is extremely unlikely to be extradited back to Russia because he is Jewish.

Mark Hollingsworth is the author of 'Londongrad'