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By John Helmer, Moscow

In the case of the late Andrei Burlakov of FLC West Holding of Luxembourg (middle image), the death weapon was, apparently, what is called травматический пистолет. This can be licensed to be carried by ordinary Joes as a defensive weapon, as if it cannot be lethal. But when fired at the eye, temple, or heart within a range of one-metre or less, the pistol is an effective tool of assassination. And if the police nab the hitman before he pulls the trigger, he can, and quite often does claim he was intending nothing more than a warning. Not since the December 2009 case involving security men employed by United Company Rusal, has such a weapon been carried into oligarch-sized business in Moscow.

And in the case of the late Andrei Burlakov, what makes the affair oligarch-sized is not that there was any shortage of potential creditors claiming that Burlakov or FLC West owed them money, but rather, as maritime analyst Alexei Bezborodov says: “it’s unequivocal that someone is covering up the traces of the [missing] budget money. Look for the source (Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin) and the intermediary (Gazprom board director Igor Yusufov) for the money”.

Burlakov and his partner Anna Etkina were shot in a Moscow restaurant last week; Burlakov died of a heart attack after being struck by two bullets; he had been recuperating, Moscow newspapers claim, from recent cardiological surgery to implant a stent. Etkina survived three bullets, but she is in serious condition from multiple wounds to the face, head and chest – note the target spread.

Burlakov and Etkina have been officially charged with embezzlement of Rb1.9 billion ($56 million) from a chain of companies controlled by Russian-registered Financial Leasing Company (FLC) for purchase of Wadan Yard control shares from STX Europe, the Korean shipbuilding concern, in mid-2008. It is alleged in Russian court papers and press reports that FLC, a state company intended to support investment in the Russian aircraft and shipbuilding sectors, lost the money to Burlakov and Etkina, along with their alleged accomplices, who allegedly helped themselves as it went through a series of pass-through companies whose only purpose, it is claimed, was divert part of the cash as it moved. Here is the kompromat version, published last December 10:

Those accused have protested their innocence, and the indictments have yet to come to trial. The state news agency RIA-Novosti reports an anonymous policeman as saying Burlakov’s death will oblige the prosecutor to close his indictment without further ado. If Etkina doesn’t survive, her case will go the same way.

The accused have claimed that former Russian Energy Minister, and a Gazprom board director, Igor Yusufov (right image), and his son Vitaly were also culpable in the handling of loan funds for the Wadan takeover, but court filings to date do not allege or substantiate this claim. There is also no substantiation for the innuendo published by Novaya Gazeta that Burlakov’s death will silence probes of who, apart from Burlakov, benefitted from the state budget money funnelled through FLC.

The Yusufov duo took control of Wadan in August of 2009 after it had been declared bankrupt by a German court; they then renamed it Nordic Yards. They reportedly paid €41 million (then $56.3 million); the source of those funds isn’t clear.

At the time, the German regional and federal governments were told that if they too kicked in state budget money to support the yard and its employees, following Russian state budget money originating through FLC, then Gazprom and other Russian state-owned companies would order vessels from the yards. Nordic Yards publications indicate that two of its completed vessels went to LUKoil and Norilsk Nickel, but that was years before the Yusufovs or Burlakov took over. LUKoil goes further, telling Fairplay: “This tanker [St. Petersburg], and another four tankers, were built at the German shipyard MTW Schiffwert GMBH in Wismar. All the tankers were built before October 1999. The website of Nordic Yards shows outdated information – a few years ago all the tankers, including the St. Petersburg, were sold by the Lukoil Group.”

Vitaly Yusufov has announced on the company website that the first new Russian vessel order he has booked was on February 27, 2010; that was for the icebreaking Arctic Tanker Nordic AT 19 for Norilsk Nickel; with a second vessel order dated July 1, 2010. By then, though, the Yusufovs appeared to be trying to bail out of their shipbuilding business.

In July 2010, Nordic claimed to be in negotiation to sell the yards to another Russian state entity, United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC). USC told Fairplay at the time it had not agreed to any deal. Here is that story.

This past August, a Moscow civil court awarded €57 million to be paid from Luxembourg-registered FLC West Holding, which Burlakov had controlled, to the parent company FLC, thereby reversing the allegedly fraudulent loan sequence in 2008-2009.

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