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Kiev is investigating whether an international organised crime group controls the supply of natural gas from Turkmenistan to Europe, the chief of the Ukrainian security service has told the Financial Times.
Olexander Turchinov, head of the SBU, the Ukrainian security service, said his agency was investigating whether Rosukrenergo, a Swiss-registered company half-owned by Gazprom, the Russian state oil group, and other companies involved in the Turkmen gas trade were indirectly controlled by Semyon Mogilevich, a Ukraine-born Russian citizen on the FBI’s wanted list.
Mr Mogilevich is considered to be a top crime boss in the former Soviet Union.
Mr Turchinov said: "The surname Mogilevich isn’t in the [gas trade] agreements or in the ownership documents [of the companies involved], but there are many indications that a group of people under his control could be involved."
The probe is part of a broader investigation into suspected money-laundering, smuggling and tax evasion stemming from the Turkmen gas trade. It will further aggravate Kiev’s strained relations with Russia and Gazprom, while highlighting the new Ukrainian government's struggle to overcome corrupt practices.
Rosukrenergo was set up in July 2004 as an intermediary between Gazprom and Naftogaz, the Ukrainian state oil and gas company, for the transit of Turkmen gas into Ukraine following a meeting covering the matter between Leonid Kuchma, the former Ukraine president, and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Gazprom owns 50 per cent of Rosukrenergo, with the other half held by Centragas Holding, a company registered in Austria with undisclosed owners.
Mr Turchinov said he was investigating whether Rosukrenergo managers were under the control of Mr Mogilevich.
Wolfgang Putschek, Centragas chief executive, denied that Rosukrenergo had any ties with Mr Mogilevich. Mr Putschek said the beneficial owners of Centragas did not want their identities disclosed, but he was confident they had no ties to organised crime.
Denis Ignatyev, a Gazprom spokesman, said Mr Turchinov’s investigation "might be" part of a larger effort by Ukrainian authorities to spread "negative news about the former regime," which was thrown out of power in last winter’s Orange Revolution.
Mr Ignatyev said it was Ukraine’s responsibility to screen Centragas’s owners. "If the [Ukrainian] government signs something saying these are our representatives, we don’t ask further questions."
However, he said Gazprom probably did know who the owners of Centragas were. He said Gazprom would have no right to disclose their identities, but he doubted they could have ties to "a person like" Mr Mogilevich.
Mr Mogilevich was described in an article published on a US Justice Department internet site in 2003 as the leader of a gang of more than 300 criminals, operating in more than 30 countries, involved in “murder, extortion, trafficking in women for prostitution, smuggling, money laundering, bank and securities fraud and, in numerous countries, the corruption of public officials”.
Mr Mogilevich and three associates who allegedly helped him control companies in the US and Canada in the 1990s were indicted by a US federal grand jury in 2003 on 45 counts, including securities fraud, money laundering and a charge under the Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organisations Act.
That case, and separate claims that Mr Mogilevich was involved in a $7bn (€5.4bn, £4bn) money-laundering ring with employees of the Bank of New York, inspired the US Congress to hold hearings in 1999 on the threat Russian organised crime posed to financial systems.
Mr Mogilevich gave interviews in 1999-2001 in which he insisted he conducted only legal business. He has not spoken to any media since the US indictment, which resulted in international arrest warrants being issued for him and two associates. The fourth man indicted has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.