author: Goran Lefkov
His story for coming to Macedonia is full of coincidence. The Russian businessman Sergei Samsonenko has been attractive to the macedonian public, especially the journalists, since the moment when he registered the first firm in Skopje.
“So we went out, I saw, it was about 5th October, 2-3 days plus or minus, it should have been warm, but it was cold, it was very murky in Russia, it was warm, we came here, there had been a storm, it was raining, so we went out, a disaster. I asked myself what that was. It was stormy so we landed here. We came to the hotel, we stayed there on Vodno and in the morning I saw the greenery, the city was not modern, everything was old, so now it is great”.
This interview with Sergei Samsonenko from February 2014 is one of his rare public appearances. He was brought here by a seemingly innocent story about the joys of Skopje. Samsonenko comes from Rostov-on-Don. In his hometown he is known for the sports betting shop Bet City, which is among the most famous brands in Russia.
SAMSONENKO COMES FROM RUSSIA, HIS FIRMS FROM OFFSHORE DESTINATIONS
Samsonenko came to Macedonia in autumn 2006. Just a few months after Nikola Gruevski’s party had won. He arrived in Macedonia at the airport Alexander the Great, but his companies arrived via offshore destinations.
While his business empire was continually expanding in Macedonia, his companies in Russia were subject to observations of Russian courts. SCOOP Macedonia came to a series of documents showing that the inspection services are frequent guests of the company Fortuna, owned by Samsonenko’s mother.
In one of the verdicts of the Court of Arbitration in the Republic of Tatarstan, the decision of the Federal Tax Service for adoption of administrative penalty against the company “Fortuna” was annulled. According to the documents, inspectors found irregularities in the work of this betting shop which had performed payment of winning tickets without the use of cash registers.
“Federal Tax Service found irregularities all over Russia. Not only in Rostov-on-Don but also in Siberia and other regions”, Andrey Zakharov, Russian investigative journalist, stated for SCOOP Macedonia.
The betting shops BetCity Balkan are his first business in Macedonia. Aleksandar Pandov, former MP of Gruevski’s party, appeared as an employee in Samsonenko’s companies until 2011.
Current project manager of Samsonenko’s companies in Macedonia is Ratko Kapushevski, former director of the sports center Boris Trajkovski.
Although SCOOP-Macedonia sent several requests for an interview, Sergei Samsonenko and his representatives did not want to appear with a statement in this documentary.
Samsonenko’s business activities have been attracting media attention since the very beginning.
“The public-private partnership between Samsonenko and municipality Aerodrom is also an interesting combination, it is probably the only public-private partnership in which the partner has no obligation towards the municipality. In a tender they gave him the sports hall for 35 years, which is not transparent, in a tender without any technical and economic criteria for the potential bidders and ultimately it raises the question of legality of that tender and the failure to comply with legal procedures under which it was granted”, Sashka Cvetkovska, investigative journalist at Nova TV said to SCOOP.
She adds that on the last day of the deadline for collecting offers for public private partnership, a contract was signed with the company itself, which is Bet City Limited, to be granted 35-year concession of the sports hall MZT.
Vlado Apostolov, investigative journalist at BIRN has also investigated the business activities of Samsonenko.
“The trigger for the whole research was that on the site of the Central Registry we saw by chance that the company building the sports center in Jane Sandanski had exited the ownership of the sports center, so Samsonenko personally appeared in its place. When we checked the company’s previous owner it turned out to be a Cypriot company and so it clicked. Whenever you have a combination of a Russian and Cyprus, something interesting is happening, not to use some other word. When we checked the Cypriot company we realized that the owner was a company from Belize located at the same address as all these other companies in Macedonia which are associated with the business elite close to VMRO-DPMNE. That was the trigger, that was the point, the doubt whose money it was, how he obtained the money”, he emphasized.
THE DOUBT FOR THE LEGALITY OF THE INVESTMENTS
At the moment, Samsonenko has 4 active companies with his name as the owner in Russia.
In 2016 he closed the company Business Center Orion. A year ago the company Zdravje Radovo Strumica became the owner of the company Zdrave-Agro in Rostov. Despite Zdravje from Radovo which owns 50%, Sergei Samsonenko personally owns 15% of this company.
Sergei Samsonenko’s mother Raisa Samsonenko, born in 1941 is one of the owners of the company Fortuna from Rostov-on-Don.
Experts say that the mere appearance of companies based in the offshore countries doubts the legality of the money. They warn that the country has turned into a mecca for dirty money.
Vane Cvetanov, former director of the Directorate for Money Laundering Prevention says:
“The Ministry of Interior has always been the main obstacle to the system of money laundering prevention in the Republic of Macedonia. Ministry of Interior hampered those processes and information obtained from the Directorate for Money Laundering Prevention and abused it for its own purposes. We can assume, we cannot claim whether they had taken commissions from certain subjects, whether they abused them for their own political purposes or they had totally low level of professionalism that they were unable to cope with this type of reports”.
Cvetanov explains that at that time Minister of Interior was Gordana Jankuloska, director of UBK (Administration for Security and Counterintelligence) was Sasho Mijalkov, director of the Public Security Bureau was Ljupco Todorovski.
It is symptomatic for the businesses of Sergei Samsonenko in Macedonia that his main activities are betting and sports clubs. He owns the betting shops Bet City Balkan, the football club Vardar and the female and male handball team with the same brand.
CONFLICT OF INTERESTS
Such ownership is contrary to Article 25 of the ETI code of FIFA which states:
“Persons bound by this Code shall be forbidden from taking part in, either directly or indirectly, or otherwise being associated with, betting, gambling, lotteries and similar events or transactions connected with football matches. They are forbidden from having stakes, either actively or passively, in companies, concerns, organizations, etc. that promote, broker, arrange or conduct such events or transactions”. /Graphics/
Football workers in the country also see a conflict of interest in such behaviors of Samsonenko.
Ljubomir Gjurcevski, former member of the Management Board of Football Federation of Macedonia points out for this:
“The impact of sports betting shops on the clubs where they have their own share is huge and with high level of crime and corruption”.
According to him, the possibility of match-fixing results is huge.
“It is about a conflict of interest. The profit is ruthless. I would never exclude it, but as a sports worker I will always advocate that conflict to be overcome. Mr. Samsonenko needs to declare if he would leave one part of the business or the other, whether he would remain only as a businessman with sports betting shops or he would invest in football and football clubs”, Gjurcevski believes.
What is the source of Samsonenko’s power in Macedonia? Investigative journalists find the answer to this question in his closeness to the ruling party.
“The biggest controversy that we as journalists were interested in, were the links to companies that then he took over, that are in off shore destinations that shared the same addresses of other offshore companies that in earlier research we associated with Mr. Mile Janakieski’s godfather, Dejan Pandelevski, with the businessman Orce Kamcev, the portal and weekly Republika and other controversial officials, dignitaries and businessmen”, Sashka Cvetkovska says.
Samsonenko himself did not hide his closeness with the ruling VMRO-DPMNE. He publicly appeared in the music video commissioned by this party in 2014 openly supporting Nikola Gruevski.
Journalists: Angela Rajcheska and Bianka Stankovich
(The story has been supported by the National Endowment for democracy project “Raising Awareness About Corruption through Investigative Reporting”)