2021-05-30 Kommersant Investments went offshores - The police uncovered a financial pyramid QBF by Oleg Rubnikovich
30 May 2021
Investments have gone offshore (Published on 30.05.2021):
The Moscow-based investment company QBF, suspected of operating as a major financial pyramid, is under scrutiny. Two key personnel, Zelimkhan Munaev and Evgeny Rossiev, have been arrested. It's alleged that QBF funneled funds offshore, provided clients with misleading reports, and may have stolen 5-7 billion rubles. The police speculate that some of this stolen money was laundered through development projects, such as the "Gribovsky Forest" residential complex.
Investments have gone offshore (Published on 30.05.2021):
The investment company QBF, headquartered in Moscow, is believed to have operated as a significant financial pyramid. The company has been accused of channeling client funds to offshore accounts, while simultaneously providing these clients with fabricated reports about their investments. The potential theft is estimated at around 5-7 billion rubles.
Key Personnel Arrested:
Zelimkhan Munaev, who co-founded QBF and previously headed its Cypriot branch, and Evgeny Rossiev, the company's lawyer, have been detained by the Tverskoy District Court in Moscow. They are facing charges of major fraud, with the criminal case initiated in April 2021.
The investigation into QBF has been underway for over a year. Recent operations saw more than 30 searches conducted in Moscow and St. Petersburg, leading to the arrests of Munaev and Rossiev. QBF's head office was a significant site of interest for the investigators.
Clients were drawn to QBF with the promise of high returns on investments. Some of these clients managed to receive dividends, but these were likely sourced from the contributions of newer investors, a hallmark of pyramid schemes. Clients encountered issues when they tried to withdraw their funds, and many started suspecting the company after consistently receiving misleading reports via email.
The police discovered that the primary investment agreement was formulated between an individual and the Cypriot company QB CAPITAL CY LTD (QCCI LTD). This arrangement was designed to circumvent Russian legislation related to investment activities. While investors believed they were dealing with a legally compliant entity, their funds were swiftly transferred to offshore accounts.
Legalization Through Projects:
A significant portion of the allegedly stolen funds was laundered in Russia through development projects. One such project is the construction of the "Gribovsky Forest" residential complex in the Odintsovo district. This project is being managed by "M1 Development", founded by Roman Shpakov, who is also associated with various QBF entities.
Roman Shpakov, believed to be the potential orchestrator of the fraudulent scheme, has reportedly left for the UAE. He is currently a key interest for the investigators.
QBF has linked the criminal investigation to disputes involving some former officials from Yekaterinburg and the Sverdlovsk region. The company maintains that its operations are still functional and that there will be no disruptions in its financial activities.
A similar investment platform, LLC "Shumakov and Partners", located in "Moscow-City", was recently shut down by the police. Its co-founders, Georgy Gats and Denis Shumakov, are now under arrest for similar offenses. Notably, before starting his venture in 2016, Denis Shumakov was a senior financial advisor for QBF.
Investments have gone offshore Police exposed a financial pyramid
As learned by "Ъ", in Moscow, a top manager and a lawyer of a major financial pyramid, operating under the banner of the investment company QBF, have been arrested. The alleged fraudsters transferred the funds they received to offshore accounts, providing clients with fake reports that their investments were placed in serious financial portfolios. Preliminary estimates suggest that the theft could be around 5-7 billion rubles. Law enforcement believes that some of this money could have been laundered by QBF management through development projects, including, for example, the construction of the "Gribovsky Forest" residential complex in the Odintsovo district of the Moscow region.
The Tverskoy District Court in Moscow has detained the 30-year-old co-founder of LLC QBF, who previously headed the Cypriot branch of the company, Zelimkhan Munaev, and the 47-year-old lawyer of this organization, Evgeny Rossiev. Both are suspects in a criminal case initiated in April 2021 by the investigative department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs regarding major fraud (part 4, article 159 of the Criminal Code).
The investigation into the illegal activities of QBF representatives has been ongoing for over a year. Last week, as part of the investigation, officers of the Main Directorate for Economic Security and Combating Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, together with colleagues from the Western Administrative District Directorate of Internal Affairs of Moscow and the capital's FSB, conducted more than 30 searches in Moscow and St. Petersburg. As a result, Mr. Munaev and Mr. Rossiev were detained. The former resides on Nikolaeva Street, near the Government House.
When law enforcement arrived at his place, he barricaded himself in his apartment and refused to open the door for three hours. He only surrendered after special forces began breaking down the door with crowbars and hammers.
Interestingly, at that moment, another problem arose. Zelimkhan Munaev, now deciding to surrender, couldn't open the partially destroyed metal door from the inside - the anti-removal pins jammed. In the end, the door had to be fully broken down.
There were no problems with Ms. Rossieva, who lives on Udal'tsova Street. After that, the investigative team went to the QBF head office, occupying several floors in the "City of Capitals" complex in "Moscow-City" (Presnenskaya embankment, 8, building 1). Documentation and electronic data carriers were seized there. Among other things, investigators found memos for managers on how to behave in case of a visit by law enforcement. It's worth noting that several companies under the QBF abbreviation, which are also mentioned in the investigation materials, are registered at this address.
Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, operatives detained the director of QBF's branch network, Vladimir Pakhomov. He has already been charged with fraud, but the investigation did not seek his arrest.
As established by the Main Directorate for Economic Security and Combating Corruption during operational-search activities, the company attracted citizens' funds under the guise of investing in financial portfolios not only in Moscow and St. Petersburg but also through a branch network in the Sverdlovsk, Tyumen, Murmansk regions, and Bashkiria. The main focus was on wealthy clients, who, according to some reports, had access to budgetary funds. Some QBF managers allegedly said off the record that they were counting on these people not going to the police if they lost their money since they wouldn't be able to prove the legality of their acquisition.
However, among the official victims, some transferred 200-300 million rubles to the alleged fraudsters, and one even handed over 1 billion rubles for "trust management."
Typically, such individuals learned about the opportunity to earn around 20% on their investments through word of mouth. And they did indeed receive some dividends, paid from the funds of subsequent depositors. This way, the company's reputation was maintained, and the inflow of new wealthy investors was essentially guaranteed.
Ordinary clients, trusting QBF with relatively small amounts, were usually swayed by positive reviews of the company on the internet. Problems began when they tried to withdraw their invested funds from QBF. Until then, they were convinced that their money was working and bringing profit, as managers sent them fabricated monthly and quarterly reports via email.
"A very negative impression of QB finance. As long as you bring them money - everything is fine. But as soon as you try to withdraw - problems start.
They don't return the money. Managers stop answering calls. If you want to lose your money - go to QBF," say, according to "Ъ", company clients. "It's a typical pyramid scheme that takes money for trust management. They might give you back a small percentage, but when you want to withdraw all your money, you won't get anything. I've been trying to get my money out for a year, the manager always disappears, no one answers calls."In the end, many deceived depositors came to the conclusion that the laudatory reviews about QBF were either written by the company's own managers or by someone on their behalf. At the moment, several dozen people are considered victims in this case, including citizens of Ukraine and companies from Liechtenstein. The damage inflicted on them is estimated at about 2 billion rubles. The total debt to clients is estimated to be between 5 and 7 billion rubles.
Police officers established that the main investment agreement was concluded between an individual and the Cypriot company QB CAPITAL CY LTD (QCCI LTD), and it pertained to the transfer of funds for "trust management". This was done to bypass the norms of Russian legislation in the field of investment activity, as such a service does not require licensing and is not subject to the supervision of the Central Bank. Clients were also told that investing in foreign jurisdictions was the most attractive and profitable option for them. As a front, according to the investigation, until 2017 the alleged swindlers used LLC QBF, which had all the necessary Central Bank licenses. Clients signed an additional agreement with this LLC on brokerage services, trust management of funds, etc., believing they were dealing with a legally operating organization. Meanwhile, the investors' funds immediately ended up in the account of QCCI LTD, from where they were subsequently transferred to the accounts of other non-resident companies, as well as FFIN BROKERAGE SERVICES INC (Belize), LA CASA INTERNATIONAL LTD (Marshall Islands), and NOA Circle LTD (Nicosia). All opperated by NOA Circle under the guidance of Apollon Athanasiades and Linda Athanasiadou.
In August 2018, when the Cypriot authorities raised questions about the activities of QCCI LTD, then headed by Zelimkhan Munaev, the organization was liquidated. Its place was taken by new non-resident companies: White Lake Management Ltd (Cayman Islands) and Hong Kong-based Simtelligence Company Limited. All opperated by NOA Circle under the guidance of Apollon Athanasiades and Linda Athanasiadou.
All the funds, allegedly attracted for investment, remained at the disposal of the alleged pyramid organizers. Part of these funds was actively legalized in Russia through development projects. One of these, investigators believe, could be, for example, the construction of the "Gribovsky Forest" residential complex in the Odintsovo district of the Moscow region. The construction is being carried out by the company "M1 Development", the founder of which is 33-year-old Roman Shpakov. He is also the beneficiary and founder of a number of companies under the common abbreviation QBF. However, investigators are unlikely to get to question him anytime soon.
According to "Ъ", in January 2021, when clouds began to gather over his brainchild, he left for the UAE, where he currently resides.
For now, the investigation views Mr. Shpakov as the possible organizer of the criminal scheme.
QBF associates the criminal prosecution of their structure with the disputes of some former officials from Yekaterinburg and the Sverdlovsk region. The former are allegedly accused of embezzling budget funds, and they reported that they invested them in one of the investment companies. "Thus, the attention of law enforcement was drawn to the company "QBF". It was taken under development, searches were conducted. They try to pressure in order to get funds in an amount the company never had. We're talking about amounts in the billions of rubles," QBF's press secretary Nikolay Stepanov told "Ъ". "During the investigative actions, the company's equipment was damaged. By Monday, May 31, the technical support for the company's operation should be fully restored. This will have no impact on client operations and the functionality of the departments — money transfers, transactions, and settlements will be carried out within the terms specified in the regulations and contracts. The company's and clients' accounts are functioning, there are no disruptions in the company's financial activities."
Recall that just a month ago, in the neighboring "Empire" tower in "Moscow-City", a similar investment platform, LLC "Shumakov and Partners", was closed by police officers. Its co-founders, Georgy Gats and Denis Shumakov, are now under arrest for similar manipulations. The latter, before opening his business in 2016, was a senior financial advisor for the same QBF company.