BAT gives its business to two Russians

British American Tobacco plans to give a quarter of the Russian tobacco market to a company with a controversial past. It would seem, where does the honorary consul of Belize in Cyprus, Christodoulos Vasiliades, and his infamous employee, lawyer Pampina Votsi, behind whom the figure of former US President Donald Trump looms?

British American Tobacco, which controlled almost a quarter of the tobacco market in Russia, plans to transfer its Russian and Belarusian assets by the end of 2023. In Russia , a longtime partner of BAT, the SNA group of companies, previously owned by an offshore company, led by the infamous lawyer from Cyprus, Pampina Votsi, may become a new tycoon in the tobacco market.

Votsi is an employee of the company of the honorary consul of offshore Belize in Cyprus, Christodoulos Vasiliades, who was associated with many Russian oligarchs, high-ranking officials in Russia and the United States, including former President Donald Trump. Details in the material of the correspondent of The Moscow Post.

What assets are looking for a buyer?

The buyer of the BAT factory and logistics complex in Russia may be the SNS group known to readers of The Moscow Post. The latter changed its owner in 2022.

Instead of an offshore company under the leadership of the Cypriot lawyer Pampina Votsi, who is involved in many scandalous cases in the Russian Federation and Ukraine, two individuals became the owners – Andrey Sobolev and Mikhail Smetannikov. It is noteworthy that the business partner of one of them is a person doing business with another offshore company under the leadership of Watsi. Votsi herself is an employee of the law firm of the honorary consul of offshore Belize in Cyprus Christodoulos Vasiliades, who managed to highlight his business interests in many large Russian and American companies, and also, according to the Vedomosti newspaper, in 2013 it was possible to discuss with him withdrawal of money from the troubled Bank of Cyprus. But we will dwell on this later. For now, let’s get back to the BAT trade.

British American Tobacco (BAT), an international cigarette manufacturing and sales company founded in 1902, said in its financial report that its performance was affected by the timing of the transfer of Russian and Belarusian businesses. The deals are expected to close in 2023. In Russia, the company controlled almost a quarter of the tobacco market. Its assets include British American Tobacco-SPb JSC, in which in April 2022 the foreign director, Gary John Noble, was replaced by the Russian Sergei Lundberg. The staff of “Bat-Russia” – 2.5 thousand employees.

Among the assets that may be included in the perimeter of the transaction are a logistics complex and a factory in St. Petersburg, which produces cigarettes and sticks for heating, as well as trade and marketing JSC International Tobacco Marketing Services. The last disclosed founder of the trade and marketing asset was British American Tobacco Holdings (Russia) B.V., a closed joint stock company with limited liability. from the offshore Netherlands. According to Rusprofile, in 2021, the profit of British American Tobacco-SPb JSC fell by 35%, to 1.7 billion rubles, while that of International Tobacco Marketing Services JSC fell by 32% (to 6.2 billion rubles).

In 2020, British American Tobacco was the subject of a major scandal in the US. The Times newspaper (quoted by RBC) reported that the company became a defendant in a criminal investigation opened in the United States in connection with suspicion of violating the sanctions regime. The details of the case were not reported, therefore there is no data on whether the violation was connected with Russia. But it seems that it was the fresh sanctions against the Russian Federation that forced a major investor to leave this market segment. The company announced these plans back in March 2022, and already in February 2023 it became known that the deal was planned to be completed before the end of the year.

The buyer’s details did not appear in official BAT reports, but in an interview with the Financial Times, CEO Jack Bowles clarified that discussions are underway to transfer the business to a consortium representing local management and the company’s distributor. According to open data, the distributor of British American Tobacco in Russia since 2001 has been the SNS group of companies.

Who was and is behind the SNA group?

In anticipation of the deal with BAT, SNS changed its owner from a notorious offshore company to two individuals and registered a new company to manage the holding – SNT LLC. Will BAT assets be transferred under the wing of the new legal entity?

According to the Kommersant newspaper, the SNS group of companies was founded in 1992. The publication names the key figures as CEO Andrey Sobolev, Chairman of the Board of Directors Oleg Smirnov and First Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors Sergei Nesterenko. According to Forbes magazine, Nesterenko was ranked 190th in the rating of “200 richest businessmen in Russia – 2015”. Smirnov in the same ranking was in 195th place. In the ratings of billionaires in subsequent years, both did not appear.

Earlier, Sergey Nesterenko and Oleg Smirnov were the owners of SNS Group LLC, but the company was liquidated in May 2009. In the Rusprofile database, Nesterenko is listed as participating in the creation of 12 companies that have been liquidated today. Nesterenko currently holds the position of chairman of the dacha non-profit partnership “Raps” in Odintsovo. Perhaps we are talking about the elite cottage village of the same name in the Moscow region.

SNS-Holding LLC appears as the main legal entity of the group today. From May 2014 until the end of March 2022, the sole owner of the company was an offshore company – GK SNS Limited (GK SNS Limited). According to the site, the director of this offshore was Pampina Votsi (aka Pampina Votsi).

The lady is very rich in assets, including in Russia. Over the years, she was a member of affiliates, shareholders, the board of directors (in different companies – in different capacities) of such large legal entities as the PIK Group of billionaire Sergey Gordeev, Central Suburban Passenger Company JSC, Dixy Group PJSC, was mentioned in the cases of the Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash and the authoritative businessman Semyon Mogilevich, well-known in narrow circles, was mentioned in a case related to the attack of raiders on the Kurilovsky car repair plant in the Moscow region, the oil and gas company “Timan oil & gas”. Rumors circulated that Pampina Votsi could be PIK beneficiary Gordeev’s connection to Donald Trump as part of the construction of the Trump Tower skyscraper. The businessman himself publicly denied these rumors.

Most of the track record of Pampina Votsi The Moscow Post outlined in this article. But there are other important details in Votsi’s biography, including those indirectly related to the new owners of SNS-Holding LLC.

Most importantly, Pampina Watsi is an active employee of Christodoulos G. Vassiliades & Co. LLC. True, the name is misspelled, but the Pandora File investigation confirms that Pambina and Pampina are the same person. Pampina has been with Christodoulos Vasiliades since 2003.

Vasiliades was mentioned in an article by the American journalist Scott Stedman, which talked about the connection of the Cypriot lawyer with Donald Trump, as well as Vasiliades’ connections with Russian oligarchs and dignitaries. Watsi was also mentioned in the same investigation by the journalist. In addition, another article by Steadman linked Vasiliades to former US ambassador Jaime Aleman, founder of the Panamanian law firm Alcogal, which advised Trump. It is not in our competence to assess the reliability or inaccuracy of these data, but, as far as we know, the persons appearing in the material have not filed claims against Steadman.

Vasiliades himself is not a simple person. In the materials of the Vedomosti newspaper from 2013, it is mentioned that the withdrawal of money from the troubled Bank of Cyprus can be discussed with the strange mediation of the Honorary Consul of Belize in Cyprus, Christodoulos Vasiliades.

In October 2022, the same publication says that the same citizen of Cyprus became the owner of the St. Petersburg towing company, which will service ships in the Baltic and Barents Seas and will be able to earn up to 700 million rubles a year. It was also reported that Vasiliades is the beneficiary of the Cypriot company Valna Holding Cyprus Limited, which owns New Technology Company LLC. The latter, in turn, owns shares in a dozen Russian companies.

But let’s get back to the Vasiliades company employee – Pampina Votsi and SNS-Holding LLC.

The new owners of the SNS-Holding company, instead of the offshore company run by Votsi, were the old business partners in the Uchastie company from the Vladimir Region – Andrey Sobolev and Mikhail Smetannikov. Judging by the presence of litigation over the lease of forest plots, the Uchastie company was engaged not only in growing crops, but also in logging. And now the business partners have decided to develop the Russian tobacco market together. Probably, it was under the assets of BAT-Russia that in June 2022 Sobolev and Smetannikov created a new company – SNT LLC, which will conduct “head office activities.” At the same time, they also created LLC “SNVM” for trading through automatic machines.

But another asset of Sobolev, which was liquidated in 2019, is also of interest – this is the Sosnovy Bor DNP. The co-founders of the DNP were Andrey Anurov and a certain Alexander Viktorovich Voloshin. And here’s a coincidence – a person with the same data as Voloshin’s is closely connected with offshore companies, which are run by who do you think? That’s right, Pampina Watsi! To be more precise, the Golden Pheasant company, which operates in the dairy cattle breeding and raw milk production, is owned by Voloshin and the Cypriot offshore Alomber Services Limited. The director of the latter is Pampina Watsi.

In addition, a certain Alexander Viktorovich Voloshin was the liquidator of SNS Volgodonsk LLC, which belonged to the aforementioned GK SNS Limited company, the ex-owner of SNS-Holding LLC.

Also, a certain Alexander Voloshin was a co-owner of the now liquidated company GEF DI International, a stake in which belonged to the Cypriot company GK GFD Limited. The secretary of the latter is still the same Votsi.

However, what an ubiquitous Pampina Votsi turned out to be.

If we talk about the second owner of SNS-Holding, then in addition to the already named assets, he has a company for the extraction of ores and sands of precious metals – Vostokgeoresurs LLC, established in 2020. In 2021-2022, this company received three licenses for exploration and evaluation of mineral deposits in Transbaikalia. Smetannikov will be looking for exclusively noble metals there.

Here it would not be superfluous to recall that the SNS group on its website also positions itself as a gold miner SN Gold Mining, whose geography includes Transbaikalia. But officially SN Gold Mining LLC belongs to Andrey Anurov, who, as we have already indicated above, previously, together with Andrey Sobolev and Alexander Voloshin, was a co-founder of the Sosnovy Bor dacha non-profit partnership and the Lesnoye dacha non-profit partnership in the Vladimir region. Moreover, both are registered in the same Kirzhachsky district, where the Golden Pheasant company is registered, owned by Voloshin and offshore under the leadership of Pampina Votsi.

Voloshin, by the way, also has a company for the extraction of ores and sands of precious metals – Azimut LLC, established in 2020. In 2021, a license was issued for it for geological exploration and study of the subsoil in the same Transbaikalia (Barun-Khongorunskaya area).

Thus, we see that the infamous Cypriot Pampina Votsi was actively noted in the business biography of the company, which can receive the Russian assets of British American Tobacco. But for some reason, SNS-Holding does not like to mention this. He dislikes it so much that in 2022 he tried to sue The Moscow Post journalists, demanding that the investigation about the strange activities of the tobacco company be removed from the publication’s website. The tough lawyers of SNS-Holding lost the lawsuit outright and did not even appeal. Yet the stigma turned out to be a cannon?