The Malta Independent 22 August 2019, Thursday

Turkish billionaires and Russian industry moguls: meet Malta’s new citizens

Albert Galea Sunday, 30 December 2018, 11:00 Last update: about 9 months ago

Turkish billionaires and a number of Russian business families are among those granted Maltese citizenship in 2017, The Malta Independent on Sunday can reveal.

The list of new citizens, published in the Government Gazette at the end of each year, includes roughly 3,000 new Maltese citizens, combining naturalised citizens and those taking up dual citizenship due to Maltese descent with those who have attained citizenship through the controversial Individual Investor Programme (IIP).  Furthermore, contrary to what is standard practice, the names are listed in alphabetical order according to first name, rather than last. 


However, in a detailed examination of the list of new citizens by this newspaper, various names stood out, including those of prominent Turkish billionaires and Russian businessmen.

Suzan Sabanci Dinçer and Cigdem Sabanci Bilen are billionaire sisters whose names appear among the new Maltese citizens. According to Forbes, Cigdem was at one point worth $1.2 billion, while Suzan’s net worth has also climbed above the $1 billion mark over the past few years.

The sisters are third generation members of the billionaire Sabanci family and granddaughters of Haci Omer Sabanci, who founded Sabanci Holdings – now one of Turkey’s largest conglomerates. Sabanci Holdings controls 70 companies and employs around 65,000 people across 15 countries. The Sabanci family is estimated to be worth around $30 billion.

Suzan Sabanci Dincer

The holdings company also holds a 40 per cent share in Turkey’s second largest bank, Akbank, which has branches in Malta and Germany. 

Suzan Sabanci Dinçer is the chairperson of the bank and an executive board member, a position she has held since 2008.  She has received several awards from different countries, including the title of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in recognition of her proactive and influential contributions to the development of Turkey-UK relations, and the Order of Merit of the Kingdom of Spain. Suzan has two children: Haluk Akay Dinçer and Ceyda Dinçer. These names also appear on the list of Malta’s new citizens.

Cigdem Sabanci Bilen, meanwhile, also has a stake in Akbank, according to Forbes, and is married to Faruk Bilen, who was Sabanci Holdings’ chief financial officer between 1997 and 2016, and who is now an adviser to the same holdings group. They have two children together. The list of new Maltese citizens indicates that both Cigdem Sabanci Bilen and Faruk Bilen obtained a Maltese passport in 2017, along with Gizem Bilen and Gozdem Bilen, presumably the couple’s two children.

A number of other Turkish names appear in the list. The Karamanci name is one of those, with a Mehmet Fatih Karamanci is listed as a new citizen along with an Esra Karamanci and a Fatma Yasemin Karamanci. Although it can’t be confirmed, they could have links to another prominent Turkish business group – Karamanci Holdings – which provides material to denim brands such as Levi Strauss, Diesel and Tommy Hilfiger. A further nine passports were also issued to people sharing the common surname of Köseoğlu. The name Ozer Hincal listed among the new citizens also matches the name of the CEO of Arvento Mobile Systems, which is described as the market leader for vehicle tracking systems and fleet management in Moldova, Georgia and Northern Cyprus.

Cigdem Sabanci Bilen

There has, in fact, been a recent surge in Turkish applications for citizenship schemes such as Malta’s, with the BBC last November partly tying this increase to how the political scene in the country has developed over the past few years.

The Malta Independent has already revealed that one new Maltese citizen is Vadim Viktorovich Vasilyev, the vice-president and director-general of French football powerhouse AS Monaco.  Vasilyev, however, is far from being the only new citizen of Russian origin: several other names on the list of new citizens match those of Russian businessmen, although due to the sheer lack of detail that the government’s list provides, it is difficult to confirm most of these findings.

Gennady Ivanovich Kozovoy is one such listed name. Gennady I. Kozovoy is listed by Bloomberg as being a coal mining magnate, with a strong say in the running of the Raspadskaya mining complex, which is Russia’s largest underground coal mine. In 2017 it mined 11.4 million tonnes of coal.  Kozovoy was listed on Forbes’ list of billionaires in 2011, when it was estimated that he had a net worth of $1.3 billion. Kozovoy was, according to Bloomberg, the general director of the Raspadskaya Coal Company when 66 miners were killed in an explosion at the mines. He was given the post of head of the mine ten days after that explosion, on 18 May 2010.

Vyacheslav Konstantinovich Kim is another name, likely from Kazakhstan, to have obtained Maltese citizenship, and he is joined by Vyacheslav Vyacheslavovich Kim, Mikhail Vyacheslavovich Kim, Safiya Vyacheslavovna Kim who, it is presumed, are his children. This assumption is borne of that fact that Russian tradition dictates that the second name of a person is taken from that person’s father.  Vyachslav Kim’s most evident tie to Malta is that he is one of three shareholders of a company called VID Inter Limited which, according to data from the Paradise Papers released by the ICIJ, was registered in 2011 to an address in Gżira connected to 410 other entities.

Setl Group’s management:  Maxim Shubarev and Yan Izak’s names both appear on the list of new Maltese citizens

It is interesting to note that some new citizens share a common place of employment. Yan Leondovich Izak and Maxim Valeryevich Shubarev both work high up in the ranks of Setl Group – a major Russian company which was established as a construction company and now advertises itself as being one of the country’s leaders in contracted real estate development, especially in residential areas. Izak is the CEO and a member of Setl’s board of directors, while Shubarev is the chairman of that same board of directors. 

There is a similar pattern between Ildar Aliagaev, Yaroslav Semenovich Okulov and Pavel Vladimirovich Zhdanov, who are all registered as working in the higher echelons of Russia’s second largest oil producer Lukoil. Zhdanov comes up in various media reports as being involved within the capital market operations sector of the company, while Okulov is the chief financial officer of Lukoil’s Middle East branch. Ildar Aliagaev’s name, meanwhile, appears in Russian media as being the director of Lukoil Saudi Arabia Limited, an 80 to 20 per cent joint venture between Lukoil and the Saudi company Aramco, respectively. 

As a company, Lukoil registered $102 billion in revenue in 2017 and owns seven oil refineries in Russia, Ukraine, Romania, and Italy. The company also has a 45 per cent stake in a refinery in the Netherlands, while also owning four gas refinery plants in Russia. In March 2018, The New York Times reported that Lukoil had held meetings with Cambridge Analytica, where representatives from the Russian giants had asked the data firm for information on how American voters were being targeted during the most recent presidential elections. In 2015, the Ukrainian Secret Service also accused Lukoil of “financing terrorism” in two breakaway regions of the country’s war-torn eastern segment. Lukoil has denied both allegations.

Erich Erber signing a memorandum of understanding with Kasetsart University in Thailand.  Piyapa Erber also addressed the event.

Various other names on the list seem to match those of Russian or Soviet-era businessmen. The name Gleb Yurievich Gurin is on the list, with the same name appearing as the chairman of the management board and a director at the Russian Joint-Stock Commercial Roads Bank OJSC.  Stanislav Gumerovich Enikeev, along with three others who seem to be family members, is also a new citizen, and is a director of the company Atlas Biomed Group Limited, which is a London-based company specialising in DNA and micro-biome test services. Dmitry Anatolyevich Loschinin, also marked as a new citizen, is the CEO of Luxoft, an international custom software development company with more than 12,900 employees, 41 offices in 22 countries in North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, and South Africa. It is incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, has its operating headquarters in Switzerland, is tax domiciled in London, and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It had a revenue of $906.8 million this year.

Oleg Fauzelovich Dzhagaev, who is marked as living in Malta by the United Kingdom’s Company Register, is another new citizen. He is the director of the company Lins Wallpaper Limited, which is reportedly worth around £50 million. The same UK Company Register notes that the company has not filed any accounts since 31 December 2016. The company’s accounts for 2017 were due by the end of last September; however, it seems that they have not been submitted so far.

The vice-president for commerce and logistics at Rosneft Oil Company, Otabek Kuchkarovich Karimov, is another name on the list, and is joined by what is assumed to be his two sons, Timur Otabekovich Karimov and Tair Otabekovich Karimov. Rosneft Oil Company is a Russian integrated energy company and the third largest company in Russia in terms of revenue. In fact, the company, which in 2014 employed 261,500 people, registered $103 billion in revenue in 2017 and, in turn, $5.09 billion in net income the same year.

The new citizens aren’t limited to those hailing from Russia. One name noted during this newspaper’s analysis of the citizens list was that of Yusif Hasan Jabbarov. That same name appears as being the chairman of the Supervisory Board, which is the highest ranking board of the Azerbaijani company GoldenPay.  GoldenPay was launched in 2008 and is Azerbaijan’s largest online payments company. The company’s shares are all owned, according to the company’s own website, by GoldenPay International, which is registered on the Caribbean island of St Kitts & Nevis. Curiously, while there is a biography on the company’s website for each member of the supervisory and executive boards, Jabbarov is the only person who does not have a corresponding biography to his name.

The take-up of Maltese citizenship hasn’t been limited to those from the east, however – two names correspond to a major Austrian company. Erich Erber was born in Saint Polten, Austria, but his name appears on the list of new citizens along with that of Piyapa Erber. Both work with the Austrian animal health and nutrition company Biomin, which supplies over 100 countries with various forms of animal feed. Incidentally, Erich Erber is the founder of Biomin, having started the company from a warehouse in 1983. Piyapa Erber, meanwhile, graduated from Kasetsart University in Thailand, and is the chief operating officer of Biomin’s branch in the same country.

Launched in 2014, very little is known about Malta’s cash for passports scheme, despite the fact that those who pay large sums of money and buy/rent property on the island are entitled to a Maltese passport, citizenship and the right to vote. The government has repeatedly refused to provide an exact, separate list of those who have obtained citizenship through the IIP scheme.

Instead, the names of those obtaining a passport through the IIP scheme are included in the annually published list of new Maltese citizens. Earlier this month, the regulator for the IIP scheme, Carmel Degabriele, even said in his annual report that the names of the citizens taking up citizenship through the IIP scheme should be kept completely secret save to members of parliament, who would have to sign a declaration of secrecy before seeing the list of new citizens. This was following concerns expressed by the agents responsible for selling Maltese citizenship, who said that the publication of the names of their clients was a major concern for those same clients.



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