Ukrainian Businessmen Linked to “Front Man” for Equatorial Guinea’s Ruling Obiang Family

2018/4/4 18:24:17

An alleged Russian “front man” for Equatorial Guinea’s kleptocratic ruling Obiang family counts two notable Ukrainian businessmen among his associates: One is a former security official who was once imprisoned for smuggling missiles to Iran; the other is an arms dealer with business interests throughout Ukraine’s civilian airports.


Photo: An Antonov 32-B plane, now in Equatorial Guinea colors, photographed in December 2012 at Kyiv’s Zhulyany airport. The plane was obtained for the country by Avia Star, a Panamanian company owned by Ukrainian businessman Roman Chelnokov. (Photo: Artem Batuzak)


By Graham Stack for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)


Published: Friday, 30 March 2018 16:04


The Russian, Vladimir Kokorev, now 63, was arrested in Panama in 2015 along with his wife and son on allegations that they had played a key role in facilitating the looting of the tiny West African country by the family of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the world’s longest-serving president. They were then reportedly extradited to Spain, have recently been released on bail, and are awaiting trial.


The arrests followed an initial complaint alleging that Kokorev laundered US$ 26.5 million of oil money embezzled from Equatorial Guinea into Spanish real estate. Spanish investigators believe Kokorev has facilitated corrupt weapons sales.


The money likely represents a mere drop in the bucket for President Obiang, who rules a country ranked the 10th most corrupt in the world by Transparency International. In October, a French court convicted the president’s son, Teodorin Obiang, of embezzlement and seized over $100 million worth of his assets in France, according to media reports. (The younger Obiang is also Equatorial Guinea’s vice president.)


The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has previously reported on Kokorev’s role as a key player in the Obiangs’ Eastern European business network. Reporters uncovered that the network also involved Vladimir Stefanov, a Lithuanian businessman who managed a fleet of cargo ships tied to Equatorial Guinea’s dictatorial regime.


But a fresh investigation has now found ties between Kokorev and two colorful Ukrainians who have also both done business in Equatorial Guinea: Vladimir Yevdokimov and Roman Chelnokov.


Yevdokimov, a former member of Ukraine’s security services, was sentenced to six and half years in prison in 2005 for selling 12 Kh-55 cruise missiles — a type designed to carry nuclear warheads as far as 3,000 kilometers — to Iran and China in the early 2000s. The sale to China raised fears at the time that the missiles could have been intended for transfer to North Korea; the sale to Iran was viewed as threatening to Israel.


Chelnokov, Equatorial Guinea’s honorary consul to Ukraine, is a businessman involved in the arms trade who also has a range of civil aviation businesses, including aerial surveying and ground handling services at the country’s airports. In 2014 and 2015, he was effectively in charge of handling senior government officials and foreign dignitaries at Kyiv’s main airport.


The two Ukrainians are tied to Kokorev via two companies in Panama, an offshore jurisdiction that allows for a high level of corporate secrecy. The country was also the base of Kalunga Co. SA, a company at the center of the earlier allegations against the Kokorevs.


Both of the Panama companies that tied Kokorev to the Ukrainians have been used to sell military and other equipment to Equatorial Guinea, documents obtained by OCCRP show.


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