By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Companies controlled by a Russian oligarch who is a major shareholder in a U.S. sanctioned Russian gun maker sent more than $1 million to counterparts at Pompano Beach’s Kalashnikov USA, according to Swedish public television.
The disclosure of the apparent sanctions busting scheme comes amid an enormous international money-laundering scandal that began in 2017-18 with the discovery of $222 billion in suspicious transactions that went through the Estonian branch of Denmark’s largest bank, Danske Bank. In January 2019, it spread to the Sweden’s oldest bank, Swedbank AB, with a report by SVT television’s Mission: Investigate that U.S. authorities and others are investigating how $4 billion in illicit funds, much of it originating with high-risk clients in Russia, appears to have flowed through Swedbank in Estonia.
In a follow-up report in November, SVT said it had obtained from a Wall Street source confidential Swedbank transactions detailing Euro and dollar transfers to the U.S. banking system. “We see company names, account numbers, dates and amounts. Four transactions are extra interesting,” a narrator says.
The four transactions total more than $1 million. The money isn’t a lot in the context of the broader money-laundering scheme, but the companies involved are “politically sensitive,” the report says, with the trail leading to “the Kremlin and the Russian defense industry.”
The money was reportedly sent by companies controlled by billionaire Iskander Mahkmudov – mining kingpin, pal of Russian President Vladimir Putin, major shareholder of Russia’s Kalashnikov Group and one of Swedbank’s biggest customers. Kalashnikov Group, which describes itself as a key branch of Russia’s “military-industrial complex,” is 51 percent owned by Rostec, a state holding company, and 49 percent by private investors.
President Obama imposed economic sanctions against Kalashnikov and a number of other Russian entities in July 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea and did not end its conflict with Ukraine. Under U.S. sanctions law, that means U.S. companies and persons can have no dealings with Concern Kalashnikov, also known as Kalashnikov Group.
Prior to sanctions, Kalashnikov USA imported Kalashnikov Group’s weapons and was its exclusive dealer here. Since then, Kalashnikov USA, which has said it has an exclusive license from its Russian counterpart, has manufactured guns at its Broward plant using Russian designs.
According to SVT, “The payments were sent in four transactions from companies registered in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. The money was deposited in accounts at Bank of America controlled by key people at Kalashnikov USA. One of them is the company’s founder and owner, a Russian citizen living in Florida. That’s how a major owner of the Russian company, through Swedbank, sent a ‘loan’ of about a million dollars to his American counterpart, completely outside of the authorities’ control.”
SVT named one of those accounts as held by GP Florida Investments Group LLC. Florida business records identify the lone manager of that limited liability company as Peter Viskovatykh, with an address on Collins Avenue in Sunny Isles. The address is a mail drop at a UPS store near his residence.
Viskovatykh and Michael Tiraturian are partners in a number of business ventures, most notably RWC Group LLC. RWC is the owner and operator of Kalashnikov USA. RWC stands for Russian Weapons Company.
Tiraturian has been identified by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) as “a longtime business associate and friend of Alexey Krivoruchko,” a former CEO of Kalashnikov Concern and now Russian’s deputy minister of defense.
‘Engaged in lawful businesses
Viskovatykh, 56, did not respond to a Florida Bulldog request for comment about the SVT report that was left at his residence. Robert Stok, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who represented Viskovatykh when he formed GP Florida Investments, said, “In general, my client doesn’t want to speak to the press. He didn’t speak to the Swedish reporters…From my understanding the U.S. government is closely watching these matters and there has been no allegation of any impropriety.”
Stok declined to discuss GP Florida Investments’ business. He said Viskovatykh “owns various companies engaged in lawful businesses. I won’t go into details of what he does when the press is not entitled to plumb that.”
SVT’s disclosures led to the ouster of Swedbank’s chief executive. New Chief Executive Jens Henriksson confirmed at an October press conference that several U.S. agencies and the European Central Bank were investigating. The bank also has acknowledged that it has not done enough to stop money laundering.
Less than a week after the February 2018 Valentine’s Day slaughter at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead, Florida Bulldog reported that then-Gov. Rick Scott’s administration secretly had offered $162,000 in state tax breaks to induce RWC to relocate its Kalashnikov operation from Pennsylvania to Pompano Beach.
The offer was made even though the state knew that Kalashnikov USA was doing business with the blacklisted Kalashnikov Group, Bulldog later reported. No money changed hands because RWC did not live up to its jobs commitment.
A month after the initial story, a Miami federal grand jury subpoenaed records from Scott’s Department of Economic Opportunity in Tallahassee. The DEO oversees the state’s Qualified Target Industry tax-refund program.
An accompanying letter signed by an assistant U.S. attorney announced the existence of “an official investigation of a suspected federal offense.” The suspected offense was not identified. The status of the grand jury’s probe is unknown.