Putin's Russia: One Man's Story Of Corruption & Persecution

Igor Sychev, a former senior manager of the Russian company PhosAgro, one of the world's leading producers of phosphate-based fertilisers, had been for many years the head of that company’s tax department.

This week Sychev visited Brussels to discuss how a falling out with senior figures within the company has led to attempts on his life, and to him fleeing the country to safety in Latvia. His story paints a frightening picture of business, politics, and corruption in Putin's Russia.

From 1995, PhosAgro had been owned by Mikhail Khordokovsky, at one time the wealthiest man in Russia, but who fell could of Vladimir Putin after entering the world of politics. Khordokovsky was to be persecuted and imprisoned in 2003, and with high profile international support was he to be released recently, after which he promptly left the country, and currently resides in Switzerland.

One of Khordokovsky’s former employees, Andrei Guryev, a former Communist Party committee leader in Moscow, was to become head of the company. Guryev, now a billionaire, currently resides in London’s Highgate, his home being the second largest in London, after Buckingham Palace. 

Through a trust, Guryev’s family effectively owns PhosAgro, although in 2014 one Vladimir Litvinenko, former campaign manager to Vladimir Putin during the period 2000-2004, and the man who “oversaw” Putin’s controversial dissertation work in 1996, secured 9.73% of the company, although there is some Confusion over his precise holding at the time of writing.

Arguing that Guryev had promised him shares in PhosAgro but then reneged on the promise, Sychev initiated a criminal complaint for fraud, forgery of documents and malpractice against him in Switzerland.

Then began a series of events which led Sychev to flee Russia.

Speaking to EU Today he explained what happened.

“They tried to deal with me several times. Somebody tried to fake car accidents but surprisingly I stayed alive. Several investigations confirmed that the car was damaged before the drive. Criminal proceedings were also initiated against me…”

The way in which he was dealt with suggests powerful collusion between business interests, who inevitably and out of necessity have strong political connections, and the security services. 

My wife was pregnant when they came for me with a search warrant. Dozens of them…. They came with dogs… no man can understand what a woman would go through in such a situation.​

Igor Sychev, speaking to EU Today

Fleeing the country, he crossed the border into Latvia, where he has the right of residence, and has claimed asylum. He had to leave his family behind, something that clearly causes him great pain. “I never wanted to go there but I had no choice, and Latvia is a good country”, he told us.

Following a hearing at the Latvian parliament he was warned by a parliamentarian to be very careful with his safety.

No extradition warrant has been issued by Russia thus far, but he is expecting that to come soon.

Vladimir Putin 2017 07 08

Over the years since Putin assumed power, a pattern of political persecution and people fleeing the country has emerged. We asked Sychev how it could be that the ordinary Russian people appear to accept this, and the dominance of the Siloviki - the shadowy group of former KGB/FSB agents surrounding the Russian President - over every aspect of Russian life, even extending to control over the Russian Orthodox Church, as ‘normal’?

 “Fear”, he said. “They are very afraid, and as long as Putin is in charge, this will not change.”

Sychev has found a strong ally in former Russian Politician Olga Litvinenko, the daughter of Vladimir Litvenko. 

She found herself a victim of her father’s political loyalties when in May 2010 Vladimir and his wife were looking after Olga's daughter Ester-Maria Litvinenko (born in 2009), and refused to give her back. Olga, describing this as a kidnapping, instigated legal proceedings to get her daughter returned. In summer 2011, Vladimir reported to the police that Olga and her other son, Mikhail, had been kidnapped and his daughter's assets were frozen.

She has described her father as an “oligarch”, and the richest rector in Russia.

From my own experience I can say that even if you are a deputy in Russia but do not support the dominant authority there is nothing you can do. I had colleagues who humanly understood me but refused to protest against the dominant authority because everybody has been intimidated

Olga Litvinenko

Recently Sychev presented to the London High Court  of Justice a claim against Phosagro. In his claim he demands 1% of the company’s shares or their value in money (+- $55 million, and also  $8  million in cash as his remuneration for having previously defended PhosAgro interests in court).

The defendants in the London court case are Andrey Guryev, PhosAgro vice president of the Board of directors, and another member of the board Igor Antoshin, together with some offshore companies based in Seychelles and Belize.

The  London judge has given permission to open proceedings against the defendants.

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Phillipe Jeune

Phillipe Jeune

Phillipe Jeune is a Paris-based freelance journalist, and an occasional contributor to EU Today. He has a background in intelligence gathering, and he specialises in crime and corruption, with a particular interest in Central Asia.

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