Security service sees no sanction breach in sale of Russian billionaires' helicopter

At the end of March, the State Security Service (VDD) terminated the criminal proceedings on the alleged attempt to violate European Union (EU) sanctions against billionaire Petr (Pyotr) Aven in connection with the sale of a Bell 429 helicopter owned by him and "Amber Latvijas balzams"owner, billionaire Yuri Shefler, LETA news agency reports.

The helicopter was owned by Country Heli Ltd, and the shares in this company are half-owned by Čiekuri-Shishki Ltd, controlled by Shefler, and Abacus Limited, a company registered in Cyprus by Aven.

The helicopter was sold by bailiff Elīna Balanasjana at the end of 2022 at a forced auction for €2.979 million excluding VAT, as Country Heli's assets were frozen in Latvian credit institutions and the company had accumulated tax debts as a company controlled by a sanctioned person.

The proceeds of the auction were used to cover debts, airport and other expenses, while the remaining €2.8 million was deposited in the bailiff's escrow account.

Following the sale of the helicopter, Shefler's company Čiekuri-Shishki asked the Riga District Court to recover the €3.6 million debt and the interest on the loan from Country Heli. On September 13 last year, the court upheld the claim and Čiekuri-Shishki appealed to Balanasjana to start enforcement proceedings.

The bailiff suspected that the judgment was a tool to circumvent sanctions, so she approached the VDD, which opened criminal proceedings on November 9 last year. 

During the investigation, Gints Rudzītis, a member of the board of Čiekuri-Shishki, was questioned and testified that the Bell 429 helicopter was purchased based on loan agreements concluded in 2015. After the helicopter was auctioned to cover tax debts, a lawyer was hired to recover the funds invested in Country Heli.

Shefler testified that Aven was not personally involved in the purchase of the helicopter, but that it had been agreed with Aven's ex-wife.

Shefler also testified that he had not spoken to Aven about the redistribution or transfer of the proceeds of the helicopter auction to him. Shefler allegedly instructed his lawyers only to legally recover the funds invested in Country Heli.

The trustees of both companies signed a deed of reconciliation at the end of 2022 acknowledging Country Heli's debt to Čiekuri-Shishki of 3,6 million and in January 2023 Čiekuri-Shishki filed an action in court to recover the debt. The court granted the claim and a writ of execution for the recovery of this amount has been submitted to the bailiff.

Having assessed the evidence provided during the investigation, the content of the documents and other information, the VDD has concluded that the May 2015 loan agreement and the amendments thereto of Čiekuri-Shishki are not fictitious.

Although the investigation established that Aven and his trustees were interested in the possibility of recovering the funds once invested in the purchase of the helicopter, the VDD has not obtained confirmation that there was an agreement between the trustees of Country Heli and Čiekuri-Shishki and Aven to transfer the proceeds of the auction to or for the benefit of Aven.

In view of the above, the VDD terminated the criminal proceedings as the elements of a criminal offense did not exist. The VDD also lifted the seizure of the funds belonging to Country Heli in the amount of EUR 2.9 million.

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