Vneshprombank, a Russian “VIP” bank that held accounts for prominent Russian companies, oligarchs and bobsledders, has filed a U.S. bankruptcy proceeding in a bid to protect against claims on its New York real estate.
The head of the bank, Larisa Markus, is accused of stealing about $13 million from the financial institution and using it to buy New York City real estate, including several apartments at the Setai condominium at 40 Broad Street, at 10 West End Avenue and at 50 Riverside Boulevard, under a series of corporate entities.
Those companies then allegedly pledged half of their real estate as collateral for loans taken in 2015 and 2016.
The Chapter 15 filing is designed to prevent claims on the real estate by other parties while an ongoing investigation by Russian authorities into Markus’ alleged scheme wraps up.
“It makes sense for the New York real estate to be available for all of Vneshprombank’s creditors, not just ones in the U.S. or those that have commenced specific litigation,” said bankruptcy expert Adam Stein-Sapir of Pioneer Funding Group, who is not involved in the case.
The Russians are looking into allegations that Markus and her accomplices allowed the bank to enter into lending agreements with affiliated companies that had no intention of ever repaying their loans. She is also alleged to have transferred bank assets directly to her family members. The cost of the alleged fraud is currently estimated at $13.5 million, though authorities expect that number will rise significantly as the investigation continues, according to the bankruptcy filing.
Markus’ brother Grigorii Bedzhamov, the president of Russia’s national bobsled federation, is alleged to have played a part in the scheme. He fled from Russia to Monaco, where he is seeking asylum, the filing says. Markus was arrested and charged with large-scale fraud in December 2015. In March 2016, the Central Bank of Russia declared the bank insolvent.
There have already been claims. Earlier this year, a Panama-registered company Panabroker filed suit against Vneshprombank, demanding that the bank repay $1.57 million in loans it provided in 2001. It claimed the money could come from the sale of Markus’ real estate assets.
There are currently three units at the Setai owned by entities affiliated with Markus, according to the filing. She allegedly bought #24C for $474,102, unit #23H for $1.13 million and #20A for $781,253 in 2011.