IMPORTANT NEWS: National Electric Vehicle Sweden has agreed to buy the assets of Saab Automobile and the sale is expected to be finalized during the summer.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

More on Vladimir Antonov's extraordinary life

In two previous blog entries we have had the chance to get to know Vladimir Antonov a little better. First we got a summary of some fact, then more about his upbringing, education and business. Today Svenska Dagbladet's reporter Jonas Fröberg, the man behind the excellent book "The fight for Saab", gives us even more information about Antonov and his business. I won't translate the whole article, it's too big and there are too much there that we already know from the previous posts. But here are some notes from the Svenska Dagbladet article:

Vladimir Antonov was born straight into the Soviet academic elite. His grandfather, Yuri Antonov, was a prominent figure in the Russian nuclear program and when the Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear weapons test, Yuri Antonov was the first to study the explosion's epicenter.
Vladimir grew up in Tjkalovsk, where most of the academic elite of the Soviet Union's nuclear program lived. His father advanced to assistant chief engineer of the atomic plant with 600 workers below him. Vladmir's grandfather was head of the entire plant.
Life for the academic elite in Tjkalovsk lacked all kinds of luxury and the rugged city was far from the elusive pulse and nice cars of the Western word.
Already as a student in 1996, Vladimir took a job as a controller at Russia's Savings Bank. Unlike Victor Muller, who never owned a Saab before 2010, Vladimir Antonov loved this odd car brand from the west. In 1996 he had saved enough money to buy Saab's most expensive and sportiest model, a 9000 Aero.
In 1997 he became chief economist at Lefko-Bank. He was responsible for selling Russian bonds, which he did just before the banking crisis became evident. With 10-percent return on sales, he received staggering $ 5,000,000 in bonuses, which in 1999 he used to purchase Akademhimbank, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, for only just over one million dollars.
Akademhimbank had ties to a man named Sergei Ponomarev. He was not formally employed by the bank, but had the bank's business card and the duty to bring in new customers. Ponomarev was shot to death in 2000 in the house he lived in. At the same time rumors came up in the Russian media that Akademhimbank was involved in major money laundering - all according to the report that Vladimir Antonov himself commissioned the international survey company, IPSA to conduct in order to exonerate himself.
Shortly thereafter, the bank's security chief Yuri Molchanov, a former KGB officer, tried to extort Antonov of money. The security chief was fired and convicted of extortion.
According to the report, the Russian Ministry of Interior suspected a link between the murder of Ponomarev and the safety manager's departure. The murder case was never solved, and neither Akademhimbank or Antonov was accused of anything.
 Vladimir Antonov. Photo from Svenska Dagbladet.
Antonov bought Convers bank in 2003 and several regional banks in Russia. But they wanted to grow in Europe, which was difficult for Russian banks.
Then a opportunity opened up. In 2003, Convers bank bought Snoras bank in Lithuania, just before the country was accepted as a member of the EU. EU membership gave the right for banks to open branches in other EU countries. Snoras would now become a bridge to Europe.
But before Antonov had time to put the plans into action, new media rumors arose; Antonov new bank - Snoras Bank - was accused in 2005 of involvement in a money laundering in Australia.
Antonov was found to be innocent - father and son Antonov also helped the Australian Federal Police in the investigation, according to the report from Kroll.
At the same time both the business and the number of rumors grew. When Akademhimbank in 2004 applied to join the Russian deposit insurance system, it was denied membership several times until 2006. Vladimir Antonov was not given any good explanations as to why and ended up in an argument with the head of the Russian Central Bank, Andrei Kozlov.
Shortly afterwards Andrei Kozlov was murdered. Father and son Antonov was investigated yet again, but was found innocent and another banker, Alexei Frenkel, was convicted of murder.
As mentioned, Antonov wanted to expand in Europe with Snoras Bank. But when they wanted to start a branch in London they were stopped by the British Financial Services Authority, the FSA. Snoras appealed and an investigation was launched.
In retrospect, the FSA argues that they were provided inadequate and misleading information about the fact that Akademhimbank was denied access to the deposit insurance system in Russia. It all ended with Snoras Bank withdrawing the appeal in March 2009, just before the matter would be decided in April that year.
Antonov's group of companies has grown explosively in recent years and is now available in twenty countries: Antonov devotes himself mostly to finance operations. Two controversial purchases have been Griffon Bank of Dominica in the Caribbean in 2005 and Banco Trasatlantico in Panama in 2008 - two countries known as havens for money laundering. But he is far from the only banker that owns businesses there.
In 2008 a new strange death occurred. This time in Moldova. It was wine wholesaler Igor Vainberg Gers who was found dead in the capital Chisinau in the middle of July. He had outstanding debts to the Convers Group and the suspicions were directed against the father and son Antonov.
But according to the report that the Swedish National Debt Office ordered, Vladimir Antonov has shown documents from the Moldovan police to prove that Vainberg Gers committed suicide.
On March 10, 2009, Vladimir Antonov's father Alexander was shot down outside his home in Moscow. He was hit by five bullets in the stomach, shoulder and hand, but injuries were not life threatening.
Around the same time also Vladimir Antonov was victim of an assassination attempt. He stopped at a red light in Moscow when another car came up beside him. Vladimir Antonov could heard the bullets patter against his armored car. He got away unscathed. According to Vladimir Antonov, the  attempted assassinations were part of an extortion attempt in the amount near to 1 billion Swedish kronor.
As far as Svenska Dagbladet (Swedish daily newspaper) has found, Vladimir Antonov has never been under official suspicion of crime or been convicted.

In other words, there has been more than enough drama around the Antonovs, but as I have written earlier, I am ready to welcome Vladimir Antonov as part owner of Saab!

With the big premium markets emerging in both Eastern Europe and China, wouldn't it be ideal for Saab to be owned one third by Western European shareholders, one third by Russian and one third by Chinese?