The Insider: Russian Millionaire Adoniev Investigated by FBI for Trafficking of 1 Ton of Cocaine

by Николай Марченко

The Kremlin oligarch and co-owner of the Yota company, Sergei Adoniev, whose Bulgarian passport was recently rescinded, has been investigated by the FBI for cocaine trafficking through the port of St. Petersburg. The Russian edition The Insider, one of Bivol’s partners in the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), reported on Thursday, January 24.

Bivol conducted an investigation into the Bulgarian passport of this entrepreneur after the Bulgarian non-governmental Anti-Corruption Fund (ACF) alerted the Prosecutor’s Office without mentioning Adoniev’s name. Just days ago, the Bulgarian section of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that Adoniev’s citizenship had been revoked at the last minute, following a notice that he had a conviction in the United States, something that the Bulgarian authorities have missed completely.

The Insider adds to the news by reporting that Adoniev has been investigated not only for economic crimes but also for the trafficking of one metric ton of cocaine before turning into a billionaire with the support of circles around Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Insider: “The great dodger. What Connects Sergei Adoniev with cocaine trafficking and Putin (January 24, 2019)

“It was revealed yesterday that the Bulgarian citizenship of billionaire Sergei Adoniev has been revoked after the authorities in the country learned of the Russian oligarch’s conviction (convicts cannot acquire Bulgarian citizenship under Bulgarian law). The co-owner of Yota, Sergei Adoniev, known to the general public as a sponsor of Novaya Gazeta and of the election campaign of Ksenia Sobchak, had been arrested in the United States in 1998 after organizing a swindle scheme for the delivery of Cuban sugar to Kazakhstan,” The Insider writes.

From bananas to cocaine

The publication also explains that The Insider had received documentary evidence of the “much more serious accusation” against Adoniev – of “involvement in cocaine trafficking from South America to Europe through the port of St. Petersburg.”

According to the Russian site, Adoniev managed to avoid conviction on these charges solely because of pressure from the highest political level at the Kremlin – “Sergei Adoniev has been released early and deported to his homeland, where, with the support of Putin, he started building his telecommunication business, investing hundreds of millions of dollars of unknown origin in the project.”

The said crime had involved one metric ton of cocaine seized on the Finnish-Russian border, causing wars between organized crime groups in the Petersburg region.


Sergei Adoniev (left)

In the early 1990s, Adoniev left for the United States, where he was arrested by FBI agents for financial fraud. The Los Angeles Times daily wrote in its March 29, 2000 issue the following: “Popov and his business partners bribed a top Kazakhstan official to help secure a contract to provide 25,000 tons of Cuban sugar to the former Soviet republic. But after receiving most of the $6.7 million due on the contract, the men never sent the sugar, the indictment alleged.”

According to the story “Popov’s partners, Serguei Adoniev and Vitaly Rashkovan, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles and received prison sentences. Adoniev was subjected to “voluntary deportation” to Russia.”

Popov fled to Russia, where he was allegedly shot and killed shortly after. Rashkovan and Adoniev received effective sentences from a Los Angeles court. Adoniev then agreed to “voluntary deportation” to Russia.

The FBI documents testify that Sergei Popov and Sergei Adoniev are suspected in the trafficking of 1.1 ton of cocaine seized at the Russian-Finnish border in 1993,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes, citing the same Los Angeles Times.

It recalls that in 2006, after returning from the USA, Sergei Adoniev set up his Telconet Capital Fund, which became the main shareholder in the telecom company Scartel (under the Yota brand). Yota then managed to obtain a license for a GSM service in a odd way without the necessary transmitters (the company used the antennae of MegaPhone, owned by billionaire, metallurgy mogul and owner of Kommersant newspaper and until recently of football club “Arsenal”, Alisher Usmanov), after which Adoniev invested in Scartel a total of USD 600 million in the course of just four years (2007-2011)

“It remains a mystery how and from where the former banana trader found funds for such investments, (if he, of course, traded only bananas)”, The Insider writes.

However, the publication further points out that it is a known fact that since 2006 his personal patron is Sergey Chemezov, who has been running the Russian state corporation “Rostechnologies” or “Rostec” for years.

Chemezov is a former colleague of Putin from the KGB residentura in Dresden (GDR), and in 2008 (when according to the ACF and Bivol, Adoniev became a Bulgarian citizen), “Rostec” became an investor in 25% shares in Scartel,” The Insider clarifies, adding that at that time “Yota’s rise had not been met with enthusiasm by the other telecoms companies”. It describes an episode from March 3, 2008 at Yota’s office – where the top managers and key shareholders in all major Russian telecoms had gathered.

In addition to Chemezov and Adoniev, they found there Vladimir Putin in person, in whose presence they signed an extremely profitable for Adoniev agreement: to set up an infrastructure company on the basis of Scartel, in whose network the participants in the agreement could provide services related to the LTE mobile Internet technology.”


Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sergey Chemezov and Yota’s founder Sergei Adoniev conclude the deal that made the latter an oligarch.

In recent years, Adoniev has been in the news not as an entrepreneur, but as a sponsor of such projects where not everyone would risk investing; projects that had no chance of being profitable,” the media writes, giving as examples the funding of the election campaign of the TV host and opposition candidate and in the 2018 presidential election, Ksenia Sobchak, and the sponsorship of Novaya Gazeta. The Insider cites journalists of Novaya Gazeta saying that Adoniev is a good investor and does not interfere in editorial policy.

The editor-in-chief of The Insider, Roman Dobrohotov told Bivol that the Russian reader cares much more about the way Adoniev had accumulated his wealth that he had invested in Yota, Yota Devices and in the first Russian smart phone Yota Phone, rather than what foreign passport he has had.

“What is important is that the financing of Adoniev, who enjoys Putin’s support, is with money of dubious origin,” the Moscow-based investigative journalist said.

According to Dobrohotov, Adoniev’s career as a drug trafficker had continued in one form or another beyond 1993 through the activities of his companies up to the turn of the 21st century.

Petar Mutafchiev and the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) behind Putin’s oligarch in Bulgaria

Bivol recalls that 2008, known as the Year of Russia in Bulgaria, was marked by significant bilateral activity between the two countries. And Petar Mutafchiev, then-Minister of Transport, Information Technology and Communications from the BSP quota, personally requested citizenship for Sergei Adoniev, who had pledged to invest in Bulgaria’s telecommunication sector.

In its investigation into Adoniev, Bivol pointed out that “although not quite an oligarch in Russia, citizen Adoniev, with his USD 800 million, inevitably ranks among the richest Bulgarians”.

“His close contacts with representatives of the Russian business and State elite included in the US sanctioning lists should raise serious concerns in the “Russian Sector” offices of Bulgaria’s National Security Agency (DANS),” we wrote a year ago, not suspecting that the special services would really revoke Sergei Adoniev’s citizenship.

This is the right move, not only because of the US conviction, but because Adoniev never invested anything in Bulgaria after all. We recall that Sergei Adoniev registered the company Sadko under his still-Russian passport at the end of 2007. Sadko’s capital is BGN 50,000 and it is supposed to be dealing with “telecommunication activities and services”. Only five months later, on May 23, 2008, Adoniev became Bulgarian citizen with Decree 56. The proposal came from Petar Mutafchiev. The reason, according to the Minister, was “a distinct intention to make large-scale investments”.

Obviously, after the speedy acquisition of a European passport, Sergei Adoniev’s large-scale intentions never materialized as for the past ten years the registered in Plovdiv Sadko has not reported any activity, except paying health and pension insurance for one person.


One of the many empty annual financial reports of the Bulgarian company Sadko of Sergei Adoniev, (Archive: Bivol)

However, the issue with the Bulgarian citizenship of Sergei Adoniev’s wife remains open. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty he can still enjoy one of the main privileges that Bulgarian ID papers provide – the right of free movement in European Union member states because his wife, Maria Adonieva, also and still has a Bulgarian passport. She has acquired it under art 16 of the Bulgarian Citizenship Act for being “her husband’s wife”.

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