Togliattiazot case may ensnare US spies in another major debacle

As the US intelligence community still reeling from a high-profile scandal involving former vice-president Joe Biden and his son, a case of similar magnitude threatens to shake the spy agencies again. A couple of weeks ago a regional court in the Russian city of Samara began hearing the appeal filed by five defendants in a $1.5 billion Togliattiazot fraud case. Togliattiazot, colloquially known as ToAZ, in early July saw his main shareholders Vladimir Makhlai and his son Sergey, who happens to be a US national, along with ex-CEO Evgeny Korolev and their Swiss partners Andreas Zivy and Beat Ruprecht found guilty of a large-scale embezzlement committed by an organized group and sentenced to 8.5-9 years in prison in absentia. They were also ordered to pay the plant itself and its minority shareholders a total of $1.5 billion.

The investigation of the massive offshore profit siphoning scheme perpetrated by Makhlai and Zivy took law enforcement as much as five years to investigate. Judicial inquiry spanned over an additional 1.5 years. Over this period the defense did little to prove their clients innocent, mostly relying on stalling the hearing for as long as possible. It did not have the desired effect and the judgment was rendered anyway.

Now the Makhlais brought the big gu*s to try and reverse the verdict on appeal. A mystery man named Anthony Virgil Raftopol arrived at the Samara court to testify. He may be already known to those who followed the original trial, as a representative for an offshore Cypriot entity named Florenta Management Ltd. The firm is a major shareholder at the JSC Transammiak pipeline through which most of the ToAZ-produced ammonia is exported.

What’s strange is Mr. Raftopol’s track record as well as his reluctance to even state his address more clearly than “a quarter in Dubai”. He also speaks five languages and worked for oil companies of Syria, Lybia and Iraq. The timeline of his stints with the said companies matches perfectly with the outbursts of war in those countries.

So, it’s plain to see Mr. Raftopol is no ordinary citizen. He is most likely a spy tasked with covering up for Sergey Makhlai. The latter’s multiple passports in the name of George Mack and Serge Makligh suggest he is tied to the FBI with some kind of deal. The nature of this relationship clears up if we remember that Mr. Makligh-Mack has long been rumored to make generous donations to a Bahamas-based unofficial “pension fund” set up by FBI retirees. There’s a good reason to believe that at some point in his life in the US Makhlai was recruited by FBI operatives and made a pact with them which boils down to money for protection.

Anyway, while Anthony Raftopol did appear in the Samara regional court on October 18, he didn’t provide any sensational revelation that would have miraculously cleared his friend “Serge” of all charges that one may expect from a rare occurrence of a US intelligence operative appearing in a Russian court. Instead, he stuck to Makhlais’ trademark stalling tactics. First, he tried to raise an objection during the judge’s opening statement to request a copy of court records and later motioned for the same thing again. He was denied both times because he had been given the copy earlier.

It almost looked like Raftopol was not sure what to do but still decided to act even in the face of a risk of getting his cover blown. That may very well be a clear sign of desperation.

Raftopol is not the only one in this story with possible ties to US intelligence. There’s also Michael Spiritus, son of the CIA officer Alan Spiritus, who is CFO at Zivy-owned grain trader Ameropa AG. Why a son a spy would be the right man for managing Swiss company’s finances one can only wonder.

It’s perfectly understandable why the likes of Raftopol and Spiritus are sitting on a volcano right now. Should their dealings with the Makhlais come to light, another major international scandal would be imminent. The law is harsh towards corrupt intelligence officers in Russia and the US alike.

Peter is a freelance writer with more than eight years of experience covering topics in politics. He was one of the guys that were here when the started.