Czech Republic identifies Russians linked to attempted coup in Montenegro

Journalists from the Czech news outlet Denik N have spoken to several Russian citizens linked to the Czech company Sofbiz, which transferred half a million euros to the organizers of a failed coup attempt in Montenegro in October 2016. According to the investigation carried out by the Montenegrin authorities, these funds were intended as payment for the assassination of then Prime Minister and current President of Montenegro Milo Dukanovic.

Sofbiz was established in the Czech Republic as a branch of a Seychelles-based firm registered in the name of a certain Yekaterina Ostapchuk, who lives in London. Ostapchuk is the director of two Seychelles-based companies: Coddan Nominee Administrator Ltd. and Coddan Nominee Subscriber Ltd. The journalists discovered that in 2015, Ostapchuk’s companies were investigated in the UK on suspicion of withdrawing the funds of companies going through bankruptcy proceedings.

The Czech company Sofbiz is also linked to the Russian citizen Ruslan Galyunin, who lives near Moscow, and Alexander Rossiychenko, who lives in Prague and assists the firm in its documentation. Rossiychenko claims to have had nothing to do with the company’s activity. The journalists were unable to get hold of Galyunin or Ostapchuk.

According to Sofbiz’s financial documents, the company has not operated in Prague. Although it has a registered legal address in Prague, it has no office there.

The company’s link to the attempted coup in Montenegro was announced by Montenegrin Special Prosecutor Sasa Cadenovic in summer 2019. He said that the funds transferred by the company initially ended up in bank accounts in Cyprus, and were subsequently transferred to a group of entities linked to the coup attempt. The investigators believe that the goal of the coup was to prevent Montenegro from joining NATO and ensure that pro-Russian forces came to power. Moscow denies these allegations.

In May 2019, 14 persons were sentenced in absentia by a court in Montenegro for their involvement in the attempted coup. Among them were the two Russian citizens Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov, the leaders of the pro-Russian opposition “Democratic Front” Milan Knezevic and Andrija Mandic, as well as several Serbian citizens.

In November last year, the investigative group Bellingcat and the Russian news outlet The Insider uncovered the identity of one member. The journalists claim that the Vladimir Popov, who is currently wanted by the Montenegrin authorities, is actually called Vladimir Moiseev and works in Russia’s military intelligence. Previously the investigators suspected a GRU employee and another Russian believed to have organized the coup.

  Czech Republic, Montenegro