My French asset, Liddy, provided me with a report on a Monaco-based company called Sotrama.
LIDDY claimed Sotrama was a front for Russian arms dealing, that it laundered money, and that President Putin and his cronies from St. Petersburg were behind it.
The widow of the Russian who’d fronted Sotrama, Dimitros Skigin, felt uncompensated.
When told Skigin’s ownership of the company was just a façade, with no inheritance due her, she ran to French police and started blabbing.
LIDDY’s point was, if news of this got out, it would embarrass Monaco.
In London, I met my SIS contact for a bottle of ’94 Gran Riserva rioja at Ball Brothers in St. James’s.
“The French have offered me ten million euros to piss off,” I joked.
“It could happen,” he replied. “And I get half.”
My escalation of liaison relationships improved our ability to operate, but probably made the French nervous.
“The French consider Monaco their hunting ground,” he said, “and you’re uncovering things the French want exclusively for themselves.”
(Example: intelligence on oil distribution companies—Sotrama, Petro Trade—that linked to Russian organized crime and President Putin.)
I recruited a new agent: a Russian born female, very bright with stunning looks, and good Russian contacts around the principality.
More importantly, she worked at Sotrama, the Monaco-based company, linked to President Putin, we suspected of money laundering.
I code-named her MARTHA, after Martha Mitchell. (We already had LIDDY and HUNT and I rather enjoyed a Watergate theme.)
MARTHA revealed that Sotrama declared only 100,000 euros per month to Monaco’s fiscal authorities, just the amount needed for salaries and operations and a small profit.
But in actual fact, this oil distribution and trading company was laundering “millions and millions” of euros per month for its parent company Horizon Oil Terminal in St. Petersburg.
MARTHA attended a party in Cap Ferrat, at which Sotrama’s chief executive proposed a toast to the Russian president, saying, “Without Putin none of this would be possible.”
Soon, MARTHA contacted me with urgent news: Sergey Vasiliev, the Russian we suspected as the link between Horizon Oil Terminal in St. Petersburg and Sotrama, had arrived in Monaco for meetings with Sotrama’s chief executive, Michele Tecchia.
It was the manner in which Vasiliev arrived that intrigued me: a chartered helicopter from Italy to Monaco’s heliport, a ploy to avoid French Immigration.
Vasiliev connected to the Ta’ambov organized crime group in St. Petersburg. He apparently kept a Bentley garaged in Monaco and was said to be looking for a slip in the port to berth a boat he hoped to buy.
When I saw my asset LIDDY again, he reported that the French intelligence services had been frightened off Sotrama due to the Putin connection and political sensitivities at a time when France was striving to negotiate a long-term energy deal with Gazprom.
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The file on Sotrama maintained by Monaco's police department begins with these words: "Society bound to Russian Organized Crime."
Obvious Question: If Monaco's police believe Sotrama to be "bound to Russian organized crime," why does Monaco's government continue to permit Sotrama to operate as a Monaco-registered S.A.M. company?
Close associates of Vladimir Putin are laundering money through Monaco, acting on Putin's behalf.
One such group of associates is Sotrama, which ties to the Ta'ambov Russian organized crime group in St. Petersburg.
Sotrama was founded by Dimitros Skigin, born 3 February 1956 in Leningrad. Skigin was expelled from Monaco in 2000 due to his shady associations.
Oddly, Sotrama was not expelled along with its owner, and has conducted business in the principality ever since.
Skigin moved to Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat and died of cancer in 2003.
Monaco's police file on Skigin links him and Sotrama to Ilia Traber, a member of the Tambov criminal group in St. Petersburg, Russia.
In addition, the file links Skigin and Sotrama to Guennadi Timtchenko, who is reputed to be Vladimir Putin's personal banker.
Skigin was replaced as chairman of Sotrama by Michele Tecchia, an Italian-born resident of Monaco.
Monaco's police file on Michele Tecchia explicitly states that through Sotrama Tecchia launders monies derived from criminal activity.
Let us now revert to an excerpt from a speech delivered by Prince Albert II of Monaco on July 12th, 2005:
"The importance of Monaco's financial market will require extreme vigilance to avoid the development of the type of financial activities which are not welcome in our country. To avoid such deviance, Monaco must function in harmony with all those organizations who share the same aim. Monaco must therefore respect the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering."
Prince Albert's words beg a second obvious question:
If Monaco's interior ministry knows that Sotrama is connected to Russian organized crime and knows that Michele Tecchia uses Sotrama to launder criminal money, why does it turn a blind eye, thus rendering the Sovereign Prince of Monaco a liar?
Michele Tecchia was born 12 September 1942 in Caserta, Italy.
Tecchia's Monaco police file boldly states: "Head of laundering the proceeds of crime with regard to the activity of S.A.M. Sotrama."
Tecchia is the main representative of Caravel Establishment, which holds major shares in Sotrama.
Caravel Establishment holds major shares in two other shady companies: Horizon International Trading AG and Petroruss Inc.
All trace to...