IN March 2018, Viktor Sheiman, the then head of the Property Management Directorate of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, paid an official visit to Zimbabwe where he and Mines minister Winston Chitando agreed to establish a joint mining company.
The company was called Zim Goldfields. What was it engaged in, and who reaped the benefits? What does it have to do with Sergei Sheiman, Viktor Sheiman’s son?
All this and more in the investigation conducted by the Lithuanian Investigative Journalism Centre (Siena), the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Belsat TV, and with input from Euroradio.
The governments of both countries did not make a big deal of the event, and neither did the media. Zim Goldfields could have kept operating on the down-low if not for the accident. In November 2020, a Chinese company got to Mutasa district and started filling the abandoned gold mines. It turned out they were not totally abandoned as 10 local artisanal miners had met their death, buried alive there.
Only two bodies were discovered, the rest were never retrieved. According to the Centre for Natural Resource Governance of Zimbabwe, the site belonged to a “Belarusian company called Zim Goldfields”.
And a sub-contracted Chinese organisation, Zhondin Investments (other sources call it Zhong Jin Investments), did the land development there. Families of the two deceased miners were each awarded US$955 as compensation. The compensation and references of tax payments in Mutasa district are the only Zim Goldfields records found in the public domain.
Golden fields of Seychelles
According to OCCRP, the joint company, Zim Goldfields, was established in April 2018. The Zimbabwe mining Development Corporation (ZDMC), a state-owned entity that controls the mining industry, got 30% of its shares. The other 70% went to the United Kingdom-based Midlands Goldfields Limited, established by a Londoner named Robert Michael Friedberg.
Thanks to the Pandora Papers, the biggest ever leak of offshore data, we found out that Friedberg is acting in the interests of a Seychelles-based company called Midlands Goldfields Foundation. This one was created in December 2017 by the Belarusian businessmen Alexander Zingman and Sergei Sheiman, Viktor Sheiman’s son.
Each of them owns 50%. Sergei Sheiman prefers to keep a low profile. He also does not have any official connection to the Belarusian government. Previous investigations showed that Viktor Sheiman’s son does business with a former general of Russia’s central intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), who is close to the Kremlin authorities.
In March 2018, Sheiman Jr. joined his father on the visit to Zimbabwe, acting as an “adviser” for the government delegation. This was exactly the time they created Zim Goldfields, of which Sergei Sheiman became a co-owner. Reporting on the trip results to Aliaksandr Lukashenka, Viktor Sheiman stressed that the mining operation in Zimbabwe is very advantageous for Belarus. “Africa is noteworthy because of the colossal mineral wealth that our economy needs. No one here is going to work for free. If they don’t have money, they are willing to pay with their natural resources. We’re fine with that,” he said.
All kinds of business
Zim Goldfields won several special grants for gold mining in Zimbabwe as far back as May 2018. The company then hired a Belarusian (public-private enterprise) firm, Belgeopoisk, to carry out the work.
When the joint venture company was established, the latter belonged to Belarusian President Lukashenko’s Property Management Directorate’s companies Belzarubezhtorg and Globalcustom. Now, Globalcustom Management is the sole owner of Belgeopoisk.
One of the former’s shareholders, Evgeni Zhovner, was also involved in setting up Zim Goldfields. Other documents state him as one of the managing directors of the mining company. Inside these companies, Zhovner is known as Viktor Sheiman’s confidant.
According to unofficial sources, he was on the payroll at President’s Lukashenko’s Property Management Directorate. He also did work for Motovelo and was a vice-president for ASB Leasing (Belarusbank’s affiliate company) and a member of the executive board of Paritetbank.
The bank is now owned by Said Gutseriev, a son of Russian oligarch Mikhail Gutseriev. Another Belarusian among Zim Goldfields representatives is Dmitri Krasilnikov, who works as chief operations officer and is the son of BelAseptika’s owner.
According to Dmitri’s LinkedIn profile, he joined the company in May 2018, having worked for Tekhnobank, National Bank of the Republic of Belarus, his father’s company, and other employers before. He has a degree from Cranfield University. Dmitri’s family does not shy away from the government, too.
During the 2020 presidential election campaign, his father, Andrei Krasilnikov, arranged a meeting between the employees of BelAseptika and Aliaksander Lukashenka’s trusted representative Ivan Golovaty, Director General of Belaruskali. Once, Dmitri himself managed to get into a fight with his father about the company stock, resulting in a prolonged legal conflict.
In the end, President Lukashenka had to personally intervene and task Alexander Turchin, the head of the Minsk Oblast executive committee, with resolving the dispute.
Siloviki left and right
Belgeopoisk was established as a public-private enterprise in 2016. First, the company was supposed to do amber mining in Belarusian territory.
But this business idea turned out to be unviable. Now, Belgeopoisk does geological exploration somewhere else. Their geologists, accompanied by their security guards, have at least one usual destination country — and that is Zimbabwe.
They also had business trips to other countries, like South Sudan, but those destinations seemingly did not yield much. The company’s security service employs Belarusian defence and law enforcement retirees. Few people work there officially, it appears, judging by the information obtained by the Cyber Partisans.
One of those employees is a former Special Ops commando Evgeny Chanov. The media noticed him when he became the first director of GardService, a private security company established in 2020. It was through the discovery of his name that Euroradio pieced together one of its latest investigations.
Thanks to Chanov, it was possible to connect the first Belarusian private security company to President Lukasgenko’s Property Management Directorate. Now, GardService is owned by Alexander Metla, Viktor Sheiman’s associate. Metla is also a director of the Stalin Line Complex and head of the charitable foundation Memory of Afghanistan.
As Euroradio found out from the sources close to Zim Goldfields and Belgeopoisk, all the significant financial decisions for the latter company are made by the “advisers” appointed to work there from the military and security services and the President Lukashenko’s Property Management Directorate. Among these advisers are Evgeni Zhovner and Alexander Romanovsky. Zhovner, along with Romanovsky and Anton Novik, became the owners of Globalcustom Management in August 2020.
The company’s director on paper is Valery Mikhailov, a former ministry of Internal Affairs officer. Anton Novik is a presidium member of the Belarusian Judo Federation. His father, Anton Yuljanovich Novik, is a law enforcement colonel, senior lecturer at the Academy of the ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, and a well-known sambo athlete.
As the unofficial sources claim, he also served in military unit No. 01549, or, in other words, President Lukashenko’s Personal Security Service. The last owner, Alexander Romanovsky, is a dark horse. According to the source close to Zim Goldfields and Belgeopoisk, he also comes from law enforcement.
The bet is he is from the Belarusian KGB state security agency. Now, he owns shares in YuRANEKS-bezopasnost, a company registered in June 2020. His business partner, Dmitry Pobyarzhin, is an exKGB spokesperson. Another shareholder of YuRANEKS-bezopasnost is Big Sport Club,” supporting physical training programmes development in Belarus.”
A total of 66.7% of the company shares belong to Alexander Chorniychuk, a deputy director of the Belarus Field Hockey Federation. And the other 33.3% to Kristina Letyago. Her husband, Maksim, is the CEO of this company.
“Friends only” party
In December 2018, local authorities detected violations on one of the sites where Zim Goldfields was operating. In 2021, the government of Zimbabwe banned riverbed mining, but the problem of illegal miners did not go away.
The company ceased working near Penhalonga, in Mutare district, one of the few sites where it could legally undertake gold mining. However, these obstacles did not stop Zim Goldfields from working elsewhere in Zimbabwe. Thanks to the latest massive global data leak, the Pandora Papers, and the hacktivist grouping Cyber Partisans, we now know who owns the Belarusian mining industry in Zimbabwe and what buffers they use.
They are the former security apparatus members (Novik, Romanovsky, Chanov, Mikhailov, and others) and those who hail from Belarusian President Lukashenko’s Property Management Directorate (Zhovner; Viktor Sheiman’s friends and business partners, such as Alexander Zingman and Alexander Metla).
In addition, the children of high-profile Belarusian public officials and businessmen like Sergei Sheiman and Dmitri Krasilnikov are also involved Belarusia’s secret mining deals in Zimbabwe. —Euroradio.