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Alexey Chepa attends a State Duma discussion about legislation to respond to U.S. sanctions, April 20, 2018

One of the Russian parliament’s most outspoken critics of the West has a fancy London restaurant in his son’s name and a Miami apartment in his niece’s name

Source: Meduza
Alexey Chepa attends a State Duma discussion about legislation to respond to U.S. sanctions, April 20, 2018
Alexey Chepa attends a State Duma discussion about legislation to respond to U.S. sanctions, April 20, 2018
Anna Isakova / State Duma photo service / TASS

Alexey Chepa used to run a business in Africa and owned the Russky Mir television station. Today he serves as a deputy in Russia’s State Duma, where he’s a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and is an outspoken critic of Great Britain and the United States.

In the 1990s, Chepa managed the Friendship and Cooperation Foundation with the Republic of Angola and ran a business that was especially active in Africa. The newspaper Vedomosti has called Chepa a former Russian intelligence agent, and journalists say he has ties to Arkady Gaidamak, an Israeli businessman convicted in France in 2009 of illegally supplying weapons to Angola between 1993 and 1998. (Gaidamak says the French courts are persecuting him for political reasons.)

In the early 2000s, Chepa started acquiring media assets, such as the television stations Nostalgiya and Russky Mir (which air in the United States for an audience of Russian immigrants). It was in these years when Chepa entered politics, first as one of the leaders and sponsors of the Agrarian Party of Russia, which he left in 2005 after a conflict with the party’s chairman, Mikhail Lapshin. Two years later, Chepa joined the Just Russia party, and in 2011 he was elected to the State Duma.

Reelected in 2016 (when he was ranked the richest deputy from his party), Chepa became the deputy chairman of the State Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Leonid Slutsky (who has been accused by multiple women in the parliamentary press pool of sexual harassment). In this new role, Chepa has spoken out vociferously against the foreign policies of the United States and Great Britain. For example, he accused Sergey Skripal of “selling himself to British intelligence for pennies,” and said allegations that Russia used a nerve agent against Skripal are the machinations of a “Russophobic group of U.S. State Department representatives.” “Today’s British authorities simply don’t know what else to do but dodge and try to take a shot at Russia,” Chepa declared at the height of the scandal surrounding the poisoning of Sergey Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.

Chepa is also a vocal critic of Western sanctions against Russia. “These so-called politicians’ ultimate goal is the commercial and lobbying interests of certain financial and economic circles in the United States of America,” Chepa said, after the U.S. announced sanctions in response to the attack in Salisbury, England.

Chepa owned a restaurant in London after joining the State Duma. He later transferred it to his son, and signed another business in England over to his daughter.

In 2009, one of Moscow’s most successful restaurateurs, Arkady Novikov, opened an enormous 19,375-square-foot restaurant in London. Despite scathing reviews in the British press, the establishment quickly became one of the most popular restaurants among local Russians (oligarch Boris Berezovsky used to frequent the place, before his untimely death in 2013). Within four years, the restaurant was earning an average of 25 million pounds ($31.7 million) annually.

For the first several years of the restaurant’s existence, Chepa was listed as a co-owner with a 45-percent stake in the business, alongside Novikov’s partner, Alexander Sorkin, and two legal entities. In 2013, after Chepa had already served in the State Duma for two years, his name disappeared from the list of shareholders. Today, the restaurant is owned by two offshore companies. Chepa confirmed to Meduza that he opened the London restaurant together with Novikov, saying that he had to transfer ownership to his son because of “harsh” new Russian legislation. (In the spring of 2013, a law took effect forbidding federal lawmakers from storing money abroad and owning or using foreign financial instruments, allowing State Duma deputies to own businesses, but not engage in their operational activities.)

“I didn’t want to give up the restaurant, to be honest,” Chepa said. “It’s a very prestigious place, and I really tried to make it the best around. Arkady and I went around, doing the construction at night because they wouldn’t let us work during the day. These idiotic English laws are very complicated — you can’t carry out noisy work during certain hours.” Why did Chepa divest only in 2013, when he’d already served in the State Duma for two years? He says he doesn’t remember: “It was probably because I needed some time to transfer the shares.”

In 2013, Chepa’s son Daniil was 16 years old. His name appeared among the London restaurant’s owners in 2017, and the very next year he transferred his shares to a man in Cyprus named Kostas Ekonom. A source who works for Chepa told Meduza that Ekonom is one of the lawmaker's close confidants, but Chepa says he’s just an acquaintance.

After hearing Meduza’s question about Alexey Chepa, Arkady Novikov said he was in a meeting and ended the telephone call. Meduza was unable to reach Daniil Chepa. Based on his Vkontakte page, the young man lives in London and listens to remixes of the Russian national anthem, as well as some Russian rap.

London is also home to Chepa’s daughter, Anastasia, who manages a company that designs luxury clothing. In 2006, Chepa bought her an apartment for 1 million pounds (almost $1.9 million at the time). The lawmaker told Meduza that he frequently visits his children in London, saying that the deterioration of Russia’s relations with the West has weighed on his nerves. Asked if he fears landing on a sanctions list, Chepa said, “I wouldn’t want that.”

“Do you have to be careful about your public statements because of this? Have you considered moving to another committee?” Meduza asked Chepa.

“Maybe that’s true,” he said. “Unfortunately, you see what life is like… I’d like everything to shake out and go away somehow.”

Chepa used to own an apartment in Miami. Now it’s owned by his niece, whose companies went bankrupt thanks to a lawsuit by Chepa’s bank. Then the bank itself went belly up.

Alexey Chepa’s investments aren’t limited to Great Britain. In 2013, blogger Andrey Malgin discovered that Chepa bought a $2.5-million apartment in Miami shortly before joining the State Duma, and he never declared it on his tax returns. Forced to defend himself, Chepa later revealed that the Miami real estate now belongs to a woman named Vera Afanasieva, who owns five percent of Chepa’s “Golden Mile” fitness club in Moscow. A source with knowledge of Chepa’s assets told Meduza that Afanasieva is actually the lawmaker’s niece, though Chepa denies this. Meduza tried to speak to Afanasieva, but she refused to talk over the phone when she learned that a journalist was calling.

Earlier this decade, Afanasieva owned two companies that were “residents” at the Skolkovo Innovation Center. According to the “SPARK-Interfax” business-analytics system, these enterprises received more than 450 million rubles ($6.7 million) from the Science and Education Ministry and other state institutions for scientific research. The work was never completed, however; both companies went bankrupt after the Technology Development Bank started demanding money through lawsuits. The primary beneficiary of this bank, incidentally, was Alexey Chepa, and the bank’s board of directors included his wife, Irina. In May 2016, Russia’s Central Bank ultimately revoked the Technology Development Bank’s license, after finding a “hole” in its balance sheets that amounted to almost a billion rubles ($14.9 million).

Story by Ilya Zhegulev

Ivan Golunov contributed to this report. Translation by Kevin Rothrock.

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