TALLINN - Citing the findings of Alexei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, Postimees reported on Tuesday that two Estonian companies were involved in keeping the personal yacht of Russian President Vladimir Putin seaworthy at a time when the Russian war machine is killing women and children in Ukraine; now it has emerged that one of these companies has repeatedly received business development grants from an Estonian state agency.
"I don't have to tell you who our customers are," Sergei Tsekmazov, the manager of Distinto OU, which allegedly helped to supply the luxury yacht's crew with uniforms, and Breezemarine Group OU, which allegedly supplied spare parts for the yacht, told Postimees. In addition, he denied his involvement in the whole affair, as well as that he was doing business for the benefit of the Russian leadership.
According to the the findings of the foundation, the engine monitoring and control screens broke down on the luxury yacht Graceful, since then renamed Kosatka (Swordfish), owned by Putin. Breezemarine Group, which operates in Estonia, agreed to buy and deliver the necessary screens and help reprogram them, according to the fund.
From 2018 to 2022, Breezemarine Group managed to receive two grants from Enterprise Estonia (EAS) and one from the joint institution of EAS and Kredex for business development in the total amount of 354,239 euros.
"The information that has recently emerged is not the kind of information on the basis of which grants can be reclaimed after the end of the project," Martin Altraja, spokesman for the joint agency, said. In the award of grants, restrictions apply when it comes to the beneficiary, but not its partners. "As long as the persons associated with the company applying for a grant are not subject to sanctions, there is no reason to refuse a grant on the grounds that a shareholder, direct beneficiary or board member is a citizen of Russia," he said.
According to Altraja, it is not unambiguously clear at this stage whether a sanctions violation took place at all.
Valeri Rauam, head of customs at the Estonian Tax and Customs Board, explained that generally sanctions apply to all ships and components specially designed for ships, but as for spare parts, it is difficult to say anything about the case without seeing the merchandise.
"If the spare part in question can also be used elsewhere, it may not fall under the maritime ban," he explained.
However, Russia searched out an unconventional way to make the Graceful seaworthy again. According to the probe by the Navalny foundation, Breezemarine found a private courier who took the equipment from St. Petersburg to a factory in Germany, which is not prohibited. However, sanctions do not allow the return of prohibited equipment to Russia.
Altraja stressed that matters related to Russia in general need a position from the state, as cooperation between Estonian and Russian businesses is complex.
"Often intermediate countries or companies are found and we do not have the capacity to carry out such detailed checks. We can only react to tip-offs, as well as to information received from the police and border guard," the spokesman added.