Hungary's residency bond program: The Russian connection

August 24, 2016

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“They are afraid of two things happening at this company.  One is that Habony’s next helicopter ride or one of Rogán’s controversies will render the construction politically unacceptable and they have to close the store.  But that is the smaller thing.  What they are really afraid of is Vladimir Putin.”

Translation of Péter Erdélyi’s article “István Száraz and a group of special Russians and Hungary’s residency bond program” appearing on Hungarian news site 444.hu on August 23rd, 2016. 

Perhaps the only ones who know how Hungary’s residency bond program works are those who run it and reap its rewards.

What we know for certain is that Russian and Middle Eastern businessmen must pay around EUR 360 thousand to receive the Hungarian residency bond which allows them move freely, do business, and incorporate businesses in all of Europe. A large portion of the funds used to purchase the bond, roughly EUR 300 thousand, is returned to the businessmen after five years.

The rules for the program were created in 2012 by the Hungarian National Assembly’s economics committee (then led by chairman Antal Rogán) in a manner that ensured the entire system is virtually non-transparent. No one knows how the offshore brokerages, which make a killing on the residency bond program, were selected. In recent years, several articles have appeared about the residency bond program, primarily focusing on the mysterious government-advisor turned media magnate Árpád Habony’s relationship with the brokerages slyly entrusted with the sale of the residency bonds.

What is still not clear, however, is whether there are any other parties involved in the sale of the residency bonds aside from the Rogán type offshore brokerages associated.

Certain documents and sample contracts available on the internet have helped provide some insight to how this system works — it appears their secretive owners were careless.

István Száraz is so big that he shows up at every party

We found two such residency bond sample contracts on the website “evro-emigracijia.ru”.

According to the digital fingerprints found on these documents, the documents originated from an executive at a company called VolDan. VolDan is the offshore company that was granted approval by the Hungarian state to sell these residency bonds in Russia.

These sample contracts, written in English and Russian, explain the process of purchasing a Hungarian residency bond: what kind of laws apply to the sale, what the deadlines are, how much it costs, and what the rights and responsibilities of the buyer and seller are.

The website, “evro-emigracija.ru”, also happens to be one of the promotional sites for the Hungarian residency bond program. Those interested in the program can inquire further by contacting a Hungarian mobile telephone number or writing to the email address provided at the bottom of the page.

Source: 444.hu
Source: 444.hu

According to Magyar Telekom’s Tudakozó registry, the number belongs to a company based in Budapest’s Castle District, St. George Apartamanház Kft. When we called the number, a man calling himself György Stofa answered the phone. It is worth pointing out that this man’s family is tied to the luxury hotel in Fortuna Street.

The Opten business database shows that, between 2010 and 2013, St. George Apartamanház Kft. was owned by R.A. Kft., whose owner is Antal Rack. Rack is the brother of László Rack, a former business partner of Sándor Pintér. The Rack brothers also turned up in connection with the Budapest District 5 real estate scandal.

Stofa’s Instagram account, which is jam-packed full of pictures of luxury automobiles and elegant wristwatches, also shows that the businessman is on good terms with Rack’s son. Facebook information shows that the two mingle in the same circles as female relatives of the Georgian-Israeli businessmen Shabtai Michaeli and Michael Gagel (who are connected with VolDan and Árpád Habony), Ádám Matolcsy (the son of central bank governor György Matolcsy), Árpád Habony’s former girlfriend, and István Száraz.

Stofa told us he speaks excellent Russian, and that this is why he volunteered to consult for VolDan. That is how it is that his phone number could be found on the company’s website. But he said he has not yet referred a single person to the company. He did not give an explanation as to how it is that he got involved in the residency bond business.

We also tried to figure out who manages the email address provided next to Stofa’s telephone number on the website, “info@euimmigration.info”.

It turns out that the “evro-emigracija.ru” and “euimmigration.info” domain names were registered by István Száraz’s company, Frank Digital Kft., in 2014. (This company made headlines when it turned out that it was reaping fantastic profits after being pumped full of public funds earlier this year).

Source: 444.hu
Source: 444.hu

“Frank Digital Kft. registered the two domain names in 2014, but also developed the websites and configured their search engine optimization. Frank Digital Kft. performed these services at the request of György Stofa, who acted as an intermediary. Frank Digital Kft. did not have any ties to the actual company for which the services were being performed, and no payment for these services has ever taken place.”

Száraz’s press officer told us this.

“This is the best offer ever!”

These documents helped us track newer players connected to the VolDan network, but it is also important how we came across them.

Everything started once we started looking for newer clues to the residency bond program on the internet after we broke the story of Árpád Habony’s Hong Kong helicopter ride.

Such programs do not only operate in Hungary but in Cyprus, Greece, and other EU countries which offer access to the Schengen area in exchange for money. Because there is a real market for residency bonds, with real competitors, there is also lots of information about the market on the internet. There is actually a small industry that revolves around convincing Chinese, Russian, or Middle Eastern businessmen to purchase such bonds for access to these EU papers.

„EUROPASS IS A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY TO GAIN RESIDENCE PERMIT AND CITIZENSHIP IN EUROPE ON WONDERFUL TERMS FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY. THIS IS THE BEST OFFER EVER! THANKS TO OUR PARTNER – VOLDAN INVESTMENTS LIMITED COMPANY THAT IS AN OFFICIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE GOVERNMENT OF HUNGARY (…)”

We found this text on the website of a company called Good Life Consulting, where Hungarian residency bonds are being promoted to Russian buyers.

From this advertisement we came to the website of another interesting organization, the International Financial Community (IFC). Here, we found information that went well beyond empty PR slogans about how wonderful the Hungarian residency bond program is. We found sample contracts in English and Russian from 2014 which appeared to be very official. This was the first of the sample contracts we found on the internet, weeks before we arrived to the Száraz-related website.

These IFC documents also contain information about how clients can use their so-called WellMax account to make payments to a similar account belonging to VolDan, and how all the paperwork and extra services will be taken care of by a company called Good Life Consulting. (These names did not appear later in the Száraz-related documents).

Before we get into what these companies listed in the IFC documents may be and what their significance is, we should clarify one thing: VolDan claims that the documents found on the IFC’s website (which explain how the residency program works) are fake.

These fakes are so good that they could be used to make originals

We approached state-authorized residency bond broker VolDan a few weeks ago to find out what its relationship was with Good Life Consulting and IFC, on whose website we found the first sample contract.

They answered none of our questions.  However, in a trial held in June they essentially declared that the sample contracts mentioned are fakes. They told the court that they have no connection to the IFC, there is no sample contract between them and IFC, that this fake contract made it to the internet without their knowledge, and they even tried to remove it from there. (The document by the way continues to be available on the internet two months after the time this article appeared.)

There are a number of reasons why it is unlikely that the documents on the IFC’s website are complete fakes.

Anyone who has EUR 360 thousand to spend on a residency program is most likely more difficult to swindle than the average pensioner living on their own. Furthermore, the IFC’s sample contracts are so detailed in citing the appropriate laws and explaining how the process works in Hungary, that it would be completely impractical for fraudsters to figure this out.

Of course, it is possible that the IFC copied this sample contract from somewhere else. To clarify this situation, we performed searches on key parts of the contracts with unique wording in an effort to determine whether there was another source for these words. And that is how we made our way to the Száraz website, specifically, to the document we found there that was prepared on the computer of the VolDan executive, the document that is without doubt an original sample contract. The digital fingerprints on these files and the others we found show that they were created after IFC was created or made available on the internet. In other words, the “fake” papers could not have copied this information from elsewhere.

This is what an esoteric investment group looks like

Photo: 444.hu
Photo: 444.hu

If the IFC sample contracts are not complete fakes, then it is also worthwhile taking a closer look at the information they contain.

According to the text, its clients are managed by Good Life Consulting. This is not an insignificant task.

“What VolDan does completely goes against what Putin wants. The Russian president hates it when money is taken out of the country, and that is precisely what is being done by those who pay hundreds of thousands of euros for the Hungarian residency program. There are many who do not understand why or for how much longer Moscow will allow this to be done. Perhaps it is because of the cooperation behind the Paks nuclear reactor, or because for other reasons that [Moscow] tolerates this,” a source with close insight into the Hungarian residency program told us.

This source also told us that what the Hungarian state-approved brokerage VolDan most fears is possible retribution from Putin.

We can be sure there are those in Moscow and others very curious to see just who has enough money to get involved in transactions like this, and to see who from Russia wants to obtain a Schengen passport for themselves. Whoever knows this possesses important information.

The client-managing Good Life Consulting company listed in the IFC sample contract is registered in Slovakia. According to Slovakian business registry information, its owner is a man from St. Petersburg, a certain Alekszej Trufanov [Hung. transliteration]. The director of the company is a Budapest-based man named Gennagyi Vlacimirovics Secsenov [Hung. transliteration].

Good Life Consulting provides very little specific information about itself on its own website, which also does not provide answers to the company’s connection to the Hungarian residency bond program beyond their own admission that they are partners with VolDan. It is clear that the company provides business and self-help seminars, and that it also sells investment products which go by the name of WellMax.

One need only spend a minute searching their YouTube channel or Facebook group to realize that they are looking at some kind of esoteric self-help multi-level marketing group’s website. This video, for example, is very representative of that.

I am Roman Vaszilenko [Hung. transliteration], from the Russian navy

There is a man who appears in almost every bizarre Good Life Consulting/International Financial Community video and photo album.

They call him Roman Vaszilenko (Роман Василенко), and while he has no legal connection to the Slovakia-based Good Life company, he is referred to here as one of its co-founders that was ousted from the company. We can be certain that he was a central figure to this company or companies.

Roman Vaszilenko (right) on one of the Good Life videos (444.hu)
Roman Vaszilenko (right) on one of the Good Life videos (444.hu)

In an interview with the Russian management magazine Chief-Time, Vaszilenko explains he attended a military academy and started his career in the Russian military’s navy. In 1998, he retired from the navy as an officer, but continues to serve in the reserves. After his military service, he worked for years for Swiss companies. In this same piece, they write that Vaszilenko studied in Hungary sometime between 1996 and 2012, and that it was during this period that he apparently studied at universities in Austria, France, Cyprus, Mauritius, Switzerland, and even the United States.

It appears likely that prior to Good Life, Vaszilenko also worked for the Hungary-based Life Group which also deals with investments. (Their investment products are not called WellMax, but Profit Max. Their videos are similar to those of Good Life, and they have hosted conferences in the same Turkish hotels as Good Life.)

Vaszilenko has outstanding political connections in Russia.

According to Vaszilenko, in 2014 he was invited to speak to Russian legislators about “the problems faced by the youth”. This is where he got the idea to start dealing with real estate. He launched a real estate cooperatives scheme called Best Way in 2014, one similar to the proposal that Antal Rogán started pushing in Hungary earlier this year.

His other business is not called Good Life, but simply “Life is Good”, based in Belize. The magazine covers listed on its website’s page gives one the impression that he is pretty popular in Russia.

Magazine covers showing Roman Vaszilenkó on the opening page of the Life is Good company website
Magazine covers showing Roman Vaszilenko on the opening page of the Life is Good company website

Information on this website indicates that Life is Good and Good Life Consulting are involved in very similar self-help training activities. Just this summer, the company held a training seminar in Budapest, with only members possessing more than 800 “personality points” allowed to take part. Seriously.

We can be sure Vaszilenko is certainly good at something. The Russian media outlet LifeNews.ru, which has very close ties to the Kremlin, and has also been referred to as “The Sun meets the CIA”, regularly publishes articles about Vaszilenko’s successes and his company’s events.

Roman Vaszilenko speaking to lifenews.ru
Roman Vaszilenko speaking to lifenews.ru

But how do you know our address?

A month-and-a-half ago, we drove up to Slovakia to check out Good Life’s Bratislava office, hoping to find out how Good Life/IFC got tied up with the Rogán-type of Hungarian residency bond sample contract.
Considering the fact that we just walked in from the street, they were kind enough to allow us into a conference room. But they were a little concerned that journalists just happened to pop in for a visit. The office manager that spoke with us asked us how we found their address.

Good Life office in Bratislava (photo: 444.hu)
Good Life’s offices in Bratislava (photo: 444.hu)

It was a short meeting. I told them that I am writing about VolDan, that I saw their name in the contract, and that I am interested in what their role is in the Hungarian residency bond program. The lady I spoke to told me the she does not speak English well, that she only speaks Slovakian and Russian, and that the company only deals with paperwork and deals with clients. She finally said that there are no decision makers in the office, but asked that we leave a business card and they will get in touch with me. Of course, they have not contacted me since then.

Did you know there is a Hungarian bank on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent?

The Good Life/IFC story has another interesting Hungarian connection. After the meeting in Slovakia, we found an interesting article on a small Russian business news website. In this article, the author writes that Good Life and IFC offer investment products with unreal yields to gullible clients through product showcasing events disguised as seminars.

The article also states that the Good Life/IFC investment products require clients to make payments to a Well Max account at Loyal Bank operating on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent. This WellMax account is similar to the one listed in the Hungarian residency bond sample contract. Loyal Bank is listed as a partner on the same IFC website where we found the Hungarian residency bond program sample contracts.

444 found the sample contract on IFC's website, which also lists Good Life Consulting and Loyal Bank as its partners (444.hu)
444 found the sample contract on IFC’s website, which also lists Good Life Consulting and Loyal Bank as its partners (444.hu)

We know about this bank thanks to the work of Direkt36’s investigative journalist Anna Csonka. The bank is owned by a Hungarian named Ottó Hujber. In the 1990s, Hujber was considered one of the most influential businessmen in Hungary. He even served as the leader of the MSZP’s business league. Back then, his companies took part in the breaking down of Russia’s public debt. Hujber’s bank, according to information made public in the Panama Papers, considers Russia one if its most important partners.

“It is clear that significant resources were allocated to winning over Russian clients, and [the bank] appears to have ties to Russia. For example, an SUV with a unique Russian license plate was parked outside their Budapest office one day in May. A copy of Hujber’s passport shows that he regularly travelled to Russia with a business visa in recent years,” Direkt36 then reported.

Military helicopters in Ethiopia

The sample contract we found came from the website of IFC which is incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. The document lists Good Life, and the IFC’s website shows both Good Life and Loyal Bank as its partners.

It is an interesting coincidence, that this story’s characters can be tied together completely independently of this connection.

Pay attention closely, this will not be easy to follow!

An article published by Magyar Nemzet 16 years ago reported that Hujber (the owner of Loyal Bank) was engaged in the sale of Russian helicopters after the fall of communism. His business activities explain his relationship to the Dunai Repülőgépgyár (the Danube Airplane Manufacturer). The airplane manufacturing company’s managing director was even given a seat on the board of one of Hujber’s important companies.

Hujber and the airplane manufacturing company did business together, for example in 1997 when they sold four Russian military helicopters to Ethiopia. This delivery played an important role in the Ethiopia-Eritrea war. So much so, in fact, that foreign coverage of the war devoted attention to the Hungarian helicopter sale.

Hungarian and African workers working on the Russian Mi-8 military helicopters (Photo: Dunai Repülőgépgyár)
Hungarian and African workers working on the Russian Mi-8 military helicopters (Photo: Dunai Repülőgépgyár)

Perhaps it is Hujber’s business activities and relationships in Ethiopia that can be thanked for the airplane manufacturer’s decision to found Magyar-Etióp Kereskedőház Kft. (Hungarian-Ethiopian Trading House LLC) in 2015.

The other owner of the Hungarian-Ethiopian Trading House is Ayudate Holding. (We were engaged in a very long lawsuit with the Hungarian National Trading House. At one point during the lawsuit, the Hungarian National Trading House claimed that Ayudate Holding operated its trading houses in Sub-Saharan Africa).

One of the directors of the Danish company that owns Ayudate is a man named Gézá Terner. (Terner, who has official residences in both Austria and Switzerland, popped up in a Heti Válasz article in 2008 which attempted to uncover how dirty money from the Austria-based Strabag was making its way back to Hungarian politicians). Terner, working together with HIGI Papírsoft Zrt., a company that received significant state loans, worked together with one Péter Kelemen. He even represented Kelemen.

In the mid-2000s, Kelemen had a leading position in a company called NADAND, where Gennagyij Vlagyimirovics Szecsenov, president of Good Life Consulting, also held a leading position, and where Alekszej Trufanov’s name also later popped up.

This is how the Slovakia-based Good Life owner and chief executive, and Loyal Bank’s Huber are connected independently of Hungary’s residency bond sample contracts. Hujber told 444 that he has absolutely no connection to the Good Life Russians, and that Loyal Bank plays no part in the sale of Hungarian residency bonds.