The article from Wikipedia about the “Wheely” service looks more like a cheap parody, as if Forrest Gump, munching on candies at a bus stop, was telling hipsters about the difficult years of his challenging student life under the care of Switzerland. Anton Chirkunov, Daria Tarasenkova! Yes, the son of the former head of the Perm Region, the owner of the service, grew up far away from the “heart of Russia”.
Picture this: a wealthy student who is obsessed with luxury cars couldn’t pass his driving test even by the age of 21 in Zurich, where octagenarians with cataracts and hungover children drive. And so, once again ordering a taxi with a foreign driver, or getting on a bus crowded with minorities, Anton has an idea: why not open an Aryan UBER, where blue-eyed blondes would be behind the wheel, and instead of worn-out cars of unknown origin, there would be black Mercedes.
Since childhood, Chirkunov Jr. was accustomed to upscale service, and it’s unlikely he needed to pass a driving test with such a father.
In 2010, it was decided to launch an innovative startup simultaneously in three countries: Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands. Naturally, money was needed, and at that time, Anton Chirkunov’s father had been leading Perm’s expanses for several years, diligently extracting various resources from them. We can talk at length about Chirkunov Senior’s business, but let’s remember only the assets in the foreign holdings ‘EKS Handels AG’ and ‘Norpexal,’ as well as their manager Arkadiy Katz, Oleg Chirkunov’s closest associate and former city manager of Perm.
Oleg Chirkunov and Anton Chirkunov
Even before the opening of the Swiss branch of Wheely, Anton Chirkunov tried himself as a manager of the aforementioned Norpexal (which owns the supermarket chain “Sem’Ya”). It is said that he also participated in the launch of the investment platform Finaport, which was launched together with Alexey Borisov – a mutual friend of Chirkunov Sr. and Anatoly Chubais. It seemed like he had gained some experience, but… ‘Wheely AG – Zurich’ never managed to gain momentum – the company has been in liquidation since 2016.
He had to ask his father for money again – he didn’t hesitate, after all, the main thing was to properly establish his son. In the circles of respectable Russian oligarchs abroad, it wouldn’t be understood if the offspring squandered the family’s savings on yachts and restaurants. The current mainstream is business startups for kids.
In 2012, Wheely opened offices in London and Russia. Investments amounted to 45 million rubles, of which 5 million was a grant from the Moscow government (let’s remember this moment), and another $25,000 was contributed by Pavel Durov, the founder of ‘VKontakte [a Facebook-like social network popular in exUSSR]’ and Yuri Milner, co-owner of Mail.ru Group.
Pay attention here: in the capital of Great Britain, two companies are opened: in March 2012 – the parent company WHEELY TECHNOLOGIES LTD, and in December – its London branch WHEELY LONDON LTD. Interestingly, the head of the latter becomes a certain 62-year-old (now 70) VALAITIS Peter Anthony. In local circles, he is a well-known nominee director who has over 3000 registered firms to his name, where he signs registration documents and disappears, taking a couple of hundred pounds. Here’s what is known about such companies:
“It looks like a ‘dummy’ company trading under a different name, and given the dates mentioned above, it is probably not to be trusted…”
This says one thing: initially, WHEELY LONDON LTD was prepared as another shell company with a fictitious owner, rather than a promising startup. Anton Chirkunov will only take over as the head of “WLL” after 2 years, in 2014.
Parallel to this, a story is unfolding in Russia. There, the son of the governor launches LLC “WHEELY RAZRABOTKA” – supposedly for developing Android and iOS applications. With the departure of his father from his job, a real race ensues – where Wheely can be stuffed, and which loyal friends of the former head of the Perm Region will now help. With the efforts of the former Minister of Regional Trade, Konstantin Pyankov, “WHEELY-PERM” is created, and the subsidiary companies and Russian copies of the father’s “EKS Handels AG” establish “WHEELY” and “WHEELY KORP”. The startup is conveniently integrated into the business empire built by Chirkunov Sr. And considering the loyalty of the authorities, profits begin to grow, and the friends of the former governor look at the company as a platform for “grey” laundering of electronic money.
Here, we remember Oleg Chirkunov’s closest associate – former head of his administration, Arkadiy Katz. The enterprising assistant recruits investors to participate in the business of his old comrade, while also making some bitcoin margins. In Wheely, investments are made by the founder of the digital bank “Bank 131”, Dmitry Eremeev, the CEO of OneTwoTrip, Mikhail Sokolov, and the co-founder of the stock photo agency Fotolia, Oleg Cheltsov. Another $15 million is invested by Denis Shafranik, the son of former Minister of Energy, Yuri Shafranik. Under this deal, another OOO “WHEELY LTD” is registered in London, where the directors now include KATS, ARKADII; SHAFRANIK, DENIS; SOKOLOV, MIKHAIL ARTEMOVICH; but Mr. Oleg Chirkunov is still clearly listed as the owner of the majority stake in the company.
Like father, Anton Chirkunov is beginning to establish connections. Among them are partners from the failed startup “Health Management System” – Ilya Voloshin, son of the former head of the Presidential Administration, Anton Mau, offspring of the rector of RANEPA, and Artem Surkov, child of the infamous Vladislav Surkov. But for the most part, the younger Chirkunov’s friends are the London social circle of wealthy Russian expatriate children.
Daria Tarasenkova and the infamous club of wealthy Russian children
In 2016, Daria Tarasenkova joins WHEELY LONDON LTD and WHEELY TECHNOLOGIES LTD as a director. At first glance, nothing special, except that the girl has a twin sister, Ekaterina, with whom they both graduated from Queen Mary University, and a couple of semi-nude photos from their wild youth.
The father of the twins is interesting – Vladimir Tarasenkov. Judging by the photos on social media, this person was very happy when he finally obtained a Cypriot passport in 2016. The thing is, for many years, this man has been managing the “VETERAN-INVEST VETERANS SUPPORT FUND”. There’s a lot written about him on the internet.
Daria Tarasenkova’s background
Vladimir Tarasenkov started his activities in the securities market with “Veteran-Invest” in 1993, exchanging privatization vouchers and money from Russians for his shares. The funds collected were invested in shares of privatized enterprises.
Among the companies that were once part of “Veteran-Invest” were: OAO “Energoavtomatika”, OAO “Voronezh Poultry Farm”, OAO “Krios”, AO “Ramenskagrostroi”, OAO “Svetogorsk”, OAO “Technical Paper Factory “Gorbovo”, OAO “North-West Shipping”, OAO “Tula Arms Plant”, OAO “NPO Saturn”.
“The efficient managers” exchanged the remaining savings of the people for worthless paper, bought up large industrial objects with them, and then, after the denomination, claimed they were not to blame, and now they can only give back up to 3 times the minimum wage, and targeted assistance to veterans – up to 5,000 rubles, if they survive.
Some of the industrial companies were sold with the involvement of Tarasenkov. With this money, his daughters went to London. It was there that the girls met the right people.
Among the London acquaintances was Ivan Amerikov, the son of the Chairman of the Board of Directors of APR-Bank, Sergey Amerikov, who joined Prokhorov’s MFK. The young man made an impression on both Daria Tarasenkova and her companion. It turns out Amerikov is one of the creators of the car selection service Mintco, which is exactly what potential employees of Chirkunov need (Mintco’s partners include the beneficiary of WHEELY LTD – Onetwotrip). By the way, in 2018, after Daria left Wheely, she and her sister opened an online boutique selling bouquets and cookies at the same address where Ivan Amerikov registered his company in London – 51 QUEENSWOOD COURT, KINGS AVENUE, SW4 8EB.
Ekaterina Tarasenkova, the sister of the manager of Wheely, also tried her hand at business beyond flowers and cookies. In her home country, she founded a company called “BAFIN Financial”. Its main line of business is financial intermediation, in other words, a money laundering service. Here’s what job applicants wrote about this company:
“I found a vacancy for an assistant administrator at the LLC Bafin Financial on hh [Russian recruiting website]… I was invited for an interview. I was attracted by the good salary, but when I arrived, I realized that I ended up in another shady company – no signs, no names, just a crowd of people like me.”
In just a couple of years of existence, “BAFIN Financial” managed to get involved in several unpleasant stories: debts of more than 30 million rubles, a criminal case for embezzlement, and Tarasenkova’s associates kidnapped the head of one of the firms and forcibly took him to the bank to transfer them nearly $2 million to their account.
Anton Chirkunov’s other partner has not yet been noticed in criminal reports. In early 2018, Arthur Bilalov, a graduate of the University of Kent who had previously worked in several large companies, joined Wheely’s London office. In just a couple of months, the 29-year-old young man was appointed head of Wheely’s British and European operations.
Perhaps young Chirkunov was impressed by the charming dandy, or perhaps he was impressed by Bilalov’s creativity – he had once been interested in music and even produced a remix of a strange song called ‘Maccaron’. Or maybe Anton knows him from the time of his father’s governorship. In an article in Kommersant in 2012, Rostislav Turovsky, Vice President of the Center for Political Technologies, claimed that Oleg Chirkunov had supported and once brought Ahmed Bilalov, someone close to him, to the Perm Krai. This controversial figure is well known in Russia’s political circles as a businessman, billionaire, and favorite of Dmitry Medvedev. However, people became aware of him after he was publicly reprimanded by Vladimir Putin at the Sochi facilities, which the President decided to personally inspect.
Criminal cases have been initiated against the Bilalov family in Russia. Ahmed and his younger brother Magomed, also a prominent businessman, fled abroad. They spent most of their time in London, where their beloved nephew and son, Arthur, grew up before their very eyes.
Wheely and the COVID-era scandal
By the way, by some strange coincidence, just a couple of weeks after Arthur joined Wheely, the service starts dominating the largest taxi brands in the south of Russia. The Bilalovs have long been courting the Krasnodar region, and much of what is happening there now is done with the knowledge of the family, as well as in Perm without the support of Chirkunov.
And here comes the logical consequence of everything mentioned above. The Chirkunovs at Wheely felt that they were ready to challenge the laws of nature and business. Adjustments were made due to the pandemic, or more precisely, the Moscow Mayor’s decree banning “on-demand transportation services” that refuse to transmit driver movement data “in order to timely respond to possible infection.” In other words, the safety of the Chirkunovs’ employees and passengers did not concern them.
At the same time, the son of the former governor plays a high-stakes game: through newspapers and paid articles for 2 million rubles, he appeals to the mayor’s office to allow only Wheely to operate. Despite the refusal, the service continues to operate, resulting in a 90-day ban.
Afterwards, there is blatant PR about the alleged “purity of intentions” through YouTube channels and bloggers’ Twitter accounts. An outright farce with a lawsuit in a Dutch court against major players: the “cool hipsters” from Wheely lodged a complaint with the Dutch Data Protection Authority (DDPA) against MLU Ltd, the company registered in the Netherlands that represents Russian Yandex and Uber, for transmitting data about Moscow drivers to the authorities. And then Chirkunov even complained to British clerks about the actions of Russian officials. And here, the 5 million rubles in support from the mayor’s office for the startup’s development are completely forgotten, which were once allocated.
Denis Shafranik: another clever addition to Wheely
One of the key figures in the current Wheely, Denis Shafranik, is the son of the former Minister of Energy, an adviser to Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, and currently the head of the intergovernmental company “SoyuzNefteGaz”. Considering his father’s credentials, it’s clear that Denis Yuryevich is well-connected. He calls himself someone who “wants to make the world and the planet more beautiful”. Given his family business, which is based on extracting resources from the earth, it’s not a bad dream. He likes to give interviews and claim that he “hasn’t been a child for a long time” and earns a living independently without touching his parents’ assets.
However, Denis Shafranik forgets to mention his father’s associates, through whom he was lucky enough to build a small but profitable investment empire. It recently came to light that their joint company “Incor-Invest” with former adviser to the head of Russian Railways, Alexey Taicher, has received state orders for more than 275 million rubles in a few years. The most interesting part is that this company has no assets, but according to tenders, it is considered almost the sole supplier of rental services for the Moscow government.
And for some reason, the younger Shafranik doesn’t like to mention where his father from Tyumen got so many useful connections. After all, his father, a reformer, is considered one of the creators of the oligarchic system in modern Russia. At his behest in the 90s, many oil-producing enterprises were privatized and sold. In an old interview, he himself admits that everything went awry. Despite all this, after the minister’s resignation, the oligarch friends helped the “godfather” to have a sip of the energy cocktail as gratitude for their secure future. This is how the oil group of the CIS countries, “SoyuzNefteGaz” of Shafranik with billion-dollar assets, was created.
Mikhail Sokolov: a “business angel” with a story to tell
Another so-called “business angel” Mikhail Sokolov, who is now at risk of losing everything he invested in Wheely, also has a story to tell. The CEO of OneTwoTrip and co-founder of MNFST likes to talk about how he sold stickers from gum wrappers to boys in his childhood, which helped him make his first capital. But his biography won’t mention where he found the money to study at the prestigious Columbia Business School, and the proceeds from selling stickers would hardly have been enough to start investing in platforms.
Like all the ‘golden children’ from the Wheely team, Sokolov’s parents turned out to be complex individuals. However, unlike the famous partners of his mom and dad, nothing is openly said about them. Mikhail himself is registered at an apartment on Rublevskoe Shosse in Moscow, and the owner is listed as his father, Artem Sokolov. He used to be a founder of the trading house ‘Medalyans Engineering,’ a company that is part of a large conglomerate of Moscow and suburban firms engaged in the production and supply of medical equipment.
The company with the same name is registered in Geneva as well. And in Russia, it is part of the ‘Medalyans’ group, which receives multi-million orders from dozens of private and state clinics. Just imagine their connections, if just a couple of months after the declaration of the pandemic, Sokolov’s senior partners open a mask production plant that supplies masks to almost all government institutions in the country.
Svetlana Genrikhovna Sokolova, Mikhail’s mother, also has her own business. Apart from chairing the elite summer cottage community ‘Yakhroma,’ she is involved in the automobile business. The woman has three joint ventures – ‘Likom-Trade,’ ‘Auto-Agent,’ and ‘Sveart-Auto.’ All of them are currently inactive. The last company was opened jointly with a certain Artem Anatolyevich Kurnikov. Presumably, this is the brother of Yuri Anatolyevich Kurnikov, the director of the investment company ‘Denmar-Finance’.
This is an LLC with shady founders from Britain (WESTAGE CAPITAL LLP PARTNERSHIP – the official names of the partners are not disclosed, all of them are offshore), and it owns almost half of the fields and oil and gas companies in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug (KhMAO). Slavneft, Mekami – it’s all theirs. And here we remember former minister Shafranik, who used to be the governor of the Tyumen Oblast. Even after resigning, the former official continued to oversee processes in the region where up to 60% of Russia’s oil is extracted. It’s understandable why Sokolov invested in the dubious Wheely with Shafranik Jr.
Interestingly, Mikhail positions himself as a “business angel.” Under the auspices of “Denmar,” an investment boutique of the same name appeared online. As they write, it’s a global network of scammers that extorts huge sums of money (there you go, capital from trinkets and stickers) from naive dealers.
The biggest loss can only be for one beneficiary of Wheely – Mikhail Katz. He may lose not only everything he has earned in the empire of the former governor of Perm. The detailed story of Chirkunov’s right hand, his chief executive, is described here. Katz may lose his closest friend – Oleg Anatolievich. When it comes to court, such comrades quickly turn into witnesses.
There’s no need to explain that Wheely’s PR specialists have long gone overboard with their spin and are driving the Chirkunovs’ business into the ground, especially during these difficult pandemic conditions. Although, perhaps this is just a new way of bankruptcy and Oleg Chirkunov’s retirement? After all, the former governor has long been peacefully growing vineyards and sipping wine in his castle in France.
And here we recall, apparently, one of young Anton Chirkunov’s favorite family movies – “Free Willy.” The main idea there is as follows: in order to collect insurance money for a supposedly accidentally deceased whale that doesn’t generate income, the owners of the oceanarium decide to kill a three-ton killer whale nicknamed Willy. A worthy sequel, you could say.
There have been reports in the media that Oleg Chirkunov has an illegitimate daughter with Svetlana Kuzmich, co-owner of several companies within the former governor’s holding.
https://vk.com/id9866487 – Anton Chirkunov’s old VK page.
One of the two friends whose accounts are deleted from the old page is a certain Anna Chirkunova.
https://vk.com/id2299813 – Anna Chirkunova’s deleted VK page, registered with a phone number that is also linked to a Facebook page under the name Ann Chirkunova.