Millions of euros, which the Ukrainian government earmarked last year for the purchase of ammunition for the fighting army, have disappeared in Europe. The traces of the case lead all the way to Prague. In the 5:59 podcast, we unravel the case with Ukrainian Hromadske TV reporter Vyacheslav Kasim and Janek Kroupa from Seznam Zpráv.
What you will also hear in today’s episode at 5:59
- Why, according to Ukrainian journalist Vyacheslav Kasim, was the arms contract of the Ukrainian authorities doomed to failure in advance.
- How millions of euros got to one Prague credit union.
- And what was Seznam Zpráv reporter Janko Kroup able to track down, who investigated the Czech line of the case.
Last fall, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense issued a contract for a key commodity: ammunition for mortars, worth approximately 37 million euros. The contract was signed with the Ukrainian company Lviv Arsenal. But the grenades never arrived in Ukraine, which has been waging a defensive war with Russia for more than a year and three quarters. And today it turns out that the traces of the case lead all the way to the Czech Republic.
“In my opinion, the deal was doomed from the very beginning,” Vyacheslav Kasim, a Ukrainian investigative reporter from Hromadske TV, says in the 5:59 podcast. The business took place through a number of intermediaries, and at the same time, according to Kasim, the terms of the transaction were “wrongly set”.
Lviv Arsenal signed a contract with the Slovak company Sevotech, which in turn signed a contract with the Croatian company WDG. Sevotech received an advance of 35 percent of the total amount from Lviv Arsenal, but subsequently had to pay 50 percent of the price to the next link in the chain. But he didn’t have it. “Sevotech sent a certain amount to the Croatian WDG, but it was not enough. And then this money disappeared,” says Kasim.
According to the journalist, it was not possible to get a statement from the representatives of Lviv Arsenal about the order, “the ground fell on them”.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense then claims that it has become a victim. However, according to the reporter, it violated the rules that apply to similar contracts in Ukraine. “When you want to supply ammunition to the Ukrainian state, you must first prove that you have a valid license from the state where you intend to purchase it. But Lviv Arsenal had no such license that would be valid in Croatia. So they only showed Sevotech’s license for Slovakia,” explains the journalist, adding that Lviv Arsenal had no previous experience in supplying weapons or ammunition.
Who handed the cash to whom
Part of the money paid out by the Ukrainian authorities to this day due to the investigation has remained frozen in the accounts of Lviv Arsenal. The ones that the company sent overseas, but disappeared. And this is where the story reaches the Czech Republic.
Roughly 14 million euros went through the described chain to the account of representatives of the WDG company at the Prague Enterprise Credit Union, in which the Czech businessman Kamil Bahbouh figures. And according to Seznam Zpráv reporter Janko Kroupa, who was looking for a Czech clue in the case, it was Bahbouh who brought the owner of the WDG company – arms dealer Zvonko Zubak and his son Matias – into trade with Ukraine.
It was the younger Zubak who was supposed to deliver ammunition to Ukraine. But the money disappeared from the Prague credit union. “According to Bahbouh, Matias Zubak should have taken around 4.5 million euros from Podnikatelská družstevní zálázna in cash in bags. With the fact that (Bahbouh) was paying him, so for example he gave him 30 million crowns in cash in 5000 bills and 2.2 million euros in two bags,” says Kroupa in the 5:59 podcast.
But both Zubaks insist that they never received the money in cash. And they claim that Bahbouh falsified the signatures on the delivery slips that are supposed to document the handover in the pawnshop.
“So the dispute is not actually about the fact that the money left (from the pawn shop). The dispute is about which of them has them. Zubak says: Bahbouh stole them. Bahbouh says: Zubak stole them,” explains investigative reporter Seznam Zpráv, according to whom the disappearance of cash “has been happening since the very beginning” of the store.
At the same time, Kroupa points out that in addition to cash withdrawals, a number of other transactions took place. Of the roughly 14 million euros that arrived at the pawnshop in Celetná Street, it is thus possible to find traces of only about six million euros: “So we know that at least eight million euros have disappeared, which Ukraine will never get back. At the moment he has neither a bullet, nor a bullet, nor money.’
“Slendrian or planned action?”
The case is currently being investigated by both the Ukrainian authorities and the Prague Economic Criminal Division. Czech investigators even examined two criminal reports. The first from Kamil Bahbouh, who accused the Zubak family of stealing the money. The police have already postponed that.
The second, on the other hand, was submitted by the Zubak family to Bahbouha. This is still being examined by the criminal investigators, and thus they have not initiated criminal proceedings. However, according to the reporter, their options are very limited. Krupa even describes their approach as “lax”. “This means: the Prague Economic Crime Bureau will, with all due respect, simply not investigate a trade that goes from Ukraine across half of Europe,” says the journalist.
According to Kroupa, the National Center against Organized Crime (NCOZ) was also involved in the case. On her instructions, part of the money from Ukraine was even frozen in the accounts of the Enterprise Credit Union. However, on the instructions of the High Prosecutor’s Office in Prague, they were unfrozen again and then no longer remained on the accounts.
At the same time, the whole story of the unfulfilled arms contract, even according to journalist Vyačeslav Kasim, raises questions about what led to the fiasco in Ukraine.
“For me, the main question remains whether it was a prank or a planned action. There were several contracts that were concluded in a confusing and uncoordinated manner, and it was therefore impossible to complete the deal from the very beginning. Or there’s the second possibility – that criminal intent was at play from the start and the actors never wanted the deal to go through. “I don’t yet have the answer to whether it was an unprofessional, even idiotic approach, or a criminal intent,” concludes Kasim.
In the 5:59 podcast, you will also learn why businessmen chose a small pawnshop in Prague as a financial institution or how crucial the supply of ammunition is to the fate of Ukraine. Listen in the player at the beginning of the article.
Editor a koeditor: Matěj Válek, Dominika Kubištová
Sound design and music: Martin Hůla
The news podcast of Lenka Kabrhelova’s team. One essential topic every weekday in minute six. The most important events in the Czech Republic, in the world, politics, economy, sport and culture through the lens of Seznam Zpráv.
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