Ilya Surkov, former head of a Russian construction firm, got rich by stealing over 6 million euros from the company he managed. He was accused of embezzling and transferring stolen funds to his offshore accounts in Panama and sentenced to 8 years in prison, however, he managed to escape the punishment by fleeing the country with forged documents.
Well planned fraud
In 2009-2010, the ex-president of Finstroy Holding, Ilya Surkov, appropriated €6,000,000 of the company funds and transferred them to his foreign bank accounts. The main recipient of the stolen money was Boulder Associated, a Panamanian firm that Surkov controlled.
During the investigation, Panamian and Switzerland authorities confirmed that Ilya Surkov was the actual beneficial owner of the stolen money. Before he escaped from Russia, he transferred the money to Lilia Scheffler-Sennowa, his partner in crime.
Mystery of double-birth and forgotten citizenship
In December 2013, Ilya Surkov escaped from Russia. At that moment, he was put under house arrest, and an investigation of his crime was in process. The fraudster managed to flee the country by pretending to be seriously sick and requesting medical help. He sneaked out from the hospital straight to the airport and left Russia, showing a fake Greek passport.
The trick with the fake Greek passport, Ilya Surkov had been preparing well in advance. He acquired it by presenting forged documents. Between the 1940s and 1950s, all the Greeks from the USSR were forcibly deported to Shymkent in Kazakhstan. Pretending to be a descendant of one of them, Surkov fabricated documents stating that he was born in Shymkent – even though his original passport indicates Moscow as his birthplace. The official information received from the Kazakh state archives confirms that neither Ilya Surkov nor his imaginary relatives lived or even visited the country. So by submitting to Greek authorities fake documents and by deceiving them, he got Greek citizenship that helped him escape justice.
After fleeing to Greece, Surkov sought asylum in the United Kingdom and was granted it in 2016. Presenting himself as a victim of political persecution, he persuaded Westminster Magistrates’ Court to deny extraditing him to Russia on fraud charges.
But Surkov only talked about his alleged political persecution in Russia. He never revealed to the British authorities that he was also a citizen of Greece with a Greek passport. The reason for such a deliberate obfuscation is obvious – had the authorities of Great Britain learned about his second European citizenship, they most likely would have never granted him political asylum.
Unmitigable sentence and machinations with property
In December 2019, the Nikulinsky court in Moscow found Ilya Surkov guilty of three counts of grand fraud and sentenced him to 5 years at a minimum-security prison. The decision was appealed by his lawyers, who tried to refute even the very fact of his guilt. The second hearing took place in July 2020, confirmed and reevaluated the seriousness of crimes committed and increased his sentence from 5 to 8 years in prison.
Surkov’s property in Russia is currently under arrest. That is a large apartment in Moscow, an elite house and land in the Moscow region, and a house in France. To recover his real estate, he filed a fictitious divorce with his wife, Lilia Scheffler-Sennowa. Furthermore, they signed a backdated loan agreement for 10.4 million US dollars in cash that Sennowa supposedly lent to Surkov. Russian and Swiss authorities still investigate how such fantastical cash loans can be easily juggled between two people.
The purpose of such sham divorce is obvious. They hoped that Lilia Scheffler-Sennowa would sue him for her part of the jointly acquired arrested property, and then part of it would be released from under arrest. However, the divorce plan failed as fraudsters forgot to stop posting tender photos of them spending time together on social media. Besides, Swiss authorities confirmed that it was not Sennowa giving money to Surkov, but vice versa. Surkov had been sending money to Sennowa’s account from his Panamanian offshore company. That is why in 2017, Sennowa’s demand for the refund of the loan was denied by the Russian court.
But Surkov came up with another deception. He forged an allegedly issued in 2010 promissory note – this time, to a paralysed disabled person – for $8.5 million in cash. On its basis, Surkov declared his bankruptcy in Russia.
Luxurious life of a Russian bankrupt
Despite his bankruptcy, Ilya Surkov and his scam partner Lilia Scheffler-Sennowa bought two houses in London for £3.45 million and £2.8 million, a home in France close to Cannes, and Chateau Diodato on the Cote d’Azur near Monaco.
The couple remains in comfort in London. She is a creative and managing producer at the Russian Roulette Magazine, published for rich Russian speakers residing or visiting the city. They live a luxury lifestyle – showing up together at different social events and fancy parties.