Polish aristocrat profits from Russia-Ukraine conflict

0
Russia, Ukraine, AMT Group Telecom, Polish aristocracy, EU sanctions, Digital Equipment Corporation, FSB, Federal Security Service, SVR, Russian Intelligence Service

The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has not only reshaped the geopolitical landscape but also highlighted the complexities of international business dealings in a time of stringent sanctions. Amidst this backdrop, the story of Andre Mankowski, a blue-blooded Polish businessman, brings to light the intricate web of financial and corporate ties that transcend borders and sanctions. Despite his apparent withdrawal from the public eye, Mankowski continues to profit from his Moscow-based IT company, AMT Group, raising critical questions about the enforcement of international sanctions and the ethics of global business practices.

Andre Mankowski, a descendant of Polish aristocracy and a dual citizen of Poland and France, founded the IT company AMT Group in Moscow during the mid-1990s. Over the years, this firm has grown into one of Russia’s largest IT systems integration companies, securing numerous government contracts with sensitive units such as the Ministry of Defense, the intelligence service, and the security services. However, following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Mankowski’s name was conspicuously removed from AMT Group’s website, suggesting a potential retreat from the company’s operations.

This removal coincided with an intensifying wave of international sanctions aimed at crippling Russia’s ability to sustain its military aggression. As a Russian entity, AMT Group could legally continue its business with sanctioned clients, but Mankowski, as an EU citizen, faced strict prohibitions. Despite his apparent retreat, investigative journalists from OCCRP partners iStories and FRONTSTORY.PL discovered that Mankowski continued to profit handsomely from the firm. Between 2022 and 2024, he received at least 250 million rubles (approximately US$2.8 million) from AMT Group, alongside an additional 27 million rubles (US$300,000) from an affiliated company, AMT Group Telecom. These financial transactions raise serious questions about the true extent of his involvement and the potential violations of EU sanctions.

The financial data uncovered by journalists revealed a consistent flow of substantial payments to Mankowski even after the imposition of sanctions. These payments, ranging from 400,000 to 26 million rubles (approximately US$4,000 to US$290,000), suggest ongoing significant involvement in the company’s operations. AMT Group has maintained lucrative contracts with various Russian state-owned and state-controlled entities, including several that have been directly sanctioned by the US and EU. Notable clients include a nuclear munitions manufacturer, a producer of technology for military aircraft, and Russia’s largest insurer.

These relationships raise serious concerns about potential violations of EU sanctions, which prohibit dealings with entities supporting Russia’s military operations. Kinga Redłowska, an expert on illicit finance with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), emphasized that Mankowski’s continued financial gains from such a firm could breach EU sanctions. She noted that the EU could impose sanctions on individuals supporting the Russian regime through business entities they control or own. If the EU fails to act, Poland could potentially include AMT Group on its sanctions list.

Tracing the flow of Mankowski’s earnings into his investments reveals a complex and opaque network of companies and financial transactions. The Mankowski family is well-known in Poland for their extensive investments in the historic spa town of Szczawnica. Since 2005, the family’s management company, Thermaleo, has been revitalizing the town’s resort, investing millions into property development. However, Thermaleo has consistently denied that any investment in Szczawnica originated from AMT Group, claiming that the funds came from Mankowski’s personal assets.

The ownership structure of the investments is complex, involving a series of nested companies that obscure the true source of the funds. Thermaleo itself has frequently ended financial years in debt, relying on “recapitalization from the Shareholders’ portfolio” to stay afloat, according to its financial statements. The corporate structure includes Thermaleo, SPA Management Limited in London, and AMF Limited in the tax haven of Guernsey, making it challenging to determine whether funds from AMT Group have indeed been funneled into the Polish spa town.

The Mankowski family’s connection to Szczawnica dates back to Andre’s grandfather, Count Adam Stadnicki, who acquired the resort in 1909. Following World War II, the resort was nationalized, leading to its deterioration. The Stadnicki heirs began efforts to reclaim it in the late 1990s, culminating in a 2005 settlement with the Polish government. The settlement granted the family majority shares in the spa, conditional on a significant investment to restore it.

Over the years, Thermaleo has overseen substantial development projects in Szczawnica, including high-end hotels, a sanatorium, and a horse stud farm. However, these ventures have not been particularly profitable, further fueling speculation about the sources of their funding. Local media have repeatedly questioned the family about this, but answers have been elusive, with Mankowski previously mentioning investment funds without providing specifics.

Andre Mankowski’s journey from aristocracy to business magnate is as complex as his financial dealings. Born Andrzej, he now uses the name Andre on company documents outside Poland. Family lore suggests that despite his aristocratic background, he once scraped a living on the streets of Paris. After completing his business and technical studies in France, Mankowski entered the fledgling computer industry, eventually landing a job with the French company Bull in 1974. He later rose through the ranks of the leading US firm Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), which was involved in the clandestine smuggling of computers into the Soviet Union.

Around the time of the USSR’s collapse, Mankowski became DEC’s commercial director in Russia, before founding AMT Group. Registered in France in 1994 and in Russia in 1995, the company soon became a major player in Russia’s IT sector, securing lucrative government contracts, including with entities under the Defense Ministry, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Russian Intelligence Service (SVR).

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, AMT Group has prospered from contracts with sanctioned entities, including a developer of nuclear warheads, a producer of technology for military aircraft, and Russia’s largest insurer. Despite Mankowski’s public condemnation of the war and his reported support for Ukrainian reconstruction and refugees, his financial ties to a company deeply embedded in Russia’s state apparatus pose significant ethical and legal dilemmas.

The case of Andre Mankowski and AMT Group underscores the challenges in enforcing international sanctions and the complexities of global business operations. Despite Mankowski’s apparent withdrawal from his public-facing roles, his continued financial gains from AMT Group illustrate the persistent and multifaceted nature of these challenges.

This situation highlights the need for robust mechanisms to trace and regulate cross-border financial flows, particularly in cases involving individuals and entities linked to sanctioned regimes. It raises important questions about the effectiveness of current sanctions and the potential for individuals to exploit legal and financial loopholes to continue profiting from activities that contradict international norms and policies.

Andre Mankowski’s story is a compelling example of how historical ties, complex financial networks, and international business dealings intersect with contemporary geopolitical conflicts. As the world grapples with the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, cases like this underscore the ongoing challenges in ensuring accountability and enforcing sanctions designed to curb support for aggressive regimes. Mankowski’s continued financial gains from AMT Group, despite his apparent withdrawal from its public-facing roles, illustrate the persistent and multifaceted nature of these challenges. The intricate web of corporate structures and financial transactions further complicates efforts to trace the true source of his investments, highlighting the need for greater transparency and regulatory oversight in international business dealings.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here