The senior US politician visited Sweden in August to attend the wedding of his stepson, ketchup heir André Heinz and Icelandic Maria Marteinsdottir.
The reception was held at the luxurious mansion Åsgårds herrgård outside Mariefred, located next to Lake Mälaren on the Swedish countryside.
An Expressen investigation now shows that the venue’s Russian owner Viatcheslav Mikhailov currently has 74 business contracts with the Russian state, including the military, the security service FSB, as well as president Putin’s private security team, FSO.
The wedding celebrations in Sweden took place just before the talks between John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the situation in Syria.
Kerry’s presence at the party meant security was heightened in the area, with Swedish police working alongside the US Security Service. Local media reported that police boats were patrolling the waters and members of the National Task Force watched from the surrounding terrain.
Uses as a rental venue
The country mansion was bought by 71-year-old Mikhailov in 2013 and is primarily used as a rental venue for private parties. The businessman is also said to occasionally reside in the property.
Mikhailov’s business portfolio consists of properties, hotels, cars, motorcyles, and education services. He is, however, best-known in Russia for founding Slami, a leading musical instrument distributor in the country.
“Slami owns the largest retail chain in Russia, branded “Mir Muzyki”, the company says on its website.
The Expressen investigation shows several connections between the businessman and Putin’s regime: the Russian state is a major client of Mikhailov, and a firm in the business empire have won at least 74 state contracts since 2012.
Has contracts with the military
Documents filed with the Russian registrar of companies (Interfax Spark) and the official contracts register show that Mikhailov’s largest client is the city of Moscow’s culture department.
Records also reveal Mikhailov’s contracts with the military, the FSB, and federal protective service (FSO), which is responsible for protecting the life of the President. These agreements cover services provided to the federal border control, as well as the FSB’s training academy for intelligence personnel.
Other contracts listed are for communication equipment, intended for the Russian military.
"Has won numerous contracts
The investigative journalist Mark Rachkevych, a Kiev-based American correspondent for the The Ukrainian Weekly, said of the contracts:
”Mir Muzika certainly seems like a favored company for supplying musical apparatus and equipment to state-run bodies and government agencies. It has won numerous contracts over the past several years”.
The total revenue from the state contracts between 2012-2016 was 29 million SEK.
Mikhailov is registered at one of Moscow’s most exclusive addresses, the post-modern Skyscraper “Scarlet Sails 2” in the northeastern part of the city. However, he lives in a 600 square metre villa outside Moscow.
The businessman is also named in the recently published Panama Papers, showing how assets were hidden via offshore companies. Viatcheslav Mikhailov and one of his sons have attempted to hide at least four companies in Panama and The Bahamas through an intermediary in Switzerland. Three of these businesses were listed under the same name as the Russian mother company, alongside the Swedish mansion – Slami.
"Shouldn't dig so deep into such details"
Expressen tried to reach the businessman at Åsgårds herrgård. The site manager Vitaliya Mildhult advised us not to investigate the owner and the connections to the Russian state further.
“You don’t have to write about this. You shouldn’t dig so deep into such details. Who is interested in the owner of the house?”, Mildhult said.
Regardless of this, we were told that the venue has been booked several times by a number of private Russian groups and companies.
Viatcheslav Mikhailov was not available to comment but his son agreed to speak on behalf of the family business.
“The wedding resulted in several new bookings from other potential guests and event agencies, so we hope that there will be more weddings and other events”, Viatcheslav Jr said.
The son denied having any political connections and explained that the contracts with President Putin’s protective service (FSO) included provision of musical instruments for the Kremlin’s orchestra.
“We sell musical instruments to state-owned music academies. There is a bidding process where they look for the cheapest price. Sometimes we win, sometimes we don’t. We sell instruments to everyone. Even to the state.”
“We are an international family and not involved in politics at all. We don’t have any views on that”, Viatcheslav Jr went on to say.
He also confirmed that the family-run offshore companies in Panama have recently been dissolved.
“It’s all about optimising taxes. Everyone uses offshore companies.”
Declined to comment
The US State Department has declined to comment on Kerry’s wedding party in Sweden.
Russian security matters have been a contentious issue in the current US election campaign. Experts suggest that the Democratic party might fear a report on the Swedish wedding party could benefit Donald Trump’s campaign, particularly if Kerry was aware of who the owner of the wedding venue is.
Ian Higham of Stockholm University:
- If he knew then it was certainly poor judgement.
- This would certainly be to Trumps benefit because showing that the democrats are also connected to the russians would at least even out concerns that he has connections to Russia.
Martin Kragh, head of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, said that state contracts often are associated with corruption.
“Researchers, independent experts and journalists are clear that in countries such as Russia this is a major source of corruption problems”, Kragh said.
John Kerry’s stepson André Heinz has been unavailable for a comment.