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Miami-Dade County

Russia tells official who bought Trump-branded Florida condos: You’re fired

A Russian government official who bought South Florida condos branded by President Donald Trump has heard an unwelcome refrain: You’re fired.

Igor Zorin lost his job running a state-owned Russian communications firm after a Miami Herald investigation revealed he owned multi-million dollar condos at Trump Palace in Sunny Isles Beach — and had ties to members of a South Florida motorcycle club dedicated to Russia’s special forces, the Spetsnaz.

Russian officials aren’t allowed to own foreign corporations like the Florida limited liability companies Zorin used to buy the condos. They must also disclose any overseas properties, which Zorin failed to do.

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His firing, reported last week by the Russian newspaper Kommersant, comes after Russian prosecutors ruled his investments violated the nation’s anti-corruption laws. The Herald also found he had an undisclosed business relationship with the security firm of a former Russian intelligence officer, Svyatoslav Mangushev, who now lives in South Florida. Zorin’s state-owned company, the Russian Broadcasting and Alert Network, hired Mangushev’s company as a contractor.

Mangushev, who served with Russia’s elite Alpha Team, a special forces branch, helped start the biker club after moving to the United States. The group, Spetsnaz M.C., asked for official recognition from the Night Wolves, a powerful motorcycle club in Russia closely allied with President Vladimir Putin and hit with sanctions by the Obama and Trump administrations. The Night Wolves fought alongside separatist militias in Ukraine backed by Russia. They once had their flag flown in space by Russian cosmonauts. Spetsnaz shut down after its members, including a Broward sheriff’s deputy, were contacted by a Herald reporter.

Zorin purchased two Trump condos for a total of $4.5 million in 2012 and 2013, and had a $1.5 million property bought by Mangushev transferred into his name. The deals were resales from individual owners. That means the Trump Organization did not receive money from the purchases. Russian home buyers value the Trump brand for its association with luxury and power. Zorin also spent $3.3 million on a Bal Harbour mansion.

He disclosed none of the properties in government filings, as required by Russian law. His bureaucrat’s salary of $75,000 would not have covered the cost of the condos, the disclosures showed.

Russia’s government is rife with kleptocracy, according to anti-corruption studies — and South Florida offers a favorable hiding place with its tropical climate and opaque real estate market. The development of Trump-branded properties in Sunny Isles Beach helped turn the sleepy seaside resort town into an imposing high-rise haven filled with wealthy buyers from Russia and Latin America, including politicians and government officials.

From Moscow to Miami

Zorin’s properties and relationship with Mangushev were reported to prosecutors by the Russian chapter of Transparency International, a global nonprofit that advocates against corruption.

“The allegations about specific violations of anti-corruption legislation by Zorin have been confirmed,” V.G. Volkov, Russia’s assistant prosecutor general, wrote in a letter last month to Transparency International. “Currently, the prosecutorial response is being considered.”

Ilya Shumanov, deputy director of Transparency International, admitted he was surprised by the ruling.

“This is one of the rarest [instances] when the General Prosecutor’s Office agrees with our allegations,” Shumanov wrote in an email.

It’s possible, he said, that Russian authorities are seeking to make an example of Zorin and send a signal to other officials: “Get rid of the property on the other side of the Atlantic.”

Kommersant reported that Zorin is unlikely to face criminal charges.

The Russian Broadcasting and Alert Network, known by its Russian acronym RSVO, handles emergency broadcast and telecommunications activities for the Russian government. Among its duties: Setting up sound systems for the annual military parade through Red Square.

Zorin and his agency did not respond to requests for comment before the Herald’s original story ran. He could not be reached for comment after news of his firing broke. Mangushev had told the Herald through an attorney that he no longer owns the security firm and now runs a South Florida real estate company.

Contacted for comment, the attorney, Olesia Belchenko, said again that Mangushev had sold his shares in the firm in 2013. While she previously denied any “business relationship” between Mangushev and Zorin, she said in an email Monday that Mangushev’s company “has assisted Mr. Zorin with locating the properties for purchase.”

Trump sold his gold-plated name to several South Florida developers for use on their luxury condo projects, including the builders of Trump Palace, which opened in 2006. The projects were heavily marketed to Russian elites, with brokers jetting off to Moscow and European vacation spots favored by oligarchs.

The president’s close ties to Russia led to the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate alleged collusion between Trump’s inner circle and Russian operatives seeking to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

After the Herald’s first story ran, it discovered additional properties owned by Florida limited liability companies registered to Zorin, including another condo at Trump Palace purchased for $1.35 million in 2013.

Through a shell company, Zorin also owned a condo valued at $147,000 at a Hollywood building.

The company was transferred out of Zorin’s name weeks after the Herald story ran. It is now managed by Vadim Yushkevich, a real estate agent at a real estate investment firm owned by Mangushev.

Yushkevich did not immediately respond to a voice message.

The condo was sold for $260,000 in August.

Given the political tensions between Russia and the U.S., Shumanov said, for Zorin to have American properties is like “he owned a place in hell.”

Lily Dobrovolskaya contributed reporting from Moscow.

Nicholas Nehamas: 305-376-3745, @NickNehamas

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