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Russian billionaire who bought cement giant Holcim is a deepfake, Proekt reports

Evgeny Kostyukevich, the man who declared himself the owner of the Russian assets left behind by Swiss cement giant Holcim, which had withdrawn from Russia, is not the protagonist of this story but an inanimate digital entity created with the deepfake technology. As Proekt has found out, criminals used his identity to present him as an entrepreneur with a $2 billion fortune to try and seize ownership of Holcim's Russian business. The attack on the company may have been launched by Vladimir Putin’s associates.

Kostyukevich's claims over Holcim assets were voiced first in his interview with Forbes (removed from the website but accessible as an archived copy) and materialized in a copy of a court decision that he (or rather his impersonator) presented to Forbes. The document suggested that in June 2022, the Lenin District Court in the city of Grozny ruled to transfer 100% shares of Holcim’s primary Russian assets to Kostyukevich.

Holcim representatives stated they had never met “Kostyukevich” and that the assignment agreement was fake. The company learned about his claims post factum when a group of individuals attempted to register Holcim’s Russian business in their names.

Trying to get to the bottom of the story, the author of Proekt's investigation (a Forbes journalist at the time) arranged a video interview with Kostyukevich. Here is how he describes the experience:

“The opportunity to appreciate the criminal masterminds’ resourcefulness presented itself an hour past the scheduled appointment – when Kostyukevich’s image finally appeared on the screen. His very first utterance made it apparent that we were dealing with a deepfake: a photograph animated with the help of AI. The ridicule of the situation was apparent, but it got worse. The fraudsters used an image of very low quality for the conference. The only moving parts of Kostyukevich's face were his pupils and the corners of his mouth, while the face contours appeared glued to the background.”

The scam was well-timed. As Proekt indicates, after Holcim announced its withdrawal from Russia, a company named Rondana (OOO) appealed to the same Lenin District Court in Grozny, seeking over $4 million from Holcim in damages. The Swiss group of companies denied ever doing business with Rondana. Further investigation showed that Rondana representatives were at the very least connected to the organizers of Kostyukevich’s interview and appear to have acted in cahoots.

Proekt believes that the attack on Holcim may have been launched by associates of Vladimir Putin’s and the entourage of the Russian vice PM Marat Husnullin. In particular, this includes Igor Kharchenko, a seasoned cement expert. Among his business associates are members of Putin's St. Petersburg circle and the team of Marat Husnullin, who is in charge of public construction, including the rebuilding of occupied Ukrainian cities.

Proekt’s investigation also showed that Kharchenko's business intersects with Magomed Musaev's entities (Musaev is the owner of Russian Forbes). According to one of the versions, this was caused by RBS lawyers, who provided services to both entrepreneurs.

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