Kazakh corruption investigation of Artur Ardavichus leads to team office raid

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Credit: Artur Ardavichus

Artur Ardavichus has been in hot water with the Kazakhstani authorities for his rally raid excursions. Since 2020, Ardavichus is one of various figures under investigation by the Kazakh Anti-Corruption Agency, stemming from the Astana Presidential Sports Club embezzling two billion Kazakhstani tenge (slightly over €4.26 million) allocated by the country’s sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna.

Last week, the Netherlands’ tax agency Fiscal Information and Investigation Service (FIOD) raided a building in Hooge Zijde in Eindhoven that housed offices for EVM and Team de Rooy on Kazakhstan’s call. The two outfits previously fielded rides for Ardavichus in the Dakar Rally. The FIOD refused to comment further on the situation and referred to it answering a “request for mutual legal assistance”.

“We are part of a large investigation in Kazakhstan,” said Team de Rooy owner Gerard de Rooy. “Ardavichus had rented a car from us twice to be able to drive Dakar. He was the driver and Astana paid the bill. Astana has since been closed, but the money flows in several sports are being closely examined.

“We had to submit the contracts and invoices and we did. They took all these papers with them. I don’t know how it will go on. The contracts and invoices are supportive in the major investigation. The FIOD did this on behalf of Kazakhstan and has nothing else to do with it.”

EVN owner Peter Versluis pointed out police seized approximately “fifteen sheets of contracts, receipts, and some correspondence.”

Ardavichus began competing at the Dakar Rally in 2009 in the Truck category. The class has long been dominated by KAMAZ-master, and Ardavichus added to that list of success in his final year with the team in 2012, winning a stage and placing third to become the first Kazakh podium finisher. After a brief stint with Tatra, he signed with EVM (Eurol VeKa MAN) for the 2017 race and placed twenty-sixth.

In 2018, he joined Team de Rooy and drove the same IVECO truck that de Rooy piloted to the 2016 Rally victory. Since 2009, TDR is the only other team besides KAMAZ-master to win a Dakar Truck overall. Ardavichus would finish fourth in the category.

Astana served as title sponsor of Team de Rooy for the 2018 Rally. Founded in 2012, the club received state backing courtesy of Samruk-Kazyna to field a multitude of sporting clubs like Astana Pro Team for cycling, FC Astana for football, Barys HC for ice hockey, and Astana Motorsports overseen by Ardavichus.

The motorsport division had hoped to return in 2019 with Ardavichus, Quad rider Dmitry Shilov, and SSV racer Ikhsan Kalilambekov before the programme was shut down to save costs. In 2020, the Anti-Corruption Agency began looking into Ardavichus, Astana’s director Amanbek Kulchikov, and cycling team head Lazzat Shamshieva for alleged conspiracy to embezzle two billion tenge. Sergei Perov, one of the Anti-Corruption Agency’s department heads leading the investigation, accused Astana of taking significantly more money than necessary for expenses and “accepted fake reports” from the other two for their respective teams; tactics laid out by Perov that the trio undertook included faking transactions with overseas companies and making up events like training camps.

Kulchikov and Shamshieva were apprehended in April 2020 while Ardavichus was placed on a wanted list. Astana was dissolved later in the year, though the aforementioned teams still exist today.

Credit: Isfandiyar Alimov/Red Bull Content Pool

Ardavichus denied any wrongdoing in an Instagram statement made 13 December 2019. He has not posted on social media since.

“On various domestic outlets, there were publications with accusations against me,” began the Instagram entry. “According to the assumptions of the Anti-Corruption body, as the director and captain of the Astana Motorsports team, I am allegedly involved in the theft of a large amount by overstating applications for training camps and competitions.

“The accusatory bias is an integral attribute in the activities of the investigative body, which is explained by the specifics of their work. Because of this, any citizen who falls into the orbit of the investigation is forced to prove his innocence. Publication in the media is used as one of the methods forcing people to justify themselves in the eyes of the public. Apparently, I am no exception.

“Perhaps in our country, society and law enforcement agencies understand the presumption of innocence differently. Otherwise, I can not explain what is happening. I have not been interrogated in the case. I was not charged. I don’t know by whom and when the checks were initiated. The investigating authority has reliable information about my whereabouts. I am always in touch with the investigator. Written explanations were given about the impossibility of disrupting preparations for the start at the main tournament of the year – Dakar 2020. I am the chief technical consultant and driver of the European team and is contractually bound to it. I signed this contract long before the charges were brought. At the same time, I represent my native Kazakhstan. I did not receive and did not apply for a single tenge for preparation for this start from the Kazakhstani budget.

“My travel abroad is connected exclusively with my professional activities. I’ve been doing this kind of thing for a few years now. I answer all calls. I have already received calls from many of my compatriots, including journalists. I am open and available to everyone.

“I can’t understand how in such cases a search can be announced in relation to a person? I do not rule out that pressure through the media is a procedural requirement. Be that as it may, immediately after the end of the Dakar, I intend to arrive at home and present evidence in my defence. I am convinced that the state authorities will sort it out and make a legal decision.”

Despite the raid, Team de Rooy does not appear to have further ties to Astana or Ardavichus. The Dutch team currently has a partnership with Eurol Rally Sport to field trucks in the 2023 Dakar Rally for Martin and Mitchel van den Brink and Nico Stijnen.

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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