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Russia Accuses Major Vodka Distiller of Funding Ukraine Army

Global Spirits founder Yevhen Chernyak. Valery Melnikov / Kommersant

Russia has added the Ukrainian owner of a popular vodka brand to its wanted list on suspicion of financing Ukraine’s armed forces.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said Monday it had launched a criminal investigation into Yevhen Cherniak, the founder of Ukraine’s Global Spirits holding — which produces Khortytsa vodka — on charges of sponsoring terrorism.

Cherniak is accused of transferring 500 million rubles ($5.5 million) to the Ukrainian army between February and April 2022, as well as 90 million rubles ($1 million) worth of military equipment in June 2023.

In 2021, Cherniak was ranked Ukraine’s 19th wealthiest businessman, with a net worth of $470 million.

Two of Cherniak’s Russian associates have been detained on suspicion of bribery, Russia’s Investigative Committee said.

A database of Moscow’s Zamoskvoretsky District Court listed the owner of two Russian distilleries, Alexander Bespalov, and the CEO of one of the distilleries, Andrei Lazutin, as suspects in the bribery case.

The Investigative Committee said it was looking to seize the assets of Cherniak’s Russian businesses “in the nearest future.”

Bespalov was reported to have taken over Cherniak’s distilleries “Russky Sever” and “Rodnik i K” in April 2022.

Sources told the Kommersant business daily at the time that the takeover was a mere “formality” that would allow Cherniak to deny any Russian business presence during wartime.

Kommersant listed Khortytsa and Morosha — both Global Spirits products — as Russia’s top two popular vodka brands in 2021.

Global Spirits said it had revoked its product and distribution licenses in Russia after the 2022 invasion of Ukraine and has filed a lawsuit in Cyprus in connection with the improper use of its intellectual property.

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