Apple distributor in Ukraine, Asbis, sanctioned for its work in Russia
The international company Asbis distributes hardware and software from such brands as Apple, Intel, Nvidia, Samsung, AMD, etc. Asbis was the only official Apple distributor in Ukraine until recently. Its turnover amounts to billions of dollars. At the start of the full-scale war the company announced plans to suspend operations in Russia.
Recently, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a National Security and Defense Council order on sanctions. This list of companies includes the Russian representative office of the international Asbis (ООО «Асбис» with an office in Moscow).
The AIN.Capital editorial team has spent several months investigating the work of the international Asbis and cites facts that may suggest that the company is continuing to operate in Russia and may also indicate parallel imports of products to neighboring countries by Asbis. Interestingly, the company itself was founded by a native of Belarus, who is also listed among the shareholders of the Ukrainian legal entity of this company.
Asbis (ASBISc Enterprises Plc), an international holding company based in Limassol, Cyprus, is a major distributor of computer hardware, electronics, components, and software. Among the brands Asbis works with are Apple, Intel, Microsoft, AMD, Western Digital, Samsung, Dell, Acer, Lenovo, and many others.
The company was founded in 1990 by a Belarus-born entrepreneur and Cyprus citizen, Siarhei Kostevitch. It initially distributed Seagate Technology products to the countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. It was incorporated in Cyprus in 1995. The company’s first franchise partners appeared in Russia and Kazakhstan in 1996, and in 1997, it opened an office in Ukraine and reached a turnover of $100 million.
In 2021, Asbis announced a revenue of $3 billion, had offices in 27 countries, and had over 270 high-tech brands in its portfolio. And for 2022 (financial results for the four quarters have not yet been announced), its forecasts range from $2.2 to $2.4 billion.
Asbis is a leading distributor of Apple products to Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Armenia. Until recently, only Asbis delivered legal Apple products to Ukraine (before it, ERC did it). With the opening of an official representative office in Kyiv in 2021, Apple began to transport its goods to Ukraine independently, but Asbis still participates in the supply chain. Previously, Asbis received devices from Apple at its warehouses in Prague and transported them further across the border, dealing with customs clearance. But now Apple brings the devices to the Ukrainian Asbis warehouse, and then the company ships them to partner stores.
Asbis is a big company in the Ukrainian market. However, its owners include a shareholder from Belarus. Also, after more than one year since the start of the full-scale invasion, the company has not left the Russian and Belarusian markets, although, according to the company, it has stopped operations there. Apple, for example, stopped selling in Russia in early March 2022.
The company shareholders are a Greek entity and persons of Belarusian origin. The Asbis CEO, an entrepreneur, Siarhei Kostevitch (a Cypriot with Belarusian roots), founded it 30 years ago and possesses 36,8% through KS Holdings Ltd:
The rest of the company owners are also its Board of Directors and management members. For example, Marios Christou (0,83%) is CFO, Konstantinos Tziamalis is Deputy CEO, Julia Prihodko is Chief Human Relations Officer (who built her career at Asbis Ukraine), etc.
It used to have other investors, for instance, Alpha Ventures SA, a venture subsidiary of the Greek Alpha Bank (it has no connection with the Russian group with a similar name) and Black Sea Fund: Asbis was getting their funds until 2002. According to the financial statements, Alpha Bank had 6,6%, and Black Sea Fund 10%.
This Greek Alpha Bank even made a special statement at the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion that it had no connection to the bank operating in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. It is one of the oldest banks in Greece, established in 1879. Now it is a part of the Alpha Ventures SA group.
However, some hints on the Russian Alpha and its beneficiary, Mikhail Fridman, remain. The Chief Human Relations Officer and Executive Director of Human Resources at Asbis, Julia Prihodko, is another Board of Directors member but holds no shares. She was Head of the Human Resources Department at Alpha Insurance, a Ukrainian insurance company, from July 2009 till 2015. As of January 2023, Alpha Insurance belongs to ABH Holdings SA (ABHH). And the beneficial owner of Alpha Insurance (Ukraine) is Mikhail Fridman (a Russian oligarch under sanctions of the EU, Great Britain, Ukraine, and other nations due to his Russian business connections).
According to the data published in 2020, Asbis Global used the banking consulting services of the Russian Alpha Bank, Sberbank, and Zenit Bank, and its Russian subsidiaries had loans in Sberbank.
A Cypriot of Belarusian origin, Yuri Ulasovich, is also among the ex-shareholders of the company. In the Annual Report 2020, he is mentioned as a Board of Directors member and holder of a 0,38% share. Ulasovich obtained a master’s degree from the Novosibirsk Higher Military Command School and the Military Academy of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia. Since 1995, he worked for Asbis as Regional Sales Director. In 2004, he got the promotion to the Vice-President of Marketing. Since 2015, Yuri has been COO. But not among shareholders anymore. The Asbis founder, an entrepreneur of Belarusian origin, a Cypriot Siarhei Kostevitch (through ASBISc Enterprises Plc), is also the beneficial owner of a Ukrainian company, ТОВ ПІІ «Асбіс-Україна» (Asbis-Ukraine LTD):
The AIN.Capital editorial team isn’t aware of any information confirming that Siarhei Kostevitch has only Cyprus citizenship.
Does Asbis operate in Russia and Belarus?
Asbis declared its support for Ukraine, established a €2 million humanitarian fund, and delivered gear, generators, medical aid, ambulances, and other vehicles to Ukraine during the war.
Before the full-scale Russian invasion, the Russian Federation and Ukraine were the largest markets for Asbis. However, the company stated in its papers that the Russian-Ukrainian war began only in 2022, not 2014. In 2021, Russia was the No. 1 Asbis market with $576 million; Ukraine ($475 million) and Kazakhstan ($383 million) were in second and third place, respectively.
So, the company earned about 20% of its income in Russia before the war started. Asbis also had 100% owned “daughters” in Russia and Belarus (see the Annual Report 2021):
- ООО «Асбис» (Asbis LLC) (Moscow);
- ООО Must (Must Ltd.) (Moscow);
- ООО Avectis (Avectis Ltd.) (Moscow);
- FPUE Automatic Systems of Business Control (Minsk);
- Asbis Close Joint-Stock Company (Minsk);
- E-Vision Production Unitary Enterprise (Minsk);
- Training center for managers and specialists in the IT industry (Minsk);
- Breezy LLC (former Cafe-Connect, Minsk);
- MacSolutions (Minsk);
- Vizuators LLC (Minsk) and others.
It also has a number of Ukrainian entities: ТОВ ПІІ «Асбіс-Україна» (Asbis-Ukraine Ltd), ТОВ «ІОН-Україна» (iON Ltd), ТОВ «Брізі» (Breezy Ltd), ТОВ «Айсаппорт» (iSupport Ltd, former Asbis Service), etc.
In 2021-2022, Asbis partly shut down its Russian and Belarusian businesses. Officially, Avectis offices in Moscow and Minsk were closed in November 2021. The Belarusian company Avectis, acquired by Asbis via Atlantech in 2017, worked with Belarusian state-owned companies and large enterprises such as MAZ or Belshina.
In May 2021, Belarusian Visalia LLC, Vizuator LLC, and Vizuators LLC were also terminated. The Must company, registered in Moscow, was sold in July 2022.
The consolidated report for Q3 2022 describes the consequences of the war the company faced and says that Asbis shrunk its presence in Russia and Belarus.
“A country-by-country analysis confirms that a major decrease in sales in Q3 2022 was noticed in the markets directly involved in the invasion of Ukraine, i.e., Russia and Belarus, where the Group has decided to significantly reduce its business.”
Before it invaded Ukraine, Russia was No. 1 in sales. And only after a year it ended beyond the TOP 10 markets. According to the interim report, the Russian market decreased more than twice: The company earned $107.1 million for six months of 2022 (compared to $238 million in 2021).
The financial results in Q3 2022 showed that sales in Russia were lower than in the TOP 10 markets. Kazakhstan became a new TOP 1:
The consolidated report for Q4 2022 says that as of December 31, 2022, Asbis still had firms operating in Russia and Belarus: ООО «Асбис» (Asbis LLC) and FPUE, E-Vision, Asbis CJSC, Breezy LLC, Maksolutions in Minsk. According to the report, “the war between Ukraine and Russia” created uncomfortable conditions for business, and sanctions on Russia “limited sale opportunities for specific products.”
It also noticed that currency exchange rates in countries where the company is present affected the revenue, including the Russian Ruble. According to the report, the Group ceased its operation in Russia.
Its sales in Russia were $134 in 2022. Considering the fact that the company earned $107.1 for six months of 2022, it continued its business in Russia, which resulted in $27 million in Q3-Q4 sales.
At the same time, the numbers in Russian-neighboring markets were remarkable. For example, Armenia showed over 217% growth, and Georgia, 124%. The sales in Kazakhstan increased more than twice. Azerbaijan, which was beyond the TOP 10 in 2021, now became one of the leaders. All this could indicate a parallel import to Russia emerging after many international companies left the Russian market.
In February 2023, David O’Sullivan, the EU’s newly appointed sanctions envoy, told the Financial Times that big increases in trade with countries in Russia’s neighborhood raised questions as to whether products hit by sanctions were entering the country via the back door. Armenia and Kyrgyzstan are among those with sharp increases in western imports and rises in exports to Russia. Asbis declares, however, its straight conformity with all the sanctions on Russia and Belarus without naming the reasons for the rises in sales in Russia’s neighborhood.
When this article was published, Asbis had at least one company in the Russian Federation, ООО «Асбис» (Asbis LLC). Its website in the first-level domain (which is impossible to get without trademark rights) continues to work. And its offices in Moscow, Kazan, and Rostov-on-Don publish some job openings for developers, administrators, and support specialists. There are old vacancies dated 2022 and new ones from March 2023.
On the Russian website, the vendor list still contains Yandex, which is under sanctions. However, in the report Q4 2022, Asbis noticed multiple times that the company strictly follows the sanctions and does not sell goods to entities under sanctions.
A statement of the company
In response to a question about its presence and activity in the Russian and Belarusian markets, Asbis told AIN.Capital that
- the company doesn’t work in Russia, but ASBIS Group still owns the Russian ООО «Асбис» (Asbis LLC) (which does no operation).
- Asbis follows all the EU sanctions on Russia and Belarus and has ceased selling the sanctioned goods in both markets immediately. Asbis and its vendors removed the inventory from Russia and returned it to suppliers.