The Ministry of Defence is using a Russian subcontractor that has been the subject of legal action to carry out potentially sensitive military cargo shipments. An insurance company and two businesses owned by Alexander Lebedev, financial backer of The Independent, claim the subcontractor, Polet, owes them millions of dollars.
Polet has recently been ordered by a Russian Arbitration Court to suspend flights of two giant freighter planes following an application by the aircraft’s owners claiming that its “financial resources and property will be insufficient for safe operation of the aircraft” .
British military forces are believed to use Polet, a cargo airline, to transport large pieces of military equipment for use in operations around the world. Polet acts as a subcontractor to the aircraft chartering company Chapman Freeborn, which has the primary MoD contract.
Asked about the security implications of using such a Russian company for sensitive British military use, when the UK and Russia disagree on many aspects of foreign policy, the MOD said Polet has passed security clearance. It added that MoD personnel escort sensitive shipments.
However, the MoD has declined Freedom of Information requests seeking details of what kind of cargo Polet is carrying, to which destinations, and what kind of security checks and assurances the airline has had to go through. It has also declined to give details of how much taxpayers' money has been spent on Polet.
The Lebedev companies leased two giant AN-124 freighter planes to Polet but claim the company owes them $9m in unpaid lease payments. Polet's position is that the non-payment was because the incorporation of the owner companies had been suspended.
The company said: “Polet Airlines are unable to make the lease payments as there are no incorporated owners to make the payments to. Polet Airlines have finance facilities available to make the payments and are willing to comply with the obligations under the lease, but are simply unable to make payments to the two non-incorporated entities.“
Earlier this month the aircraft owners petitioned the Moscow Arbitration Court for an interim order for Polet to be forced to stop flying the planes, claiming that Polet’s financial situation was insufficient for safe operation of the aircraft “which fact will threaten to destroy the aircraft during operation, and threaten traffic safety, human life and health”, according to their court application. They also claimed Polet’s insurance arrangements for the aircraft were inadequate to protect their interests.
The company won an interim order last week ruling that Polet must cease operating the aircraft. Polet has issued a statement claiming that reports that the court has grounded the planes are incorrect, and that it is appealing against the order - "taking measures to cancel the latest Moscow Arbitration Court decision".
Chapman Freeborn refused to comment.
Moscow court documents also appear to show that the Russian insurance company MAKS had applied for a bankruptcy order against Polet, claiming that Polet owed the company for insurance premiums. The court appears to have ordered that the application be abandoned and to have told the insurer it would need to refile the petition.
Polet says: "All matters relating to insurance have been agreed to the mutual benefit of both companies."