This is the mysterious Russian businessman who owned the ‘floating bomb’ ship that ripped through Beirut, killing more than 180 people and leaving 300,000 homeless.
MailOnline tracked down reclusive shipping tycoon Igor Grechushkin to Cyprus, where he lives with his glamorous wife Irina and their three sons.
Mr Grechushkin either owned or leased the Moldovan-registered cargo ship, the MV Rhosus, which docked in 2013 in Beirut carrying 2,750 tonnes of explosive ammonium nitrate, destined for Mozambique.
Disaster struck on August 4 when the lethal cargo seized seven years ago by the Lebanese authorities and stored at the port blew up, injuring 6,000 people, destroying vast swathes of Beirut and sparking mass protests across the country.
Igor Grechushkin, the Russian businessman owner of the cargo ship which carried 2,750 tonnes of deadly ammonium nitrate that exploded and ripped through Beirut, broke cover in Cyprus yesterday as he tried to sell his Volvo car
Using the pseudonym ‘Gary’ Mr Grechushkin (left and right) has been trying to sell off a whole host of his personal possessions in Cyprus including his car for 15,500 euros, his Harley Davidson (right) and even a wall mounted ironing board
Beirut was rocked last month when 2,750 tonnes of lethal ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse at the port blew up and ripped through the Lebanese capital, killing 180 people, injuring 6,000 and sparking mass protests across the country
Mr Grechushkin owned the Moldovan-registered cargo ship, the MV Rhosus, pictured here in 2011, two years before it docked in 2013 in Beirut carrying 2,750 tonnes of explosive ammonium nitrate, destined for Mozambique
Now MailOnline can reveal that just hours after the devastating tragedy, 43-year-old Russian-born Mr Grechushkin began a ‘fire sale’ of his personal possessions.
This included his prized Harley Davidson motorbike for sale for 12,000 euros; his Volvo XC60 for 15,500 euros; a satellite dish plus random household goods including a wall-mounted ironing board.
For the sale he has been using the pseudonym ‘Gary’ as he lies low on Cyprus while his wife Irina, has adopted a fake surname – ‘York’ – on social media while claiming her family has ‘suffered enough’.
It is unclear if the sale of possessions is linked to him bailing out of Cyprus.
MailOnline found the mysterious businessman in a car park in Limassol, Cyprus, where he was trying to sell the Volvo.
When he was asked about the blast that ripped through the capital, a gaunt-looking Mr Grechushkin, dressed in a dark t-shirt and blue shorts, declined to comment as he climbed into the car and drove off.
While the man at the centre of the scandal has remained tight-lipped over the blast, his family back in Russia has rallied around to defend him.
Some 7,300 miles away in the Russian coastal town of Vanino where the tycoon was born, his father Valentin said his son has been made a ‘scapegoat’.
Mr Grechushkin (pictured during his younger years, right) was reportedly paid $1million to transport the capital from Georgia to Mozambique in 2013. The Russian-born businessman now lives in Cyprus with his wife Irina (left) and their three children
Within just hours of the Beirut blast which sparked weeks of protests in the country Mr Grechushkin logged on to the Cypriot sales site Bazaraki to sell his Volvo XC60 for 15,500 euros
He is also selling his Harley Davidson motorcycle for 12,000 euros as he continues to stay tight-lipped about the tragedy
Speaking from the family’s modern home, his father Valentin laid blame for the disaster firmly at the door of the ship’s captain Boris Prokoshev, saying defiantly: ‘The one who created such a situation should be responsible for it.
‘The captain created it. Ask him the questions – because my son has been made a scapegoat.’
He asked: ‘Look at me, am I a normal man judging by my looks? Decent? My son in the same.’
The ship’s captain Boris Prokoshev (above) says he is still owed thousands of dollars by his ex-boss Mr Grechushkin
Mr Grechushkin has only answered questions to Cypriot police at the request of the Lebanese authorities via Interpol.
Valentin, 66, could not answer why his son has refused to speak publicly.
It could be that his son didn’t own the Rhosus and was only leasing it at the time. Reports have suggested he owned it via an offshore company Teto Shipping Limited in the Marshall Islands.
However conflicting reports say it was owned instead by Briarwood Corp, which was owned by Cypriot shipping tycoon Charalambos Manoli.
Mr Manoli had claimed he sold it to Mr Grechushkin – then changed his account to say he’d leased the vessel to the Russian.
Whatever the truth and despite his family’s defence, the ship’s former captain Mr Prokoshev launched a stinging criticism of the man he used to work for, accusing him of ‘hiding in a bunker’ and describing him as a ‘scumbag.’
Captain Prokoshev, 70, now retired, told MailOnline: ‘What would I tell Igor if I was to meet him now?
‘I don’t think this will ever happen, because Igor clearly got himself into a bunker. He is hiding, and I am not sure how he will get out of this situation.
‘But I would tell him that he is a scumbag. He is a bandit, because only a scumbag and a bandit could have done what he did to us.
‘If he was in trouble, he could have told us at least something.
‘He could have explained that he was having financial difficulties. He could have said something.
‘But he just vanished. There was not a word before suddenly we had the drinking water supply cut short, then food supply stopped.’
Captain Prokoshev (far right with the crew on board of MV Rhosus in Beirut) has given his account of how the ship left Georgia in 2013 with the deadly compound bound for Mozambique, but was impounded in Lebanon where it remained for seven years
In his account, Mr Prokoshev alleges that the catastrophic series of events that resulted in last month’s explosion began in Georgia, from where the Rhosus set sail in September 2013 after Rustavi Azot, a chemical producer that has since gone out of business, loaded it with the ammonium nitrate.
Mr Prokoshev claims that the ship was in a poor condition when it left bound for Mozambique. He says that Mr Grechushkin would have been paid $1million to transport the cargo of ammonium nitrate – a chemical compound used in agriculture but also by terrorist organisations to detonate bombs – to East Africa.
But, according to Mr Prokoshev the ship didn’t have enough money to pay for charges to use the Suez Canal – and as a way to generate more revenue, his boss Mr Grechushkin then ordered the boat to Beirut to pick up a consignment of road-building machinery and take it to Aqaba, a Jordanian port on the Red Sea, before resuming its journey to Africa.
The blast on August 4 (pictured above) caused devastation in Beirut where more than 300,000 people lost their homes
However, when they tried to load the machinery onto the ship it was too heavy to load safely.
In November 2013, Beirut port officials prevented it from leaving after Mr Grechushkin failed to pay port fees and fines incurred for refusing to take on the new cargo of machinery.
It resulted in the ship being impounded and its doomed cargo of ammonium nitrate was reportedly transferred to Warehouse 12 with a local court ordering that it should be disposed of or resold.
Mr Prokoshev said: ‘Igor told me that for that nitrate ammonium cargo he was due to receive $1 million dollars. I am certain that some of this money had to be pre-paid.
‘Was the ship insured? Yes, it was. But when we got to check the insurance, we found that it was fake.’
The captain, who spent months impounded on the ship and prevented from leaving by the Lebanese authorities, added: ‘My last email communication with him was in 2014 when he sent me a furious email demanding to know why his parents were questioned over my court claim.
He still owes me $60,000 USD relating to this episode.’
Other crew are also owed backpay totalling hundreds of thousands, he said.
‘I tried to get it back via a court in Russia and filed a claim in Khabarovsk.
‘His parents were questioned, but then the court said that any claim had to be addressed at Igor’s current residential address, in Cyprus.’
The angry captain stressed: ‘I would also tell Igor that he should be put into a hole and forced to sit there until he pays all the people he owes.’
The Rhosus was in such a dilapidated state that it eventually sank in Beirut, but its crew have never been fully paid.
The chemicals spent seven years in a warehouse at the port with its presence there making officials twitchy.
It sparked riots across Lebanon and led to the resignation of the government who people blamed for ignoring the danger despite repeated warnings that the volatile ammonium nitrate was being stored at the port
There was anger in the country because, according to public records senior customs officials contacted the authorities six times from 2014 to 2017, asking for guidance on how to dispose of the ammonium nitrate
The devastating blast caused huge damage to Beirut. This aerial view taken on August 7, 2020, shows a partial view of the port, the damaged grain silo and the crater caused by the colossal explosion three days earlier
According to public records posted online by Salim Aoun, a Lebanese politician, senior customs officials contacted the authorities six times from 2014 to 2017, asking for guidance on how to dispose of the ammonium nitrate. They even suggested ways in which it might be sold either to a private company or the army.
But bungling officials failed to take any action over the clear and present danger, which became engulfed by a fire that resulted in the devastating explosion that ripped apart the city.
The explosion’s shockwave blew out windows at Beirut International Airport’s passenger terminal, about five miles away from the port.
The blast was also heard as far away as Cyprus, about 200km across the Mediterranean Sea, and seismologists at the United States Geological Survey said it was the equivalent of a 3.3-magnitude earthquake.