Manitoba·CBC Investigates

Winnipeg man uses ties to Russian Cultural Association to defraud clients: court documents

A Winnipeg man used his ties to the Russian Cultural Association of Manitoba to create an aura of legitimacy to help defraud dozens of would-be immigrants, according to court documents obtained by CBC News.

Vladmir Bibilov was charged with 136 counts related to immigration fraud in December

Vladmir Bibilov, 56, was charged with 136 counts related to immigration fraud in December by The Canada Border Services Agency in one of the largest cases of alleged immigration fraud in Manitoba’s history. (The Canadian Press)

A Winnipeg man used his ties to the Russian Cultural Association of Manitoba to create an aura of legitimacy to help defraud dozens of would-be immigrants, according to court documents obtained by CBC News.

Vladmir Bibilov, 56, was charged with 136 counts related to immigration fraud in December by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), in one of the largest cases of alleged immigration fraud in Manitoba's history.

Bibilov's case is only the third time in CBSA's history that fraud charges of this kind have been laid in Manitoba.

He is accused of bilking thousands of dollars from clients over the span of six years, promising speedy immigration to Canada

Indictment documents list more than 80 individuals who paid Bibilov as much as $9,900 for immigration services they allegedly did not receive, totalling almost $200,000.

An information to obtain a search warrant document obtained by CBC News offers a roadmap into the CBSA's case.

It's alleged he would promise job offers and immigration to foreign nationals — largely from Moldova, Russia and Israel — and after receiving several installment payments were paid to him, he would cut off communication.

Included in that map is allegations that it was Bibilov's perceived status within the Russian Cultural Association that led "to an appearance of legitimacy to his work," according to an email from Manitoba Labour and Immigration to CBSA investigators.

The association, now called the Association of Russian-speaking Manitobans, is a community organization that helps unite the roughly 4,000 Russians residing in Manitoba. The community also helps Russian-born immigrants come to Manitoba by supporting their applications to the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program's community support stream.

In 2016, the Russian community supported 24 applications to the program.

'Long history' with nominee program

Search warrant documents include an undated email from Manitoba Labour and Immigration, which state Bibilov had a "long history" with Manitoba's provincial nominee program.

The department's quality assurance manager, Vera Ciriviri-Gjuric, wrote that Bibilov was acting as an undeclared immigration consultant and representative of the Russian cultural association from 2006-2010.

She outlined that 12 of his applications had been refused, and they had a "number of files" with links to Bibilov.

Bibilov faces three charges under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act for acting as a paid immigration consultant when he was not licensed to do so, and one charge under to the Criminal Code for fraud over $5,000.

None of these allegations have been proven in court. 

Bibilov has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to stand trial on April 9, 2018. CBC News reached out to Bibilov for comment, but he declined to comment on the allegations.

Alleged victim creates website to warn others

After allegedly giving $5,000 to Bibiliov for immigration services and getting nothing in return, an incensed Russian citizen took matters into his own hands.

Egor Emeliyanov purchased two websites previously associated with Bibilov and replaced them with a warning to those looking to do business with him.

The website, written in Russian, chronicles Emeliyanov's 15-month attempt to immigrate to Winnipeg.

Egor Emeliyanov says he was taken for $5,000 after an unlicensed immigration consultant promised to help him immigrate to Manitoba.
Emeliyanov first connected with Bibilov through an advertisement on a Russian immigration forum in 2013. He contacted him with the hope of emigrating to Winnipeg.

Fifteen months, $5,000 dollars and countless emails later, Emeliyanov found himself working at the American Cultural Centre in Moscow with no immigration hope in sight, he told CBC News.

"I felt anger and disappointment," he said when reached by phone in the United States. "I lost $5,000, but perhaps those other people lost their dream or something they were working for for a large portion of their lives."

Emails provided to CBC News and also contained in the warrant documents detail Bibilov promising immigration through the province's former exploratory visit program, which CBSA investigators note had been on hold since 2012.

Over the course of 2014, the pair went back and forth, with Bibilov telling Emeliyanov to be patient and at one point offering Morden as an alternative destination to Winnipeg. 

On December 23, 2014 a fed-up Emeliyanov, who now had realized Bibilov won't be getting him into Canada, wrote to Bibilov asking for a refund. However, Bibilov tells him that he has undergone some medical issues and no longer has the money.

'It added credibility' 

Emeliyanov claims part of the reason he put his trust into Bibilov was when he Googled his name, he was listed at the vice-president of Russian Cultural Association of Manitoba.

He alleges Bibilov told him he could get him into Manitoba through his ties to the Russian community in Manitoba. In the emails provided to CBC News, Bibilov told Emeliyanov to write a letter to the association outlining why he wanted to live in Winnipeg.

"His name was was on the website, so that added additional credibility," Emeliyanov said.

Sofia Barklon, the current president of the association and its president in 2013, declined to comment on the specifics of Bibilov's case.

She said he had ceased to be vice-president around 2010 and the association was not aware of his outside activities involving immigration. The search warrant documents verify the association cuts ties with Bibilov in 2010, but the website did not remove his name until around 2015, according to Emeliyanov and web archive searches.

A number of the files received by the province linked to Bibilov were considered based on the support of the Russian Cultural Association, immigration officials told CBSA.

However, due to a "high volume of complaints" the association removed him from any involvement with the organization, Ciriviri-Gjuric told investigators.

Consultant raps CBSA

Under Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act as well as the Citizenship Act, anyone who provides immigration or citizenship advice for a fee or other consideration, must be a lawyer in good standing or a member of  Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC).

Charging those who violate the acts is the responsibility of the CBSA.

Since 2011 the CBSA has received 1,160 complaints or leads related to both unlicensed and licensed immigration consultants; 44 resulted in charges being laid.

Randy Boldt, a licensed immigration consultant based in Winnipeg, says he wasn't surprised that it took authorities more than five years to arrest Bibilov. He points to the lack resources and priorities of the CBSA that makes prosecution difficult.

"Unless there is some substantial fraud or human trafficking, they basically wash their hands of it," Boldt told CBC News. "The ICCRC has no jurisdiction over this … the only people who do have authority are the CBSA and they have other priorities."

One solution Boldt offered would be to give the ICCRC greater power, increasing its budget and allowing it to conduct its own investigations into unlicensed consultants.

In an email statement to CBC News, a CBSA spokesperson said the federal institution takes immigration fraud "very seriously".

"[The CBSA] works closely with its partners to identify, investigate and prosecute those engaging in immigration fraud to the full extent of the law," Jacquie Callin wrote in the email.

When asked why it took so long for authorities to lay charges against Bibilov, the CBSA said it a long, complex process.

"The CBSA is obligated to thoroughly gather, review, and assess all the evidence before prosecuting, and works closely with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to lay charges," Callin wrote.

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