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Published: 28 September 2016      

Trouble at the top in Russia

Dmitriy Mikhalchenko (Photo: RAPSI)
Leading businessmen with close ties to Russian ports are involved in bitter legal disputes

Upholding a claim by Cypriot firm Lanuria Ltd, controlled by Timofey Telyatnik, a former president of DeloPorts, the Delo Group’s stevedoring branch, a Limassol court has arrested the assets of Delo Group’s owner Sergey Shishkarev and prohibited any actions that would reduce the assets’ aggregate value to less than US$21.5M.

The relevant assets, controlled through Utterlan Ltd, are: 50% of NUTEP container terminal in Novorossiysk; 99.56% of KSK grain terminal, also in Novorossiysk; 75% minus one share of DCP Holdings Ltd; and 100% of of Atokosa Ltd. Both the latter are Cyprus-registered offshore companies.

Telyatnik has also stated to the Russian media that his lawyers are mulling over the possibility of increasing the amount of claims under the lawsuit.

Telyatnik sold his 10% stake in DeloPorts for US$40M to Shishkarev last year. Under the deal, the buyer paid half the sum upon completion of the transaction and undertook to pay the remainder in two instalments in June 2016 and June 2017.

However, in May this year, Utterlan sued Lanuria for €24.5M for losses sustained after the sale and purchase contract was signed on 22nd June 2015. According to Utterlan, the market price of DeloPorts’ 10% stake at the time of sale/purchase was just a third of the contract sum, or US$15.5M.

So Utterlan demanded compensation of €20M for "false information" as well as €4.5M for the overpayment induced by such "false information."

As the court has ruled in Telyatnik’s favour, Russian observers consider that the proposed sale of a 49% stake in NUTEP to DP World (WorldCargo News, March 2016, pp33-34) may not go ahead.

Delo Group's chief legal officer Anton Chertkov has already entered an appeal against the judgement.

Meanwhile, adding a touch of black comedy to the proceedings, Shishkarev’s wife Olga is suing both his Utterlan and Telyatnik's Lanuria, alleging that they respectively provided and accepted her personal guarantees without her consent. She wants the US$20M guarantees provided under the S&P contract with Lanuria declared null and void.

While this dispute seems to be purely a business one, there seem to be dark political undertones to the position in which Dmitriy Mikhalchenko, CEO and co-owner of Forum Holding Company, whose affiliate Fenix Investments is the master developer of Saint Petersburg’s outport of Bronka, finds himself in.

At the end of March, just six months after phase 1 of Saint Petersburg's new deep water port at Bronka was officially inaugurated, Mikhalchenko was arrested by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). Since then Moscow’s Basmanny court has twice extended the term of his detention, latterly at the start of this week (26th September), when it remanded him in custody for a further three months until 29th December, having refused him bail of US$1.56M, even though this sum greatly exceeds the monetary value of the claims against him.

One of the Russia’s richest men said to be worth around US$265M, Mikhalchenko is charged with being the brains behind a smuggling gang that imported premium brandies, whiskies and wines worth a total of around €600,000 from the EU to Russia on forged documents, thus depriving the Russian Exchequer of customs duties.

If found guilty, he could go to gaol for 7-12 years, but meanwhile he has already been held in detention without trial for six months and denied bail offered in increased amounts. It is alleged that the state is pressurising him into selling key assets to supporters of President Vladimir Putin.

Anonymous sources say that Mikhalchenko's only "crime" is to lose the protection of General Yevgeniy Murov, who was ousted from his position as chief of the Federal Protection Service (FSO) by President Putin in May after 16 years in post.

As such Mikhalchenko has been caught up in the long-standing turf war between the FSO and FSB, both of which grew out of the former KGB and report directly to the President. Murov's departure, it is reported, shows that the FSB has obtained a decisive upper hand.

Also arrested in April was Dmitriy Sergeyev, the CEO of construction and engineering company Baltstroy. This is also linked to Bronka as it is also part of the Forum/Fenix group and three years ago was awarded the master contract by state ports agency Rosmorport to dredge the new port's approaches. However, Sergeyev is charged along with several other construction executives with "cultural embezzlement" in relation to a palace restoration project in Saint Petersburg.

It is rumoured that FSB wants to take control of the Port of Bronka for itself, and further speculated that it could then be "awarded" to Putin ally Arkadiy Rotenberg, as a reward for the construction of the Kerch Bridge to link annexed Crimea with mainland Russia, as substantial private funds are needed for the project. Rotenberg is co-owner of Stroygazmontazh, Russia's biggest contractor for gas pipelines and electrical power supplies.

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