Monday, August 8, 2011

OMG group founder fights back from exile

Lloyds list 07.12.2010

 Tuesday 07 December 2010, 15:13

by Michelle Wiese Bockmann

Vitaly Arkhangelsky launches media battle against bid to seize port business

BAILED Russian shipowner-in-exile Vitaly Arkhangelsky has embarked on a major media offensive to publicise his plight as he fights to retain a grip on his international port, shipping and insurance empire.

The founder and majority owner of OMG group, who fled to Nice with his family over 18 months ago, has said he has been able to renew loans on Friday with the Vozrozhdenie Bank for Vyborg port, one of his assets that Russian creditors have not seized.

Dr Arkhangelsky’s case has gathered widespread coverage in both Russia and France. He was released from detention in Nice nearly two weeks ago, and is battling extradition to Russia on money laundering charges.

Documents filed in court have outlined an extraordinary detail of judicial and political corruption amd persecution, based around his dealings with creditors, the Bank Saint Petersburg, and Maritime Bank. He has alleged a four-year campaign of militia raids, political vendettas, employee and family harassment, as “jealous” and well-connected Russians tried to seized his sucessful private port business.

The campaign culminated in forged court documents and the illegal seizure of assets of his St Petersburg-based business in mid-2009. Before trouble struck, Dr Arkhangelsky was one of Russia’s most successful shipping and ports entrepeneurs, and planned to build a fleet of Russian-flagged vessels that would have made him one of the country’s top 10 shipowners.

From exile in Nice, Dr Arkhangelsky told Lloyd’s List that the behaviour of the banks raised important corporate goverance issues for the UK and Europe. Bank Saint Petersburg last month received a €65m loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to fund small business lending.

Courts have found that this bank had forged his signatures on documents saying he and his wife were responsible for company debts, and also provided fraudulent documentation for assets seizures.

Ratings agencies, jurisdictions where shares were traded, and auditors, as well as other entities in Europe dealing with the banks needed to be aware of the way they conducted business, Dr Arkhangelsky said.

He also explained the financial circumstances that triggered legal and judicial action in Russia that saw him flee to Nice.

According to Dr Arkhangelsky, one of OMG’s companies, Leasing Company Scandanavia, had a non-secured loan for around €1.2m ($1.6m) in 2006 and 2008 with the Maritime Bank. But during the economic crisis that engulfed Russia from early 2009, he delayed repayment of the loan but paid extra interest.

The Maritime Bank then “offered” to issue a new loan for the same amount to Western Terminal, one of OMG’s other companies, and based in the port of St Petersburg. But the loan included the mortgage of land worth Euros$10m that was held in the name of Dr Arkhangelsky’s wife.

The €1.2m that Western Terminal received was used to pay back the outstanding loan to Leasing Company Scandanavia.

However another OMG Group lender, Bank Saint Petersberg, believed that the loan to Western Terminal was illegal, and joined with Maritime Bank to recover the loan, and filed criminal charges against him.

There have also been governor-ordered raids to seize property to repay debts, including a crane at Vyborg port, which has since been ruled invalid.

Dr Arkhangelsky says that it is “too early to say” whether he will be able to recover his siezed assets, which include the Western and Onega terminals in St Petersburg. Another company, Vyborg Shipping, which at one stage had more than €500m in newbuildings on order, has filed for bankruptcy.

By taking his campaign to the media, Dr Arkhangelsky he hoped to put pressure on a number of prominent Russian businesspeople. The include St Petersburg governor Valentina Ivanovna Matvienko and her son Sergey, a major shareholder in Bank Saint Petersburg, who have close connections with prime minster Vladimir Putin.

Keywords: Home, Regulation, Europe, Michelle Wiese Bockmann, Russian Federation

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