Saturday 1 October 2016

High Court grants request for testimony in oligarch row

Dispute between Russian businessmen centres on role of Irish company

Published 19/06/2016 | 02:30

Coral's role in the case relates to whether a deal between it and a company controlled by the defendants bought out all Lebedev's interests in TNK stock Stock photo: Depositphotos
Coral's role in the case relates to whether a deal between it and a company controlled by the defendants bought out all Lebedev's interests in TNK stock Stock photo: Depositphotos

The High Court has granted a request from the US authorities to have current and former directors of Irish-based Coral Petroleum give evidence in connection with a dispute between Russian oligarchs.

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The $2bn dispute is between plaintiff Leonid Lebedev on one side and defendants Len Blavatnik and Viktor Vekselberg on the other. Vekselberg is a large shareholder in Dublin-based Falcon Oil & Gas via his Renova vehicle.

Lebedev, who made his money in the Russian oil sector and later became involved in the film industry, alleges that he entered into a joint venture with the defendants to help drive their effort to take control of oil and gas company TNK, publicly available American court documents state.

He alleges that when the defendants later sold their interests in TNK to Russian state-owned Rosneft, he should have been entitled to at least $2bn.

Blavatnik and Vekselberg claim they never entered into a joint venture with Lebedev.

Coral's role in the case relates to whether a deal between it and a company controlled by the defendants bought out all Lebedev's interests in TNK stock, as claimed by Blavatnik and Vekselberg.

Lebedev contends that the deal only bought out his rights to receive dividends from TNK stock, not all his rights. He claims further that he wasn't bound by the Coral deal as he wasn't the company's owner.

He claims that Coral's owner was his deceased friend Martin Bartek, and claims that Bartek advised him to nominate Coral to receive the proceeds of a $600m promissory note issued by Blavatnik and Vekselberg.

All parties agree that Lebedev ultimately received the $600m via a Coral subsidiary called Agragorn, whose bank accounts Lebedev controlled. The court documents say that it is "unclear to Blavatnik and Vekselberg how Lebedev could control Agragorn's bank accounts if Agragorn was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Coral, but Lebedev had no control over Coral."

"Lebedev has submitted sworn testimony that Coral was owned by his friend, Martin Bartek, but Lebedev has also stated in a February 2014 interview with the Russian-language magazine Vedemosti, and in other documents, that Lebedev himself owned Coral," the documents say.

The New York Supreme Court asked for testimony from Coral directors and its auditors (Irish company Roberts Nathan), to try and shed light on the factual disputes between the parties. Company office records list Liam Grainger, with an address at Griffith Avenue in Dublin 9, and Helen O'Donovan, with an address at Trim Road in Navan, Co Meath, as previous Coral directors. Theofanis Philippou, a business associate of the president of Cyprus, is listed as a current director.

Both sides also dispute the nature of Coral's operations.

"Coral's publicly available records - including Coral's Memorandum of Association - indicate that the object for which the company was established is, inter alia, to act as a 'general agent on behalf of principals'. In addition, Coral's publicly available financial statements - audited by Roberts Nathan - indicate that Coral has had minimal financial activity and no substantial operations of any kind," the court documents say.

"Thus, Blavatnik's and Vekselberg's understanding is that, at all relevant times, Coral was merely a shell entity that Lebedev selected to act as his agent for purposes of entering transactions with Blavatnik and Vekselberg. Lebedev, however, contends that Coral is a 'well-known oil trading company' with substantial trading operations.

"To bolster this assertion, Lebedev purported to obtain a completely different set of financial statements - which are not publicly available and which appear to be audited by the Swiss firm Alber Rolle - from a colleague, Nikita Belous, who now works at Lebedev's company, Sintez."

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