14 Dec 2010 17:55

Kesayev group secures seizure of KiN winery owner firm's assets

MOSCOW. Dec 14 (Interfax) - The businessman Igor Kesayev's group of companies, which is accusing Armen Yeganian of misappropriating more than $13 million, has secured the seizure of assets belonging to a firm owned by Yeganian.

Yeganian's Featherwood Trading Ltd has decided not to challenge the international injunction on the assets, imposed by the British Virgin Islands High Court. Alexander Kobzev, managing partner at the law firm Ius Aureum and acting on behalf of Igor Kesayev, told Interfax that Featherwood's lawyers notified the court of their decision on December 1.

Yeganian's assets will remain under seizure until the court rules on a suit brought by Kesayev.

"We're happy with progress made with our suit and in particular with Featherwood's decision not to dispute the seizure of its assets. This demonstrates that our position is justified and enables us to assert that our claims are justified and are unlikely to be challenged by Yeganian. If he could do that he would not have decided against challenging the seizure of his own assets," Kobzev said.

The appeal that Featherwood withdrew was based on a copy of a purchase-sale deed that was presented to the court and that bore the signature of Yury Poletayev, a former chief of VEB, VTB and Mosnarbank and now a consultant to Igor Kesayev. Poletayev himself told the court that his signature had been forged and an independent examination confirmed this.

"It's extremely unpleasant when your signature is forged on documents of this importance. And in any case, irrespective of what sort of document it is, deception is deception. To be honest I'm surprised - these things always come out into the open sooner or later," Poletayev told Interfax. "It's the first time I've come up against a situation like this in my life," he said.

"The fact that Yeganian not only failed to honor the commitments he undertook to settle the transaction - that is not exchanging the shares for the cash - but also tried to enforce this by forging paperwork allows the claimants to suspect him of fraud," said Alexander Kobzev.

Yeganian is chairman of the board of directors at KiN, the Moscow wine and brandy factory. The KiN press office was not commenting on issues related to the court case.

Featherwood Trading's assets were seized as an injunction following a suit brought by the Cyprus-registered Fraunteld Management Ltd - a firm controlled by Igor Kesayev, owner of the Mercury (Merkurii) Group. The dispute between Kesayev and Yeganian concerns shares in KiN.

As of 2007, the City of Moscow owned 43% of the shares in KiN. Yeganian and his business partner Nikolai Yevseyev were the beneficiaries of the controlling stake. Alexei Belkin was nominal holder of the shares on Yeganian's behalf.

In 2007, Kesayev and Yeganian started negotiating the sale of shares in KiN, and they signed three agreements in August. OOO VestBizness and NDK Merkurii bought 849,100 and 12.38 million shares in KiN, respectively, from Alexei Belkin. The shareholdings, representing a 23%-stake, cost 2.9 million rubles and 42.1 million rubles, respectively. The agreement between Kesayev and Yeganian said that Merkurii would pay a bonus of $13.1 million which, by request of the seller, was to be received by an offshore company. Fraunteld transferred the amount to Featherwood on October 17, 2007, to an account with Alpha Bank, Cyprus.

But the buyer never received the shares because the Federal Financial Markets Service (FFMS) had banned operations in the register of KiN shareholders. The Timiryazevsky Court in December that year deemed the purchase-sale agreement between Belkin and Yevseev for 22.7% of the winery's shares to be invalid, following a suit brought by Mikhail Maximov. Maximov had tried to recover a debt of 33.8 million rubles from Yevseyev and an injunction was placed on the shares in KiN in support of his claim. Nevertheless, Merkurii did not believe at the time that the deal was in jeopardy. In July 2008, firms owned by Kesayev and Yeganian signed an agreement on a new configuration for the deal: Merkurii got around 8% of the shares in KiN for money already paid. This, together with the 43% that Merkurii planned to buy from the City of Moscow, gave Kesayev's group control of KiN.

But Merkurii never received the shares in KiN. Kesayev's companies received back the ruble payments, made in keeping with written agreements, but they did not get the dollar payments back. In August 2010, Fraunteld filed suit with the BVI court to demand the return of the monies, plus interest and costs. Featherwood considers Fraunteld's claim to be groundless. In the papers submitted to the court, Yeganian claims the dollar payment had nothing to do with the acquisition of the KiN shares but with the acquisition of the firm Haberfield Engineering Ltd. Lawyers for Fraunteld, for their part, said this company never belonged to Yeganian, moreover it did not own tangible assets and its purchase for $13 million would have been senseless. A copy of the purchase-sale agreement for Haberfield Engineering, which Yeganian submitted to the court, bore Yury Poletayev's signature, and an independent appraisal deemed this to have been forged.

In his court statement, Yeganian claims that Fraunteld's lawsuit is part of a "large-scale strategic plan" to force him to sell shares in KiN to the Kesayev group. The lawyer for Merkurii told Interfax that the group had long since dropped its interest in the KiN shares and did not intend to revive it as it had pulled out of the alcohol business and was only trying to get its money back.

If funds on Featherwood's accounts are insufficient to cover the damages, interest and costs, then Fraunteld will seek a seizure on other assets belonging to Yeganian and his companies, the lawyer said.

Kesayev's Merkurii holding includes Megapolis, which is Russia's biggest tobacco distributor; the Dixy grocery chain; and assets in the construction, mining and other sectors.