Forensic accountants and lawyers are probing the finances of a disgraced Russian press baron to see if he lied on oath in court. A team of experts is sifting through the last days of Vladimir Gusinsky’s media company before he declared it bust – writes Phillip Braund.
Working extensively in the Cayman Islands, they are probing exactly why Mr Gusinsky collapsed his New Media Distribution Company (NMDC) and when it was sold.
The date is crucial to a High Court hearing in London last October.
Under oath Mr Gusinsky said he was the owner of NMDC and could therefore accept a $5.2 million settlement from a separate case.
He promised the court he would use $4.75 million of the settlement money to pay a debt to the East-West Bank United in Luxembourg.
During the hearing on October 17th, 2018 Mr Gusinsky was asked by Mr James Ramsden QC if he owned NMDC.
Mr Gusinsky said he did – outlining that 90% of the company was his and the remaining 10% was with family interests.
And, High Court papers show: “New Media is a company incorporated in the Cayman Islands.
“It is, and at all material times was, indirectly owned to approximately 85% by Mr Vladimir Gusinsky”.
The money was part of an agreement with East-West made at the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA).
The High Court had awarded Mr Gusinsky the $5.2 million as a settlement from a former business partner Mr Konstantin Kagalovsky.
Mr Kagalovsky and Mr Gusinsky were involved in the action in London in October 2018.
They were before the Honourable Mr Justice Marcus Smith.
Mr Gusinsky was claiming that his former partner Mr Kagalovsky had “diluted” his [Gusinsky’s] interest in the Ukrainian television station TVi by undervaluing its worth.
In a statement to the High Court Mr Kagalovsky explained why he wished to part company with Mr Gusinsky.
It read: “I have always had a wider interest and motivation to preserve TVi as an independent broadcaster in Ukraine.
“I believe that the best way to achieve that aim was to take TVi into my exclusive control because I did not consider that Mr Gusinsky shared my interest.
Mr Kagalovsky said that it was imperative that TVi remained independent during forthcoming elections.
He said Mr Gusinsky told him the channel must follow the Gazprom position – influence from Russia.
Mr Kagalovsky said that wasn’t possible, adding it was the “final straw” in the partnership.
Mr Justice Marcus Smith accepted that, under Ukrainian law, Mr Kagalovsky believed his taking control of TVi was lawful.
But, despite giving “as much weight as I can” he couldn’t accept that Mr Kagalovsky put TVi beyond the reach of Mr Gusinsky’s NMDC for that reason alone.
He ordered Mr Kagalovsky to pay NMDC $4,571,059.54.
However, the money was “on hold” while the former partner appealed the ruling.
When the Appeal Court ruled Mr Kagalovsky had no grounds to appeal the money was transferred to NMDC in the Cayman Islands.
But, despite telling the High Court it was earmarked for East-West, it was used to pay in four equal amounts an NMDC “creative talent team” who said they were owed money.
So far, all efforts to trace the money and the four people have proved fruitless.
Days later Gusinsky declared NMDC was bankrupt and filed for insolvency.
However, paperwork registered in the Cayman Islands later showed that NMDC was no longer owned by Gusinsky but two other Russians.
It appears that as Gusinsky was swearing in the High Court that he owned NMDC that might not be true.
The exact date of that transaction is now under intense scrutiny by investigators working for East-West and Mr Kagalovsky.
Mr Ramsden QC, who represented Mr Kagalovsky in the High Court hearing, said: “Mr Gusinsky may have a complete answer to when the company was sold.
“When he answered my direct question in the High Court, he may have been unaware of who owned NMDC.
“It is, however, something that needs to be tested.
“Certainly, Mr Kagalovsky and East-West Bank United are pursuing this matter with vigour.”In a complex financial hearing, court papers show that all Gusinsky’s media companies are owned by Swiss New Century (SNC).
In turn, SNC is ultimately owned by Gusinsky’s New Media Distribution Company (NMDC).
The East-West loaned SNC $75 million – of which it spent $35 million.
Later, SNC returned $26 million – leaving, with interest, more than $9 million still owing.
According to the initial agreement the loan need to be paid immediately, and Gusinsky has failed to make that payment.
East-West filed a claim for the outstanding amount at the London International Court of Arbitration on January 15th, 2018.
In turn, the Russian’s lawyers filed a counter claim accusing East-West of “being underhand”.
The counterclaim was later withdrawn.
East-West argued Gusinsky was at risk of bankruptcy because he had insufficient funds to make a one-off payment.
The bank’s lawyers said payment had already been delayed by a year following the claims of “underhand dealing”. And, it feared it would miss out all-together on payment.
Gusinsky’s lawyers asked the Arbitration Court to allow two debt payments – March 31st and October 31st, 2019.
The court delivered a compromise agreement to “prevent the defendant’s bankruptcy and minimize delay of payments to the claimant”.
Gusinsky promised to pay $4.75 million to East-West within weeks. He said the money was already in his UK bank account.
It was earmarked for East-West following a successful claim against Mr Kagalovsky, his former partner in the Ukrainian media project ITVI.
Kagalovsky paid the money into an escrow account to Gusinsky’s lawyer who then passed it on to NMDC in the Cayman Islands.
However, within a month Gusinsky filed to make NMDC bankrupt, claiming there were debts of $5.75 million to the creative team.
The money promised on oath in court as part payment to East-West Bank had gone – as the bank feared.
It’s now claimed Gusinsky deceived the London court.
Court documents record Gusinsky’s sworn testimony on October 17th, 2019, where he claims that he is the major beneficiary of NMDC and guaranteeing the return of funds to the East-West.
However, NMDC’s register at the date of the testimony shows that might be incorrect.
James Ramsden QC asked Gusinsky in court on October 17th who owned NMDC – and the oligarch confirmed he did.
However, the register, dated October 23rd, shows the beneficiary owners to be Klyamko Anton Andreevich (85 %) and Chernomyrdina Svetlana Nikolaevna (15 %).
And, payments to buy Klyamko and Chernomyrdina’s shares went out on October 22nd.
But the register still shows on October 31st that the couple were still the beneficiary owners.