RUSSIA: FRENCH COURT AT REQUEST OF BANK OF MOSCOW SEIZES Vladimir Kekhman’s luxury Cote d’Azur apartment
ABOVE + BELOW – Vladimir Kekhman
An apartment in Cannes valued at 2.5 million euros was seized at an inquiry of the Bank of Moscow. The art director of the Mikhailovsky Theater and the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater owes over 11 billion rubles ($167.4m) to the bank.
The court of the French city of Grasse attached the apartments of Vladimir Kekhman, the art director of the Mikhailovsky Theater and the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater. The apartment is located in Cannes and worth at least €2.5 million, Kommersant reports. The decision was made at the inquiry of the Bank of Moscow, since Kekhman owes over 11 billion rubles ($167.4m) to the establishment. He had taken the loan when he was the head of JFC, a company that shipped bananas to Russia. In total, the theater figure failed to return 20 billion rubles to credit organizations. A criminal case was initiated against Kekhman; however, as the statute of limitations expired, he was released from liability and declared bankrupt. The lenders, however, continue to actively look for any assets he might have.
According to sources, the Bank of Moscow appealed to the Higher Court of Grasse asking to seize Kekhman’s apartment in Cannes on November 20. The appeal was made during the trial when the French authorities recognized the April verdict delivered by the Commercial Court of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales that had found Kekhman guilty of fraud in the claim filed by the Bank of Moscow. According to the court, he played the major part in a fraudulent scheme that allowed his companies to get two loans with the bank in the fall of 2011: one of $140 million and one of 300 million rubles ($4.5m). Kekhman’s JFC never paid them back.
Her Majesty’s High Court of Justice in England ruled to recover over $150 million from Kekhman. The theater man blamed his subordinates for the fraud when speaking in court. The court, however, considered him a deceitful, corrupt and unsatisfactory defendant with a tendency to invent facts and inconceivable explanations.
When searching for Kekhman’s foreign assets, the Bank of Moscow noticed that he has frequented Cannes recently and stayed in a posh apartment there. The apartment had an area of 190 square meters and included a kitchen, a living room, three bedrooms, three bathrooms, four wine cellars and two parking spaces below. On paper, the apartment belongs to a Monaco-based Lit Estate, partially owned by Kekhman’s ex-wife, Tatyana Litvinova. The businessman married a socialite Ida Lolo, with whom he had been seen in Cannes a lot.
The Bank of Moscow said in the statement to the Court of Grasse that Kekhman was the real owner of the apartments. According to the credit institution, the theater man bought the apartment back in 2010 with 2.2 million euros. He allegedly used funds fraudulently siphoned off from JFC to do that.
On November 26, the Court of Grasse ruled to impose an attachment order on the apartment by registering an encumbrance in favor of the bank until the trial on the recognizing of London verdict in France is completed. The guarantee of at least a partial penalty was the reason for that decision.
The press service of the VTB Group that includes the Bank of Moscow noted that the procedure of the reimbursement of Kekhman’s debt would be continued “by all means permitted by the law”. So, the search for assets abroad will be continued. Kekhman was declared bankrupt both in Russia and in the UK. Officially, he owns nothing. By law, he is forbidden to occupy any managerial positions, so he had to leave the post of theater directors, remaining only the art director. All this could mean a less luxurious life and fewer trips abroad, one would think. The banking circles believe that most of Kekhman’s assets have been siphoned off abroad and hidden.
The French trial is being held simultaneously with the St. Petersburg proceedings. On November 27, the Arbitration Court of the North-West District rejected the entrepreneur’s cassation appeal against the decisions of the lower courts, which had recognized him bankrupt but refused to release him from his billion-dollar liabilities. The largest of them are the Bank of Moscow, Sberbank and several other institutions, to which Kekhman and his companies owe a total of 20 billion rubles. The man’s lawyers argued that he had not been relieved from liability because the Russian courts had upheld one of the decisions of the British court that had ruled to recover 11 billion rubles in favor of the Bank of Moscow. Kekhman’s lawyers stated that it was illegal because it violated the rights of creditors and the Russian law. The Bank of Moscow, in turn, highlighted that the London court had investigated the evidence thoroughly, interviewed all the witnesses and come to the unequivocal conclusion that the businessman had been hiding the property offshore and given knowingly false information when taking the loan.
Previously, Kekhman and his former JFC subordinates were accused on a particularly large-scale fraud case (part 4 of Art. 159 of the Criminal Code), but it was downgraded and discontinued due to expiration of statute of limitations in 2017.
BACKGROUND: British court recovers $140m from Vladimir Kekhman in Bank of Moscow’s favor
The court recognized that the former head of JFC Group of Companies had received a loan by providing forged documents.
The High Court of London satisfied the claim of the Bank of Moscow to ex-Head of the JFC Group of Companies Vladimir Kekhman, former head of the Mikhailovsky Theater and the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater. The Court recognized that the businessman had received two large loans in the bank with the help of fake documents and fraud, and ordered to recover more than $140 million from him.
The claims of the credit institution part of VTB Group were based on Vladimir Kekhman’s key part in obtaining two loans from the Bank of Moscow of $140 million and of about 305 million rubles ($4.91 million) in the autumn of 2011. The loans were not repaid by structures of JFC Groups of Companies, which used to be the main supplier of bananas and other fruits to the Russian market. In 2015, JFC was declared bankrupt.
In its lawsuit, the Bank of Moscow noted that Mr. Kekhman was the group’s beneficiary and and personally supervised all its activities, including through its Top Manager Yulia Zakharova. In support of their claims, the lawyers pointed out that JFC employees, led by Zakharova, drew up false financial statements of the group of companies.
In particular, according to the bank, JFC’s revenue for 2010 was overstated by $213 million, and receivables by $198 million. In reality, the activity of the so-called ‘banana corporation’ was unprofitable. The appearance of success was created by fictitious contracts for the supply of bananas by certain companies that were not formally part of JFC; it turned out that those companies were controlled by the group of companies from its Cypriot office. According to the Bank of Moscow supported by Judge Brian, Vladimir Kekhman was aware of this.
As follows from the court’s decision, Kekhman also knew that 50% of the shares of the JFC group’s holding company – JFC Group Holding (BVI) Limited – were pledged with Sberbank. However, these facts were withheld from the Bank of Moscow – otherwise, it would not have not granted a loan to the banana suppliers.
The third item of the bank’s claims was the withdrawal of JFC assets to offshores by Vladimir Kekhman on the eve of the planned financial collapse of the group of companies.
Kekhman, who had submitted a written statement to the London Court, and who personally attended the trial, denied his involvement in the fraud. He insisted that he quit the business in 2007, focusing on the management of the Mikhailovsky Theater. According to him, the documents had been forged by JFC Finance Director Yulia Zakharova, while the responsibility for bank loans rested with Andrey Afanasyev, the general director of JFC Group of Companies.
It is noteworthy that Andrey Afanasyev also testified against Vladimir Kekhman in London, who said that both he and Zakharova were but instruments in the hands of their chief, who made all decisions. In addition, the court agreed with the statement that Kekhman had withdrawn tens of millions of dollars not only for his theatre-related activity, but also for his development projects.
After the decision enters into legal force, it can become the basis for a new criminal case against Kekhman. Previously, he, Yulia Zakharova and Andrey Afanasyev, who testified before the London Court, had been the defendants in the criminal case of swindling on an especially large scale in lending (part 4 of Art. 159.1 of the Russian Criminal Code) and laundering of monetary funds acquired as a result of an offence (part 2 of Art. 174.1), on which the damage done to banks that subsidized JFC exceeded 20 billion rubles ($322.46 million). However, the MIA Investigation Department terminated it under the statute of limitations after the charge was reclassified to illegal receipt of credits (Art. 176 of the Russian Criminal Code).
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