In March 1995, a company called Eurotoaz set up in Dublin using a registered address at Clanwilliam Terrace in the docklands. Describing itself as an import/export trader, the fledgling business and its Hungarian shareholders listed its chief asset as a $20 million investment in Russian chemical giant TogliattiAzot, better known as Toaz.
That year, the Irish entity generated revenues of $57 million and made a pre-tax profit of $13,000. The following year, 1996, revenues spiked to $106 million although it posted a loss of $4.1 million after booking a $9 million investment loss on Toaz. The company employed just two people.
Today, the company is still based in Ireland, although it no longer has any employees at all and its registered address is the Dublin office of the law firm Arthur Cox. In 2019, the last year the company posted results, it listed investment assets of $235,000, cash of $22,000, creditors of $11 million and retained losses of $11.9 million.
It is one of thousands of brass plate companies registered in Ireland, the inevitable outcome of Ireland’s zeal to create an international financial services hub. This one, however, is different.
In 2016, four Caribbean registered companies, representing the majority shareholders in Toaz, sought damages of $2 billion for conspiracy to defraud over claims the Irish company Eurotoaz was involved in a corporate raider attack on the plant, a conspiracy allegedly spearheaded by oligarch Dmitry Mazepin who runs rival chemical manufacturer Uralchem. The claims are denied.
But because of the fact that the brass plate was located here, the battle has been fought in the Irish courts. The tenuous link to Ireland is something that has been commented upon by the courts itself, but, for the past five years, it has slowly worked its way through the system.
In a previous article, Francesca summed it up best:
“If you like skullduggery and international intrigue the ToAZ litigation has it all; ex-KGB figures, secret recordings, a Russian oligarch with political ties to Vladimir Putin, Interpol red notices and a brass plate company in Dublin’s docklands alleged to be part of an illegal campaign to devalue and takeover one of the world’s largest ammonia producers.”
We have covered the case extensively, but, by way of a cheat sheet, Mazepin, plus associated individuals and firms, is alleged to have used Kremlin connections to instigate a host of trumped-up criminal and civil lawsuits against the company’s former directors, shareholders and its main trading partner Ameropa, a Swiss agri-business firm that holds a 12.9 per cent stake in the Russian chemical plant. These allegedly vexatious suits have led to convictions in absentia for tax irregularities, embezzlement, and selling ammonia at an undervalue.
Why does any of this matter? Dmitry Mazepin was last week sanctioned by the EU, with Brussels describing the oligarch as “a member of the closest circle of Vladimir Putin”. He had been represented in the Irish action by the law firm William Fry. However, following the sanctions, the firm now wants to stop defending Mazepin, his United Chemical Company Uralchem (UCCU) and several other defendants in the marathon legal battle.
Declan McGrath SC, instructed by William Fry solicitors, said the law firm had confirmed that, having reviewed their Russian related clients, it is winding down existing mandates and will not be accepting any new mandates from entities connected with the current Russian regime.
Arthur Cox, meanwhile, is stopping representing Eurotoaz and Andrey Babichev. The exodus of law firms prompted Mr Justice Denis McDonald to describe the situation as “extraordinary” and “unprecedented” and the High Court judge said he would not make any further directions in the action.
The case is essentially in limbo.
However, the fact that it was here at all tells its own story. If London became the spiritual home of oligarchs, Dublin was a prime conduit for Russian money. The Central Bank has identified €49.8 billion in assets held in Ireland and linked to Russian entities.
The vast bulk of Russian-issued assets is in so-called non-securitisation SPEs. “Russian sponsored SPEs predominantly engage in external financing activity where they issue debt from the Irish SPV to raise funds for the parent company,” the Central Bank explains – even though it acknowledges that this business has slowed down since the imposition of earlier sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014.
Reporting on the data, Thomas summed it up well:
“This is the kind of figure that is hard to picture out of context, so here are some points of reference: it represents three quarters of the gross €64.6 billion injected by the Irish state to bail out the banks following the financial crisis. Or, assuming the cost of the National Children’s Hospital will remain at the current estimate of nearly €2 billion, Russian money held in Ireland would pay for one such hospital in each of the Republic’s 26 counties.”
The overwhelming majority of these special purpose vehicles pay no tax and employ no staff. The only real beneficiaries from their existence here are professional advisers. Most of those accountants and lawyers are now ending their relationships with Russian clients and are winding down their various mandates.
As the advisers cut ties, Russian companies operating here are tying up loose ends. As we reported last week, Russia’s largest bank Sberbank has sold its Irish aircraft leasing unit in the face of sanctions, with a new mystery backer appearing on its books. More restructuring is likely as sanctions intensify.
It is not before time. Ireland, and its policymakers, happily allowed Russian money to flush its way through the IFSC for far too long.
Nine days ago, Tom first reported that Global Shares, the Clonakilty-based fintech that had been openly targeting unicorn status, was on the cusp of a sale to JP Morgan. The deal was confirmed last week, and the price tag was astonishing: $730 million. What was even more striking was the number of shareholders who will benefit from the deal – there were 529 individuals and investment companies on the share register as of September 2020. More than 300 were in Cork. Based on the disclosed information and the share register, Sean built a database of who has benefitted from the sale.
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Huawei has tried to deflect attention away from geopolitical controversies and bolster its Irish operation through brand awareness and marketing. An analysis of the company’s performance over a four-year window examined if that strategy is working.
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