One way that unscrupulous people in Russia lay the groundwork for seizing a publicly held company is acquiring a minority stake in it, then filing bogus grievances against management with regulators or asking police to investigate it for alleged criminal violations.
Regulators, courts and government officials — who have been paid off — then issue rulings that take the company from its owners without compensation.
This happened with Pavlovskgranit, Europe’s largest producer of crushed rock for construction.
In the late 2000s, its majority owner, Sergei Poymanov, borrowed 5.1 billion rubles — or $80 million — from state-owned Sberbank to buy the 45 percent of the company he didn’t own. He wanted to prevent anyone with designs on the company from acquiring a sizable minority stake that could be used to start a series of dirty tricks that took it from him.
The timing of his loan was awful, however. The global financial crisis that started in 2008 hammered Pavlovskgranit’s business, and Poymanov was unable to make his loan payments.
Sberbank’s chairman, Herman Gref, told Poymanov that he would restructure the debt for a 51 percent stake in Pavlovskgranit. This meant Poymanov would lose the company, so he refused.
Gref then obtained a court order that Poymanov repay the loan in full — immediately. Poymanov, of course, could not do so.
Gref then asked an outside appraiser to provide Sberbank with a current valuation for Pavlovskgranit. It came in way below what Poymanov knew the company was worth.
Using the lowball valuation, Sberbank got a court to give it 51 percent of Pavlovskgranit’s shares as compensation for non-payment of the loan.
It later surfaced that Gref’s son, Oleg, and a friend, Yuri Zhukov, owned the appraisal company, Neo Center.
Poymanov has gone to court in Russia and the United States numerous times to try to recover Pavlovskgranit — to no avail.
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