Russia's Trust Bank files $830mn lawsuit in London against former owners

Russia's Trust Bank files $830mn lawsuit in London against former owners
Trust Bank gets tough with its former owners.
By Jason Corcoran in Moscow April 14, 2016

Russia's Trust Bank has filed a huge lawsuit in the London High Court against its former owners, demanding compensation worth $830mn.

The claim against former owners Ilya Yurov, Nikolai Fetisov and Sergei Belyaev alleges they obtained loans amounting to $1bn to acquire real estate in Moscow. The loans were backed with collateral worth just $150mn, according to a statement from Bank Otkritie, the lender which is involved in a state bailout of Trust Bank.  

The claim was filed following a court decision to freeze assets belonging to ex-shareholders. These loans were being serviced prior to the rescue of Trust Bank in 2014. By the end of 2014, Trust was hit by a loss of RUB18.8bn as its assets contracted to RUB290bn.

The Central Bank of Russia (CBR) estimated at the time that the bank's debts exceeded the value of its assets by RUB67.8bn

The bank, which used Hollywood hard-man Bruce Willis for its advertising campaign, was placed under the agency's management a little more than a year ago, while Otkritie was selected to oversee a RUB127bn bailout.

In late January, Kommersant reported that the UK court blocked the sale of the real estate portfolio to a third-party linked to Yurov.  The newspaper also reported Swiss accounts belonging to Yurov and his partners had been frozen by order of the prosecutor's office in Geneva as part of an investigation into alleged fraud and money laundering.

Yurov, who is believed to be in London, and his partners do not recognise the charges against them. According to Kommersant, the former owners say are only connected with three companies owing the bank about RUB8bn. About half of that debt is being serviced, the paper said.

This pursuit of Trust Bank's former owners  is part of a "McCarthyite purge" of Russia's financial sector as the CBR gets more powers to track down and prosecute blacklisted bankers guilty of money laundering and asset stripping.

Another banker, Sergei Pugachev, nicknamed "Putin's banker", was sentenced to two years in prison at the High Court of Justice in London on February 12 after being found guilty of contempt. The former ally of the Russian president fled to France last year claiming that his life was in danger in the UK because someone was planning to murder him, and that he was the subject of a witch-hunt by the Russian authorities.

The DIA brought the case against Pugachev after his bank Mezhprombank went bust in 2010, owing hundreds of millions of dollars. The DIA said that having transferred large sums from his company to an account at a private bank in Switzerland, Pugachev was "vicariously liable" for the collapse of Mezhprombank.

Even having Igor Putin, a cousin of the president, on the board of directors could not save Master Bank. The lender's license was revoked in November 2013, with the CBR alleging the bank had violated money-laundering legislation and processed large suspicious transactions. The bank required a bailout of RUB31.3bn at the time. Boris Bulochnik, who was also believed to be the main shareholder, has not been charged over the bankruptcy and is reported to be living in Israel.