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LEONID LEBEDEV LEFT HIGH AND DRY, AS CASHFLOW SINKS

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By John Helmer, Moscow

It’s midsummer. Time for the oligarchs, even the insolvent ones, to go aboard their yachts, and set sail for the resorts of the Mediterranean. Oleg Deripaska’s Queen K is this week cruising in the eastern Aegean between the Greek islands and the Turkish coast. Andrei Melnichenko’s A is in the Gulf of St. Tropez, while Victor Pinchuk’s Oneness has made its way from Monaco to Sardinia. Suleiman Kerimov’s financial indisposition [1] cost him his Ice, which is in Gibraltar flying someone else’s flag; his relief boat Air is currently at anchor at Cala di Volpe, on the east coast of Sardinia.

Last week Leonid Lebedev’s Synergy was sailing off the Tuscan coast. But Lebedev (lead image, left) himself is washed up – onshore, that is.

Yachting sources in St. Petersburg claim that Lebedev has split up with Valentin Zavadnikov (centre), his partner and co-owner of the yacht, and has left the helm and the Synergy racing team. Zavadnikov is refusing to say whether the break was amicable. Other sources claim Lebedev’s Sintez holding company cannot afford to keep up sponsorship of Synergy. Without that money, Zavadnikov reportedly obliged Lebedev to walk the plank.

Lebedev is currently in a New York state court, hoping to replenish his fortunes with a suit for $2 billion against Len Blavatnik and Victor Vekselberg. They counter-charge Lebedev with attempting fraud, charging them a second time for a shareholding in the Tyumen Oil Company (TNK) for which they signed and paid him in 2003. For more on the case, read this [2]. Judge Sallyann Scarpulla adjourned a closed-door hearing in Manhattan on April 9, promising to decide soon whether the case should be dismissed.

On August 4, in Yaroslavl Arbitrazh Court, Judge Tatiana Kuznetsova will renew the judicial investigation of cash and asset stripping and bankruptcy at TKS, the Tver region subsidiary of TGK-2; this is an electricity utility Lebedev acquired in a state privatization in 2008. Since then he has been criticized publicly by then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [3] and President Dmitry Medvedev [4] for failing to meet his investment obligations to the company. The Yaroslavl court case involves the alleged disappearance of at least Rb4.3 billion (equivalent before last year’s devaluation to $140 million). For an introduction to that case, and to the litigation which has followed in Russia and Germany, click to open [5].

Lebedev himself is reported to have left Russia following his exit at the end of April from his senator’s seat at the Federation Council. The circumstances of his ouster, following an investigation of concealment of his assets and income, can be followed here [2].

Lebedev’s interest in sponsoring expensive sports appears to have begun with car-racing almost a decade ago. He and his Sintez holding financed a Geneva-based group called Matech, which successfully raced for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Matech described [6] itself as founded and owned by Martin Bartek (below, left).

Martin Bartek

In fact, Bartek was employed by Lebedev to direct several companies associated with the Sintez group, its oil production and trading businesses, and its cashflow between Russia, Switzerland, and Cyprus. Auto-sport sources say that late in 2010 Lebedev withdrew his sponsorship money, and despite Matech’s earlier successes the team was unable to race in the 2011 season. Sintez was the team’s only sponsor. The control shareholding in the Matech group belonged to one of Lebedev’s cut-out companies.

Bartek died in April 2011 [7] just before the GT1 championship of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) was due to start. A motor sports Facebook page reported [8]: “Big shock in the GT scene: Martin Bartek, president of Matech Concepts, was found dead earlier this week. About the exact circumstances of his death by Bartek there is no confirmed information that a suicide can obviously not be excluded. Bartek was 44 years old, married and had two children.” It is not known if homicide was ruled out in the official investigation.

Bartek’s death came weeks after he had put Matech up for sale, revealing to a Swiss newspaper that the sale had been forced by the loss of his “main partner”. To the Swiss police he had also reported problems in the companies for which he was responsible. Months after Bartek’s death, Matech was reported [9] to be in bankruptcy [10].

The company names linking Bartek to stakeholders in Lebedev’s offshore corporate chain include Coral Petroleum (Ireland), Ecu Finance (Switzerland), Petrosol (Switzerland), and Agragorn (Cyprus). These names have surfaced in evidence in the UK High Court and in the New York Supreme Court: they are the key to Lebedev’s role in concealing the sale of his shareholding in TNK to Blavatnik and Vekselberg in 2003. His receipt of $600 million at the time, according to court documents, passed through company books managed by Bartek. According to High Court Justice Jonathan Hirst [11], Bartek was “a trusted friend and business colleague” of Lebedev’s. But by the time his testimony would have proved whether Lebedev’s claims against Blavatnik and Vekselberg were true or false, Bartek was dead.

Before he died, Lebedev may have told Bartek he lacked the money to finance their car-racing venture. But he had fresh cash to offer for yacht-racer Zavadnikov. Lebedev says [12] his interest in yachting came long before cars. “My father was a captain in the Soviet military marine and…the sea was a major element of our life…I practiced sailing for a short time during my university studies but it was just for a hobby. I was part of the university’s sailing team and sailed with them for 2-3 years.” Much later, Lebedev told VSail, a yachting publication, “I happened to watch a news story on Russian TV about Synergy, the boat of my friend Valentin Zavadnikov. So I contacted him and asked him whether he would be interested in me joining his team. He agreed and now I am co-owner of Synergy.” That was at the start of 2012.

Synergy
Source: Lebedev at the helm of Synergy, racing at Puerto Calero February 2012 [13]

Two years later, for the yacht-racing season of 2014, Lebedev was listed in the crew of Synergy as alternate helmsman with Zavadnikov.

Yacht_List

Source: http://www.melges32.com [14]

When Synergy won the international RC44 competition for last year, Lebedev and Zavadnikov were listed [15] as co-owners and Lebedev in the yacht’s crew. This year the yacht has been withdrawn from the RC44 competition. Instead it is racing in the Melges20 and Melges32 series. The RC44 boat (RC are the initials of American designer Russell Coutts) is a light displacement, high performance one-design racing yacht. For their annual competition, the boats must be identical in construction, shape of hull, and weight distribution. For crewing, there must be four amateurs, four professionals [16].

The Melges racing series are also intended for boats of identical design [17]. However, this season’s races so far have been decided with Zavadnikov at the helm, and other Russians on board, but Lebedev has gone. For example: in February [18], April [19], early May [20], and at the end of that month on Lake Garda [21].

Yacht_List1
Source: http://www.melges32.com [22]

Zavadnikov (below left) has also owned the motor yacht Quinta Essentia. He was showing it off in Monaco in 201 [23]2 when he became the “Russian ambassador for the Belle Class Superyachts”. The yacht-racing partnership with Lebedev (right) was also celebrated at the time.

Lebedev_Zavadnikov

Zavadnikov’s daughter took her father’s motor-boat cruising for her wedding and honeymoon, she confided to a yachting magazine in June of 2012 [24]. Her favourite places on board, she added, were “the Jacuzzi on the foredeck at sunset, and the big dining table in the upper salon, where we usually dine.” She also revealed that Zavadnikov had been able to afford multi-million dollar boats since at least as early as 2007; he was a Federation Council senator for Saratov between 2001 and 2012.

Zavadnikov’s first fortune, and also his love of the sea, appear to have been made — also investigated by state prosecutors — during the privatization of state assets [25] in the Nakhodka region, on Russia’s Pacific coast. Zavadnikov’s second fortune materialized after he was Anatoly Chubais’s deputy at the state power conglomerate, Unified Energy Systems, in Moscow, directing its breakup and selloff. He turned out to be more fortunate with electricity assets [26] than Lebedev.

“Sailing is still an expensive sport to practice,” Lebedev acknowledged to VSail.com in 2012. “In addition, doing business in Russia takes a lot of time! If you are a top businessman you simply cannot take so much time off your business to actively participate in your team. As a result, it has to be a rich person that has some free time to dedicate to the team.”

Yachting media report [27] that Zavadnikov sold his motor boat in 2013 for less than the asking price of €35 million. It was then renamed Quite Essential [28] (below), and put out for charter to all-comers.

Quite Essential

Zavadnikov left the Federation Council in October 2012, filing no declaration of his income or assets, which was required by law for the first time that year [29].

Russian yachtsmen and yachting reporters acknowledge they don’t like to talk about the owners of their vessels. They are willing to say there were two owners of Synergy last season; that Zavadnikov is racing Synergy this season; and that Lebedev is not [30]. They won’t say what happened for Zavadnikov to put Lebedev ashore. “In our world,” commented the editor of a Russian yachting publication, “we don’t like to talk about it.” A reliable source close to Synergy confirms Lebedev’s Sintez is no longer a sponsor, and Lebedev no longer a member of the crew. Zavadnikov refuses to respond to requests for comment.

A Moscow investment banker, who has worked with Lebedev in the past, says he believes Lebedev has run into a liquidity problem. This, he says he suspects, is the motive for the lawsuit in New York.

Lebedev was asked what had happened to his partnership with Zavadnikov, and why he had dropped out of yachting. His spokesman, Konstantin Schwarzkopf, relayed the questions. Lebedev declined to answer.