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by John Helmer, Moscow

The High Court in London has the duty to set the standard for distinguishing between Russian honesty and chicanery (the British varieties too). But it lacks the power. If the court had that, the Prime Minister, the House of Commons, the Secret Intelligence Service, the BBC, Oxford University Press, and the Royal Institute of International Affairs would be convicted of lying their heads off, and despatched from court with damages to pay, plus costs.

So it proved to be last week when the High Court ruled that Russian resident of the UK, Boris Mints, is arguably a grand larcenist whose money and assets, adding up to $570 million,  ought to be frozen until there can be a full adjudication of all the evidence.  This was the third successive High Court ruling to condemn Mints by three judges in just eight months. 

That’s a record for swift unanimity. There’s also a twist in this record, because the High Court has found Mints guilty of running away from the scene of the crime, thereby making near-certain that the part of the case the court has called arguable will be judged to be guilt for the grand larceny itself.

Oxford University Press (OUP) and its authors don’t apologize for or retract publications about Russians like Mints which turn out in the High Court to be lies or drivel or both.

Elisabeth Schimpfossl (right) began her book called “Rich Russians: From Oligarchs to Bourgeoisie”, published by OUP in 2018,   with a portrait of Boris Mints at a Mayfair hotel, “strutt[ing] into the hotel lobby, dressed in shamrock green trousers and a white T-shirt with a Hopper-esque print… look[ing] like Pavarotti gearing up to perform: round-faced, bearded, and barrel-chested.” Mints, she judged, has turned  his “back on crude conspicuous consumption and … [is] now cultivating Russia’s heritage in the arts…[and his] pioneering identit[y] as billionaire art patron, collector and philanthropist”.

He added, she said, by way of explanation of how he had earned his wealth: “None of us has inherited anything except for education.” Then: “I’ve matured and spent a lot of time with rabbis, who’ve taught me a lot.”

Schimpfossl didn’t ask whether the rabbis had been teaching Mints how to steal, or how to cover his tracks, or how to expiate both sins with the god Mints says they share.  Only schlemiels leave more evidence of the getaway, the rabbis told Mints, than there is evidence of the crime itself. Mints was too cocksure to attend. For more on Schimpfossl, read this.

So far, Justices Clare Moulder, Richard Jacobs and Sara Cockerill have judged the evidence presented by two Moscow banks, now in state administration, against Mints. It’s still premature for the High Court to rule that Mints is an out and out crook; part of that has been delegated to the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA).  But the judgements already issued make clear that, on reviewing the evidence to date, the three judges and the court believe Mints has been dishonestly covering his tracks and would, if he could, attempt to carry off his loot beyond the range of anyone to catch it, or him. According to Cockerill, his son Igor has tried lying to the court to escape the asset and cash freeze imposed on the others.

Since mid-2019 Mints, along with his sons Dmitry, Alexander and Igor, have been on trial in a series of actions for recovery of their ill-gotten gains amounting to at least $572 million. An inventory of those has been presented to court, and a worldwide freeze order (WFO in legalese) imposed. Criminal proceedings commenced in Moscow last month. An extradition application will follow from Russian prosecutors to their UK counterparts, so a magistrate’s trial can be expected to follow on whether to return Mints to Russia or protect him in the UK.  

The asset freeze order was issued by Justice Dame Clare Moulder on June 27, 2019; this has not been released publicly, but the substance of her views has been summarized in two succeeding rulings. Moulder’s order was reviewed by Justice Richard Jacobs who heard the Mints family application to lift the order and release their money and property. Jacobs upheld Moulder and refused Mints in his ruling of July 29, 2019. Junior Mints, Igor, was then told by his father to dig an escape tunnel for the money by applying for the court to lift the freeze order for himself alone, on the ground that even if papa and bruders are crooks, Igor isn’t part of the gang.  That claim was adjudicated by Justice Sara Cockerill last Thursday.   

Jacobs’s judgement can be read here. Cockerill’s judgement, issued on February 6, 2020, can be read here.

The High Court justices who have so far ruled that Mints has acted crookedly (left to right):  Dame Clare Moulder, David Jacobs, and Sara Cockerill. They are all recent appointments to the court, having been appointed in November 2017,  October 2018, and January 2018, respectively.

The consensus judgement so far is that Mints is likely to have stolen two bank loans, $500 million from Otkritie Bank, $350 million from Rost Bank (part of National Bank Trust, which then became part of Otkritie), when the O1 group of Mints companies, finding themselves unable to repay the bank, bribed bank executives to approve a getaway scheme. This was to convert the genuinely valuable real estate securing repayment of the loans into worthless paper bonds issued by Mints front companies. These transactions were carried out in the second half of August 2017. The principal banker responsible for authorizing the scheme then ran away to Israel.

A few days later, the Central Bank intervened, telling Mints his transactions were illegal and ordering him to reverse them. So Mints devised his second getaway scheme. On a single day in October 2017, the three Cyprus front companies which had taken the Mints real estate assets back in exchange for the bonds transferred the assets on to a Cyprus entity which Mints created overnight.

Evidence of the opposition from bank officials under pressure to approve the Mints deals was reported by the judge: “transcripts of contemporaneous telephone conversations in which various employees describe the transaction or the bonds as ‘crazy’, ‘bad’, ‘unreasonable’, ‘folly’, ‘strange’, ‘bullshit’, and ‘garbage’.’’

“In those circumstances,” Jacobs concluded, “a transfer away of assets which are the subject of intended or actual proceedings, and which takes place shortly after such proceedings are threatened or commenced, is prima facie a classic dissipation of assets.” The judge added that in his reading of the evidence, Mints proceeded next to empty the Cyprus fronts of all cash, leaving them to go bankrupt, and moving the money into “a reorganisation of the Mints’ family discretionary trusts.”

The accused co-conspirators (left to right): Marina Mints and sons Dmitry, Alexander and Igor.

The Mints gang’s getaway schemes were evidence of the gang’s crimes of bank fraud, Jacobs concluded. “In these circumstances… it can in my view reasonably be inferred that individuals who use these methods to defraud a bank in this way and on this scale might readily resort to similar methods to render their major assets proof against enforcement in response to proceedings being taken against them.”

Jacobs also noted that Mints and his lawyers have failed to provide any evidence in support of their defence that the bond swap was a lawful, commercial deal. He warned there could be no trusting the Mints gang on account of their having moved to the UK and invested in property there. That’s another getaway scheme, the judge ruled. “It is true that the evidence indicates that the Mints family now live in England. However, leaving aside a large watch collection, there is no clear evidence that they have brought any personal assets to this country. For example, the Affidavits produced on disclosure showed that the houses in which they lived were owned by offshore companies, mostly Cayman companies, and were held on trust. There is no evidence of any substantial assets having been brought into this jurisdiction and against which there could be enforcement of any judgment.”

The Tower of Lethendy, a 16th century castle in Perthshire, Scotland, with private golf course, two tennis courts and a swimming pool, which is one of the Mints houses in the UK. Purchase price, £2.5 million in 2016. Source: https://www.forbes.com/

Additional homes bought by Boris Mints in England, reported by Crime Russia, a Moscow publication.   

Cockerill began last week’s judgement by deferring to the London arbitration court a test of the evidence against Mints for bank fraud. “The present application,” she said, “is not concerned with the broader underlying merits of the case or as to the character of the transactions themselves.” The issue for her to decide was whether Junior Mints was, as the banks told her,  one of the “ultimate decision-makers on behalf of the O1 Group”. If not, then Junior asked Cockerill to cancel the freeze order against him.

Source: https://www.bailii.org/

Cockerill differed in no particular, she said, from the findings of Moulder and Jacobs. But was Igor part of the Mints gang? “It must be borne in mind that the cause of action in this case is conspiracy, and that ultimately if there was such a conspiracy his role in that need amount to little more than that agreement. It is not necessary to place him at the heart of the transaction – or as involved in the very first meetings – so long as there is a sufficient case that he entered into that agreement, and did something in pursuance of it.  In my judgment there is such material available… it is perfectly possible for a ‘late joiner’ to be a conspirator.”

As for the gang, Cockerill came to the same point Jacobs decided last July – that the evidence  of the Mints getaway was convincing that a “real risk of dissipation” required keeping the freeze order in place until a final decision can be reached on whether the money is to be returned to the banks. For risk of dissipation, read risk of yet another gang getaway, of transfer of the assets further out of reach.

“This is a case where, despite the caution appropriate to such a deduction, real risk of dissipation can be inferred from the nature of the fraud… There is nothing in this aspect of the case which really distinguishes the position as regards IM [Igor Mints]. So far as concerns the submissions now made on the MF Trust (a Mints family trust of which Boris Mints was the settlor, the Trust acquiring assets on, and also perhaps after, 27 December 2017 and of which IM is the “protector”) they do not assist in circumstances where the very setting up of the trust occurs at an interesting point in the timeline, shortly after the distribution of shares and just before the capital reduction, leaving Nori [Cyprus front company] assetless and also just after relief was obtained against the Mints family in Russia and days before the commencement of arbitration.”

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