Drug Smuggling

Tying up more loose ends. Thanks to all the people at behindmlm.com for the great leads.

In September 2015 (the same month that ESOL bought a stake in Capital Bank), a man named Martin Henry Beckett was arrested in London as part of a gang smuggling cannabis into the UK.

According to the media in the UK:

A gang smuggled cannabis worth £24 million in industrial tubes wrapped up in CARPETS.

The smugglers created a company called ‘Mogafish Flooring’ to purchase and transport the carpets across the continent using legitimate transport firms.

Over six months they managed to get around 2.5 tonnes of high grade cannabis into the UK.

The company Mogafish Flooring was registered at a London address long known to house front companies.

Beckett and his cronies were not only involved in drug smuggling, however. Filings with Companies House show that Beckett had been a company director of no less than four companies. One of those companies was Zala Group Ltd. It was created on the 9th of June 2015, and used the same address as Mogafish. Beckett was also the sole director of Oculus Europe Ltd. (registered on the same day as Zala and at the same address).

Beckett was convicted in March 2016 and sentenced to 9 years and 10 months for “…conspiracy to import class B drugs.”

In a post on 20 March 2016 behindmlm.com wrote that OneCoin had suspended its “MasterCard processing and card loading’.

“In effect, cards issued to OneCoin affiliates are currently useless “until further notice”.”

The website managed to find out that OneCoin was using Zala Group Ltd. as “the issuing merchant”. That is, the company that Beckett (who was now in prison) had been the sole director and shareholder of.

But here is where the story takes another twist. There is also a Zala Group LLC that was registered in Florida in June 2013. The name on the paperwork of this company is one Gilbert R Armenta (the shareholder of ESOL and Capital Bank). The company is still active and was registered (until just a few days ago) at 110 E. Broward Blvd. 1900, Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33301. As I mentioned in my original blog post, this address was the same one used by both BlueNRGY and the Florida company that OneCoin was using after their activity at Capital Bank ended in November 2015. Also registered at this address was a company called Oculus GW LLC. The name on that paperwork is Armenta’s partner at ESOL, William C Morro.

Zala Group’s website offers “general purpose reloadable cards” via MasterCard (which appears to be what OneCoin was doing). The idea being that you could exchange your fraudulent OneCoins for money to be spent at your local Starbucks (for example).

Zala’s contact page looks like this:

Screen shot 2017-03-29 at 10.11.58

One final note: Beckett was taken off the paperwork of Zala and Oculus on 1 March 2016 (just before his conviction). He was replaced by Baron Menzel at both companies. There is a Baron Menzel who has been floating around the gambling world for some time (let’s just say he’s not exactly clean).

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More Details

I do not like leaving loose ends, so I decided to keep digging into the story of Capital Bank.

One clarification: as of 30 September 2016, the bank’s sole shareholder was ESOL BV.

As I previously mentioned, William C Morro was on the supervisory board of the Bank as a representative of ESOL BV. He is also partner and co-founder of a business called Inter-American Group

According to Morro’s own biography, the company is “…a U.S. investment and advisory firm focused primarily on middle-market businesses with cross-border operations in North America and/or Latin America.”

The firm appears to have gone through several iterations before becoming Inter-American Group in 2002. It was the brainchild of a Dr Richard N Sinkin. Sinkin‘s CV is lengthy, but here are a few highlights:

Dr. Sinkin is an elected member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles, and the San Diego Dialogue in San Diego.

He is a graduate of the University of Michigan, holding a PhD in History from that institution.

Sinkin’s father was Bill Sinkin, who was an activist and businessman in Texas. Among other activities, Bill Sinkin founded Solar San Antonio.

Bill Sinkin’s other son, Lanny, moved to Hawaii in 2014 to become an advocate of Hawaiian separatism. He was invited to Moscow in September 2015 as a representative of the dynastic king of Hawaii, according to Sputnik. The Russian press quoted Sinkin as saying:

“The [United States] tries to isolate Russia and to put on sanctions, but they really can’t do without Russia, so they are moving back to have relations with Russia,”

I don’t know what any of this means, but I did want to put it out here.

Addendum

After I finished writing yesterday’s article, I recalled an incident that had been reported briefly in the media in the UK about a year ago.

The City of London police reported:

A South Wales man has been arrested by the City of London Police in possession of bankers’ drafts worth £30 million in what is believed to be the biggest ever money seizure made by UK law enforcement.

What caught my eye, though, was the reference to Georgia as a transit country.

…in November 2015 $19 million was transferred into the company account and converted into Euros via an intermediary foreign exchange company, with the majority then being sent on to Georgia.

Nobody ever followed up on the story, and the police never made any further announcements that I could find. I tried to dig around a bit on my own, but the information given by the police was too vague to pin anything down for sure. The amount of money made it seem that it would have been one of the bigger banks here that was used. But the date of November 2015 leads me now to believe that it was likely Capital Bank that was used and that the money ended up with the OneCoin team. Though, of course, that is purely speculation.

Bank Fraud & Crypto Scams

I’m going to take you on a journey around the world in this story. We will start in Georgia, and travel to Australia, Bulgaria, Florida, Texas, New York, and the UK (though not necessarily in that order).

This past November JSC Capital Bank had its licence revoked by the National Bank of Georgia (the country’s Central Bank). Capital Bank was not that big of a player on the market, making up only 0.35% by assets as of 30 September 2016, or 16th out of only 17 banks.

According to KPMG Georgia,

“The NBG Auditing process detected that the bank had ignored requirements for prevention of legalizing illegal revenues, as well as various facts of violation of NBG regulations, resolutions and instructions.”

40% of the bank was held by Georgian Merab Chikhradze through a shell company registered in the British Virgin Islands.

Chikhradze is a partner in a plan to build a hotel in the old Agricultural Ministry building near Heroes Square. The building has been boarded up ever since I arrived here four years ago, with signage indicating that a hotel is planned for the site. I did see some people in hardhats wandering around the outside of the building recently, but no work appears to be happening.

Chikhradze’s own social media activity also shows that he has franchised with LafargeHolcim in the cement business here in Georgia. A new cement factory was opened in Poti this past October.

The remaining 60% of Capital Bank was bought in late 2015 by Netherlands registered ESOL BV. ESOL is controlled by a 54 year-old American citizen located in Florida, Gilbert Richard Armenta. Armenta has at least 15 companies registered in Florida alone. He has also been involved in court cases in the US since at least 2009 for a scheme he ran with his Florida registered private equity firm E Oliver Capital Group Inc. He was sued in Texas by Huawei for breach of contract. Huawei eventually won a judgment in 2012 of about $4.2 million, though whether they were able to recover any of it is unclear. Another 2012 judgment in New York found that Armenta and EOCG owed $37.5 million (this sounds like some form of the onward loan scam that I’ve written about here before, but it is hard to tell for sure from the article I linked to… if somebody wants to correct me on this, please feel free).

ESOL BV is also the holder of about 9% of Australia’s BlueNRGY Group Ltd. The company is currently facing a class-action lawsuit which alleges that “…BlueNRGY issued materially false financial statements during the Class Period” [June – October 2014]. BlueNRGY’s chairman, William C Morro, was also a member of the board at Capital Bank.

Shortly after Armenta & ESOL appeared on the scene as “investors” in Capital Bank, the ponzi scheme, OneCoin, also appeared in connection with the bank. The association officially only lasted about a month, before the company moved to an account with US based TD Bank. Both the address and the company associated with the TD account are Armenta’s in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It is also the US address used by BlueNRGY.

OneCoin bills itself as an alternative to the increasingly popular cryptocurrency BitCoin. An interview with OneCoin’s Ruja Ignatova explains the background and what they are allegedly trying to do with it.

 

Ignatova claims to have worked for McKinsey for 5 years, after studying at Oxford in 2004.

However, in September last year, the UK’s Finance Conduct Authority issued a warning to consumers regarding the scam, writing:

We believe consumers should be wary of dealing with OneCoin, which claims to offer the chance to make money through the trading and ‘mining’ of virtual currencies.

They also warned that:

As OneCoin is not authorised, consumers who deal with it will have no protection from the Financial Ombudsman Service or the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

An article in July had a takedown of OneCoin, explaining how the scheme works, and why it is not in fact a legitimate form of crypto-currency.

Another discussion on the scam referenced Mavrodi’s MMM scam that ran throughout the 1990s in Russia (which I have written about here).

Meanwhile, the story of OneCoin continues to play out in Bulgaria, with investigative journalists there following Ignatova’s activities there (though unfortunately, still only in Bulgarian).

View story at Medium.com

Rosneft Distraction

I got another notification in my Google Alerts yesterday about the Rosneft “privatization” scheme. According to the Russian press, the money for the purchase of the 19.5% stake in Rosneft came from Russian bank VTB:

But this just raises more questions, as Russia’s former deputy Finance Minister Sergei Aleksashenko points out.

First, Aleksashenko points out, despite the Russian government’s claims to the contrary, the money from the “sale” did not reach the federal budget last year. Of course, we already knew this based on both the statements of Glencore and Qatar, and on the filings I shared in my last post on this subject.

But a government official lying about something in Russia is nothing new, and you can’t fire them for it. So there cannot be “any political continuation of this story”.

Then there is still confusion about how the money is supposed to be transferred to the federal budget. Technically, the money should be paid to Rosneftegas, then paid to the budget as a dividend on profits earned from the sale. But that would not equal the full 692 billion roubles. And it would not show up on the books until this year or even next year.

But nobody in Russia cares about any of this, Aleksashenko says. Rosneftegas won’t be audited, and won’t be investigated. And these are all just “technical details” anyway. The main question that nobody seems to be able to answer is “who is the real buyer of the 19.5% stake in Rosneft?”

“The official version of a parity partnership of Glencore and QIA (Qatar investment fund) does not maintain the minimum checks on plausibility. Indeed if the partnership is created on the principle of 50/50, then why do the financial contributions of the participants differ by an order? The Qatar foundation paid 2.5 billion euros, and Glencore only 300 million [euros]?”

And then there is the question of why Glencore got a contract for gas deliveries, and Qatar didn’t. “Where is the equality there?” Aleksashenko asks.

Note: this is not entirely true. As I wrote last week, the deal on the gas deliveries was with QHG Trading LLP (which is equally split between a QIA subsidiary and Glencore Energy UK).

“Continuing on. We still do not know who Intesa’s partner is and who lent the buyer [Qatar] 2.5 billion euros.”

Then Aleksashenko casts doubt on the ability of the “borrowers” [Qatar & Glencore] to repay the loan. He also notes that the terms of the loan from Intesa are still a mystery.

But this is also not quite true. The paperwork for the three loans (possibly only two?) has been uploaded on the website of Companies House in the UK, but I am having difficulty making any sense of them. The numbers don’t match what we were told, and the participants are still murky. Who is QHG Cayman, for example. And Intesa is still listed as the lender.

Even so, Aleksashenko writes, if the “borrowers” (QHG Investment & QHG Holding) cannot repay the loans, then the “lender” (technically still Intesa) will own the shares.

“And that, it seems, is the essence of the transaction.”

He then reminds his readers that the initial proposal was for Rosneft to “buy” its own shares from Rosneftegas and then sell the same shares to an outside buyer at some later date. But this idea was allegedly rejected by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But, Alexsashenko continues, that it seems likely that Sechin’s original plan was implemented, but “with modifications”. And he alleges that VTB’s role here was to distract from this fact.

Rosneft Mysteries

Yesterday Reuters had a headline that caught my eye: “Rosneft signs 5-year oil supply deal with QHG Trading”.

Of course, I had questions. So I went digging. It turned out that this was the deal that had been agreed to last month with Glencore as part of Rosneft’s “privatization” scheme. But more than that, filings with Companies House in the UK revealed that Glencore had set up a complex structure just prior to the deal’s announcement in early December.

This is perhaps not so strange if you had read Glencore’s statement from early December about the proposed partnership with the Qatar Investment Authority.

In the press release, Glencore stated that they had put together a “limited liability structure fully ring-fenced and non-recourse to Glencore…”

So what does the structure look like?

On 5 December 2016 Glencore registered three LLPs (Limited Liability Partnerships) in the UK. They are as follows:

QHG Investment is split equally between QHG Holding & Qatar registered Qatar Holding LLC (a subsidiary of Qatar Investment Authority). The structure had initially been divided between Glencore UK Limited and Glencore Energy UK Limited. QHG Holding replaced Glencore UK on 28 December, and Qatar Holding did not sign on until 30 December, replacing Glencore Energy UK.

QHG Holding is split between Glencore Energy UK, Qatar Holding LLC, and an entity called QHG Cayman Ltd. (more about this later). Again the pattern repeats, and Qatar did not sign on until 30 December, this time replacing Glencore UK.

And finally, QHG Trading is split equally between Glencore Energy UK and Qatar Holding LLC. And Qatar again replaces Glencore UK on 30 December.

Now here is where it gets interesting. On 3 January 2017, three charges are registered. QHG Investment registers two “fixed charges” from “Intesa Sanpaolo S.P.A., London Branch”.

 Unfortunately there is no paperwork to show exactly what the deals entail, but according to Companies House, one of the charges:

  • Contains fixed charge.
  • Contains floating charge.
  • Floating charge covers all the property or undertaking of the company.
  • Contains negative pledge.

And the other charge:

  • Contains fixed charge.
  • Contains negative pledge.

QHG Holding also registers a “fixed charge” from “Intesa Sanpaolo S.P.A., London Branch” on 3 January 2017:

  • Contains fixed charge.
  • Contains negative pledge.

A quick look at “Intesa Sanpaolo S.P.A., London Branch” shows no such charges, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. But it does raise more questions about where exactly the money for the transaction came from, and where it went, or if it even existed at all. Meanwhile, Reuters reported on 3 January that Intesa said they were underwriting “a loan for up to 5.2 billion euros ($5.4 billion)…”.

According to the Russian business daily RBC, Rosneft was supposed to conclude the privatization deal by 15 December 2016.

“On the same day, Rosneftegas transferred funds from the transaction to the federal budget. However, Glencore only confirmed the completion of the settlements on 3 January 2017 [the same date as the charges mentioned above, -ed.] and Rosneftegas on 4 January. In [its] January report the state holding company reported “the end of all corporate and technical procedures of closing and settlement”, associated with the transaction. Rosneftegas specified that it came to… more than 50 documents and agreements signed in “more than five” jurisdictions.”

RBC also reported that QHG Investment LLP holds a 100% stake in QHG Shares PTE which was registered in Singapore on 8 December 2016. The authorized capital of QHG Shares PTE is divided into 201 ordinary shares & totals €10,243 billion. QHG Shares PTE holds the 19.5% stake of Rosneft that Russia “privatized”.

And another mystery remains: who is the beneficial owner of QHG Caymen Ltd.?  RBC couldn’t find it, and neither can I.

Central Bank Scheme

In February of last year I started to list the banks that had been shut down (retroactive from 1 January 2016) by Russia’s Central Bank. The idea was to see if they could beat their own record from 2015. Last week the final bank was closed for the year and when tallied the Central Bank did indeed beat their own record from 2015: 97 banks shut their doors in 2016 as compared to the 93 closed by the Central Bank in 2015. To put that in perspective, 32 Russian banks lost their licences in 2013, and 86 in 2014.

In December 2015, Sberbank’s German Gref predicted that 10% of Russian banks would have their licences pulled in 2016. That would have been approximately 70. The Central Bank exceeded that.

Gref said that he supported the revoking of licenses from banks that are involved in “anything other than banking activities,” Interfax reported.

In May this year the Russian news agency Rosbalt reported:

The Central Bank is selling this process as an anti-corruption campaign to clean up the banking sector. There are too many banks, the narrative goes. Thus it is necessary to close the weaker players, many of whom are using their clients’ money to make bad loans to themselves and their cronies, and moving the money offshore. See, for example, billionaire Alexander Lebedev’s version of events here.

Former deputy chairman of Russia’s Central Bank Sergei Aleksashenko wrote in October that the scheme:

“…has already cost over one and a half trillion rubles and, taking into account the interest to be paid, the federal budget is going to have to shell out considerably more than two trillion rubles.”

It does not appear that this process will end anytime soon. In July of 2015, VTB’s Andrei Kostin “…predicted that 500 Russian banks will be shut down over the next 5 years…”

“There are too many banks in Russia now — about 800 institutions. In five years, this number may be reduced by 500, but we could achieve a steady level even with 100 banks,” Kostin said in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, according to Interfax.

Work But No Pay

“The current economic crisis is in many ways different from the 2008 economic crisis.” People are not being laid off “en masse”. Instead, Dmitry Remezov writes:

“Many [employers] prefer to cut wages or send employees on unpaid leave. They have also started to increase the delay of salaries. Therefore a sharp surge in registered unemployment has not occurred, but there has become an enormous reservoir of hidden unemployment.”

In Primorye, for example, thousands of workers are owed hundreds of millions of rubles, though officially the unemployment rate sits at 5.9%.

One indicator of how bad the situation is in Russia’s Far East is that since the beginning of 2016, approximately 4000 people attempted to migrate to South Korea to work without visas, but were turned away. It is unclear how many tried and succeeded.

“The Russian Foreign Ministry called the situation in Vladivostok “appalling” and compared it to the 1990s, when thousands of Primorye residents also sought salvation from lack of money in South Korea.”

On the opposite side of the country, in Kaliningrad, wages fell and hidden unemployment increased due to the region’s loss of its status as a “special economic zone”.

According to a local trade union leader:

“Enterprises have cut working hours, people were more likely to be sent on unpaid leave. This is especially noticeable in the private sphere. But the general crisis also affected public sector workers: they also started curtailing wages and earning capacity. In general, people are living worse.”

He said that the reason there has been little “social unrest” is due to three factors:

  1. “…that job cuts took place progressively”;
  2. “the salary cuts were small”; and
  3. “part of the dismissed workers managed to find another job with roughly the same level of pay.”

“Employers curtailed production…. Therefore, workers gradually changed workplaces. And the salaries at the enterprises in the Kaliningrad region are small. Even at “Avtotor” [the local automobile manufacturing company] which imagines itself a leader of regional industry, the wages of mechanics and assemblers are often less than the average for the industry. Therefore it was not difficult for people to get another job with the same “not exorbitant” salaries,” he said.

“The crisis has hit the economy of the Russian regions in varying degrees.” In Kaluga, for example, the authorities shut down the central market.

“According to Rosstat, the unemployment rate in Kaluga is 4%, which is higher than the average for the Central Federal District (3.4%). Three hundred workers from the market who had to join the army of the unemployed, came to the rally.”

Of course, the places with the highest unemployment rate are in the North Caucasus Federal District [Chechnya, Daghestan, Ingushetia, etc.]. “As a whole, the unemployment rate in the district was 10.7%. The leaders are Ingushetia (29.7%) and Karachevo-Cherkessia (16%).”

“The high level of corruption and the outflow of the qualified workforce leads to higher unemployment in many Russian regions,” said State Duma deputy and vice-president of the Confederation of Labor of Russia, Oleg Shein. “And the North Caucasus Federal District has been hit the hardest by these social plagues.”

And it is driving local investment away, Shein continues. Not only will outsiders not want to invest there, but neither will local businesses seek to expand in the region, but look outside of it.

“Another factor undermining economic development is the departure of most of the skilled working population. This factor too has hit the regions of the North Caucasus Federal District, guaranteeing economic depression.”

“There was a serious “emigration” of ethnic Russians and Ukrainians from the North Caucasus which peaked in the 1990s. This departure was an additional blow to the local economy. And agriculture cannot be the basis of the national economy in the 21st century. It is, indeed, the product that provides the security of the country, but it does not create a high added value.” said Oleg Shein.

In Rostov the general director of a coal company was arrested and charged under several articles of Russia’s Criminal Code. The company itself is undergoing bankruptcy proceedings. The miners have not been paid and have been holding protests. “The total amount of the debt to the miners was 340 million rubles.” 2300 employees have been affected by the ongoing problems. “Many could not find new jobs locally and have left the region to work in other cities.”

“The leader of the protests said he believes regional authorities and law enforcement agencies are responsible for the current crisis…. The government has long turned a blind eye to the violations of the company.”

And in Tolyatti the automobile component manufacturer AvtoVAZ Aggregate owes 1500 employees back pay.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Photo of AvtoVAZ Aggregate taken in 2010 (from Wikipedia entry)

 

“The company was declared bankrupt in August and the top managers of the company were involved in criminal cases. According to the prosecutor’s office, the debt amounted to almost 53 million roubles as of 1 November.”

The head of the trade union at Tolyatti noted that over 40% of the shares of “AvtoVAZ” are owned by a company registered in the British Virgin Islands. “The reason for not paying workers is that there is no money. The court bailiff could not find the account of director Viktor Kozlov. We understand that the money went offshore. Perhaps in the near future this will be the case for many companies: no money, because they go offshore to violin and cello [a reference to the Rodulgin story and the Panama Papers.]”

The situation where people are formally employed, but not paid, has become one of the signs of the current crisis.

Occam’s Rosneft

Italy’s Intesa Sanpaolo bank has not approved the loan to Glencore and Qatar, NewsRu reported yesterday.

“Against this backdrop, there were suggestions that almost the entire amount received by the State from the transaction, was de facto financed by the printing press of the Central Bank.”

There has been no evidence of any movement on the currency exchange market, the article continues, which likely means it did not happen.

The FT reported earlier that Intesa was still exploring the possibility of participating in the privatization of Rosneft. But that they are constrained by the fact that the US and EU are looking to see if Intesa’s participation would violate the sanctions against Russia. Intesa was recently fined $235 million by the New York regulator for breaking the sanctions regime against Iran, and likely does not want to get involved in breaking another one.

So far, Intesa has only said that they are advising Rosneftegaz – the holding company that controls Rosneft on behalf of the State.

“Of the total transaction amount – 10.5 billion euros – the buyers [Glencore and QIA] have agreed to pay 2.7 billion from their own resources. The balance was to be provided by a pool of banks headed by Intesa…”

But the Russians have already claimed that the money from the transaction has reached the budget. How is that possible?

“…it can be assumed that part of the transaction in euros was financed by Russian banks,” Tom Levinson, a currency strategist at Sberbank CIB, said.

According to NewsRu, the money in the budget was provided by Gazprombank, but came from a deposit of $29 billion placed by Rosneftegaz in October.

“The delay in the inflow of currency into Russia for the privatization of Rosneft has already caused its deficit in the market,” says Levinson.

The situation, he said, is exacerbated by the fact that Rosneft must pay $3.8 billion for the purchase of the refinery in India in December. In addition, [Russian] companies need to pay off $3.8 billion in external debt.

So, the article reaches the same conclusion that many experts in Russia have already written: that the Central Bank printed money to pay for the scheme.

This is not actually an uncommon practice, the article points out. In the last week alone, the Bank of Russia printed money “…and poured into the banking system in the form of loans 650 billion rubles.”

But why go through such a complex set of steps?

The Central Bank could have printed rubles to bail out the government and fill the holes in the budget. But that would have been highly inflationary. And that is the one thing the Regime cannot and will not do. Because it is the one thing that will drive people out into the street en masse. So they had to come up with some other way to fill the hole in the budget, and they settled on their privatization scheme scam instead.

But “sanctions” prevented them from going abroad to borrow more money from foreign banks. The commodities traders don’t have a lot of money because everyone is in the same boat and still trying to recover from the collapse of the commodities market. Apparently an offer was made to Trafigura to do a similar deal to what Rosneft has with China: advance payments in exchange for steady supplies. But Trafigura was not interested in buying more supplies from Rosneft.

Everybody knows Russia and Rosneft are bad bets. Actually getting anybody normal to take the shares was going to be a problem. They could have gone to the “oligarchs” boyars to take the deal, but frankly, they’re feeling the sting of the bad market too. Plus, the people in the Regime are all about control, and they don’t trust anybody who is not in their group (and not even then). And what sane person is going to pay good money for a stake in a badly run company that they have no control over?

In the end, the only option the Regime had was to buy the shares themselves. But again, inflation. The deal had to be done in such a way that would not impact the market / ruble negatively. And that is why they had to come up with this seemingly complex scheme. The Central Bank printed money. They then “loaned” the money to the Russian banks. The Russian banks turned around and loaned the money to Rosneft in exchange for ten-year bonds.

Glencore apparently got a good contract from Rosneft for playing their part and providing at least some of the funding. It is still unclear what Qatar gets out of the deal. And the Italians? Well, that is unclear too, but it appears to be where the whole story about outside funding falls apart.

As Alfred Kokh wrote on Facebook:

Occam’s razor cuts off all of the superfluity.

Rosneft Quick Sale

Albert Bikbov offers an alternative version of what happened with the Rosneft privatization deal.

Bikbov first reminds his readers that in late 2014 Rosneft got a “loan” from the government of 625 billion rubles. That money was used to purchase foreign currency. But in doing so, the currency market was hit, and the Central Bank had to increase the key interest rate to 17%.

He connects that to the bond placement that Rosneft did last week for nearly the same amount: 600 billion rubles.

“…market participants are convinced that the deal was non-market in character, i.e. it was financed by one or two state banks (presumably “Gazprombank”). In the market it is impossible to quickly raise 0.6 trillion rubles [the placement lasted only 30 minutes -ed]: because the base of Russian investors is limited, the short-term liquidity of Russian banks, and the sanctions [Rosneft cannot borrow from foreign entities under the sanctions].”

What likely happened is that the State provided the money to Gazprombank in a one-time injection of cash, which was then transferred to Rosneft using the bond placement, Bikbov alleges.

But why did Rosneft need that money? Bikbov thinks that the money was a back-up plan in case the deal with Glencore and Qatar did not work out by the 12 December deadline set by the Russian government. The money would then be used as a stopgap until Rosneft could get a deal with another [foreign] purchaser early next year.

But instead “a miracle happened”, and Rosneft was able to announce its deal with Glencore and Qatar at the last minute.

Ignoring the history and morals of Glencore which everyone already knows, he continues, “the main thing is what will happen to the market” as a result of the transactions.

There were two simultaneous deals: the deal with Glencore and Qatar, and the bond placement.

So now Rosneft has an extra 600 billion rubles that it doesn’t really “need”. And the Russian budget has 10.2 billion euros. But the budget doesn’t need euros, it needs rubles “to plug the holes in the budget”. So the government needs to sell the euros and buy rubles (it should get about 688.5 billion rubles for the transaction). But in doing so they would be in a similar situation to what happened two years ago with Rosneft’s purchase of foreign currency, and the market would be destabilized. So instead Rosneft will “buy” the government’s euros with its rubles.

“The most important point: the transaction would have no impact on the market, because it will take place “outside of the market”, which, in turn, means there won’t be any acute fluctuation of the ruble…”

He cites Putin’s meeting with Sechin where this was discussed. He also quotes Alfa Bank’s Natalia Orlova who said:

“I think these deals are not linked. Rubles were purchased for Rosneft’s future liabilities, and Glencore and Qatar Investment Authority’s currency is designed to pay the budget that needs rubles. This is why probably Rosneft will give the rubles, which were borrowed on the domestic market, to the budget and use the currency [euros] to pay its external debt. For this reason, in general, I think that the negative effect for the currency market can be equal to zero. Even if the currency will directly go the budget, anyway, it won’t affect [anything]. If the borrowing through ruble bonds for Rosneft were a backstop deal, it is probable that such bonds can be paid off in advance because bond holders will receive interest.”

And all of that is fine, Bikbov says, but… and it is a big but, now Rosneft has an extra 10.2 billion euros that it doesn’t really need.

“To tell the truth, Rosneft doesn’t need the currency. By the beginning of October, it accumulated $20,2 billion on its accounts. Moreover, Bashneft has about $350 million. In October, Rosneft sold its shares in Vankorneft and Taas-Yuryakh Neftegazodobycha for $4 billion [to an Indian consortium – ed.] and is going to get $1,1 billion for Verkhnechonskneftegaz‘s 20% from Beijing Gas Group. Rosneft needs to pay its external debts equal to at least $4 billion in the 4th quarter. In 2017, Rosneft will have to pay off $12.9 billion in debt. As you can see, the company has currency in surplus even if we don’t consider export transactions in 2017.”

See here for more on Rosneft’s debt.

So what is Rosneft supposed to do with an extra 10.2 billion euros? Just sit on it? Save it for a rainy day? They could buy foreign assets, but that’s a risk because of the sanctions, Bikbov asserts.

Rosneft doesn’t seem to have such qualms, and is buying stakes in foreign projects. See for example, the recent $12-13 billion deal with Essar in India, and the purchase of a 30% stake in Eni’s project in Egypt, among others.

However, Bikbov suggests that Rosneft’s next acquisition may be Tatneft (Russia’s sixth largest oil company).

“…Tatneft is quite attractive as a company, the oil price is still low, and the Russian stock market is very far from world levels.”

He points out that the nearly 20% stake in Rosneft went for $11 billion, which means that Rosneft is worth only $56 billion, according to the market.

“And this is despite the fact that just a few years ago, Rosneft bought TNK-BP for about the same amount of money. And for Bashneft they paid about $5 billion. That is, not including Rosneft, about $60 billion was paid for Bashneft and TNK-BP which is more than all of yesterday’s assessment of Rosneft.”

Nevertheless, he says, the point is that Rosneft has extra cash and what do they plan to do with it?

“Putin has warned Rosneft about a converting “rubles from bonds in the budget currency”. But what about the reverse conversion (Rosneft’s euros into rubles) he said nothing, leaving everything to the discretion of Rosneft. So we can only pray and hope that Rosneft will not collapse the currency market…. Hope for the prudence of Igor Sechin, although 2 years ago Rosneft caused the collapse of the ruble roughly in the same amounts, absolutely regardless of the consequences for the market.”

And meanwhile Tatneft is looking quite attractive.

“In the past month the stock price has increased by 26%, which strongly hints about the interest in it. It would be appropriate to think about this. It would be good if it is not Rosneft…”