‘Maltese’ Russian oligarch’s €500 million assets frozen by London high court

High Court ruling confirms asset freeze on one of Malta’s most well known of passport buyers

Boris Mints is a recent naturalised Maltese who acquired his passport through the Individual Investor Programme
Boris Mints is a recent naturalised Maltese who acquired his passport through the Individual Investor Programme

London’s High Court has blocked assets worth over €500 million belonging to a fugitive Russian billionaire oligarch who recently acquired Maltese citizenship – Boris Mints.

The appeals decision is connected with claims filed by various banks he once owned, which have been since bailed out and taken under control of the Russian central bank.

Mints, who now lives in London, is the former owner of the O1 group, and recently acquired Maltese citizenship for just over €1.15 million under the Individual Investor Programme.

He is also one from a list of 96 wealthy Russians that the United States treasury identified as “oligarchs” close to President Vladimir Putin.

But the Russian central bank, now the owner of banks Otkritie and Rost, has filed a €1.2 billion lawsuit against their former owner Mints, for losses incurred when it rescued the bank from collapse.

Mints, 61, co-founded Otkritie, the biggest bank in a group known as the Moscow banking circle that used state support and huge transactions to grow their balance sheets rapidly before necessitating bailouts from the Russian central bank in 2017.

In the High Court lawsuit, the Russian central bank accused Mints and his sons of making allegedly fraudulent deals right before the Otkritie and Rost banks were bailed out.

Mints had sold his stake in Otkritie in 2013 to focus on his spin-off business, O1 Properties, which specialised in property deals and private pension portfolios. However, he continued to deal with the banks until their collapse. He lost O1, his key asset, after the nationalisation of other companies he had been involved in.

The banks contend that Mints fraudulently terminated security arrangements on loans issued to the O1 group, in part also through the help of another Maltese citizenship holder, Russian millionaire Alexander Nesis – founder of private equity firm ICT Group.

By August 2017, Otkritie and Rost had €750 million in outstanding loans to Mints’s O1 group, which collectively were due to be repaid between late 2017 through to 2020. At this time, both Otkritie and Rost were in severe financial difficulties.

“Indeed, very shortly after the transactions in issue, the banks were bailed out and taken over by the CBR in August and September 2017. However, the position in early August 2017 was that the banks had been provided with, and retained, valuable security for the O1 loans,” the court said.

The banks held security in the form of pledges of shares in O1 Properties, which were held by Mints-owned companies Nori and Centimila, and Nesis’s firm Coniston. This security was of real substance and value: O1 Properties owned 15 business centres in Moscow, an asset portfolio valued at $4 billion.

However, Mints managed to replace the security agreements with just €50 million worth of bonds from O1 Group Finance, a unit of his O1 group. The banks insist their well-secured loans were replaced by low-liquidity ones because the bonds were not secured in a proper manner, resulting in over €500 million in losses – the difference between the value of the loans and the value of O1’s bonds.

The Russian central bank says Mints knew that both banks were in financial difficulties and would be bailed out by the central bank.

“The claimants contend that this was accomplished with the dishonest or corrupt assistance of the two individuals who occupied the position equivalent to CEO at Bank Otkritie (Mr. Dankevich) and at Rost Bank (Mr. Shishkhanov). Both of these individuals had known [Mints], were friends and former colleagues, but their tenure at the Banks was about to come to an end as a result of the imminent takeover by CBR…

There was, they say, no honest explanation for swapping loans which were secured, and producing income, for bonds,” the London High Court said in its ruling.

Mints owns one of Scotland’s most luxurious country houses, the Tower of Lethendy, which sits in 39 acres in rural Perthshire and has a private golf course. It is one of 140 properties and businesses around the world that Russia is trying to take from Mints.

Mints left Russia for the UK in 2018 after authorities there opened criminal proceedings against him, according to people close to the investigation. He is believed to have obtained Maltese citizenship in 2016.

According to the Maltese company registry, ‘citizen’ Mints’s residence in Malta is an apartment on St Francis Street, in Sliema - yet another ‘ghost’ residence for Malta’s new cadre of itinerant elites.

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