Orlov: Tugushev claim he kept Norebo shares while Russian gov’t official, then in prison ‘absurd’
Alexander Tugushev's claim he retained a third of what is now Russia’s largest fishing company, Norebo Holding, while a government official, and then in prison for fraud, is “absurd”, said a spokesman for Vitaly Orlov, the company’s CEO.
Tugushev, one of three founders of Norebo, along with Orlov and Magnus Roth, is locked in a bitter legal battle in the UK’s High Court. He claims he’s owed at least $350 million for what he says is his third in the company, which is valued at over $1.5 billion, according to a statement from a spokesperson for Tugushev. This comes after the Norebo offices in Russia were raided by armed officials, in connection to another legal action previously filed by Tugushev.
Before assuming office in 2003 as deputy chief of the fisheries department of the Russian fisheries ministry, Tugushev, “as an official should [have], completely divested his share in several fishing companies”, said the statement from Orlov’s spokesman, sent to Undercurrent News.
After this, Tugushev ended up being sentenced for bribery, relating to fisheries quotas.
Tugushev references this in the claim document filed in the London lawsuit, where he claims to have retained his shareholding and interest in Norebo after the government appointment on Sept. 22, 2003.
Not even a year into this position, on June 2, 2004, Tugushev was arrested on allegations of fraud and ultimately sentenced to six years' imprisonment, the claim document states. Tugushev “denies those charges and believes them to have been politically motivated”, the claim states, without giving more information.
According to a Feb. 15, 2007 article from RIA Novosti, translated to English by Sputnik News, Tugushev and three other defendants were found guilty of extorting $3.7m from the management of a fishing company based in the Pacific port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to issue illegal fishing quotas in 2003.
However, the court cleared Tugushev of bribery charges. When he was released on Dec. 2, 2009, he returned to work for Norebo, according to the claim.
“Tugushev was once my friend, but prison changed him. In many respects, I do not recognize the person with whom I once had a joint business,” reads a comment attributed to Orlov himself in the statement sent to Undercurrent.
Orlov is challenging the lawsuit’s location in London and also a court order to freeze bank accounts and assets up to $350m, including his shares in the Norebo companies in the UK and Hong Kong.
“This is a dispute between two citizens of the Russian Federation, and its subject is a Russian enterprise that works with a Russian strategic asset… Mr. Orlov will resolutely challenge the jurisdiction of English courts, as well as a court order to freeze bank accounts,” reads the statement from Orlov’s spokesman.
London is not the place where this dispute should be resolved, especially since there are still processes with Russian law enforcement agencies, he said.
However, the statement from Tugushev’s spokesperson highlights that Orlov has “significant business interests in the UK and a substantial property in London”. Norebo “is a registered company in the UK and owns offices in Maidenhead”, the statement, sent to Undercurrent, adds. Norebo “supplies up to one in five cod eaten in the UK”, according to the statement.
The statement from Tugushev’s spokesperson came after a high court hearing which was hailed as a victory by the accuser. Orlov’s spokesman dismissed this, however.
“The High Court’s decision marks another positive step in my battle to regain the shares in the Norebo Group that were illegally taken from me. I am very proud of what was achieved during my 17 years with the Norebo Group, and refuse to be deprived of these achievements by Mr Orlov. I will continue to fight for my interest in the company and right the wrongs perpetrated by my former business partner,” said Tugushev, in the statement.
On Sept. 19, the court rejected Orlov’s attempt to keep the worldwide freezing order (WFO) worth $350m “under wraps”, according to the statement from Tugushev.
Orlov’s legal team had argued Tugushev should not be able to notify relevant third parties of the WFO without Orlov’s consent or the permission of the court, “rendering the order ineffective in practice”, according to the statement. The judge, however, rejected Orlov’s “proposed interpretation of the WFO, giving teeth to the order”.
The court also agreed with Tugushev’s legal team that the application by Orlov to rely on the privilege against self-incrimination should be expedited, so as not to impede Tugushev’s attempts to enforce the WFO in other jurisdictions, such as Russia, the statement reads.
A hearing on this is expected to take place in November. Orlov has claimed the privilege against self-incrimination to avoid full disclosure of his assets, citing a criminal investigation in Russia and possible money laundering proceedings.
The spokesman for Orlov dismissed the statement, however.
“To describe this as a significant legal victory is absurd,” he said.
The hearing was mainly to clarify an earlier judgment, which the judge recognized was open to interpretation, he said.
“No costs award was made against Mr. Orlov in respect of this clarification. The remainder of the hearing related to timetabling issues. Someone has attempted to dress up day-to-day administrative business of the courts with inaccurate and unjustified hyperbole. This hearing represented an early step in Mr. Orlov’s challenge to the jurisdiction of the English courts and the continuation of the freezing order, challenges which he intends to pursue vigorously,” he told Undercurrent.
This comes as armed officials raided the Murmansk offices of Norebo a few weeks ago.
A statement from the company’s Sergey Sennikov, sent to Undercurrent in early October, confirmed the raid, which he alleged was “orchestrated by unscrupulous, criminal elements”.
"The raids to which Norebo has been subjected were disruptive -- as they were clearly intended to be -- but they also damaged property and placed lives at risk. Although we have been able to clear up and we are now getting on with business as usual, at the time it was a deeply unsettling experience for all concerned. For example, men with guns broke down doors and forced employees to lie on the floor,” said Sennikov, in the statement sent to Undercurrent.
"All those responsible for the raid have much to answer for. Coercive tactics have no part in business nor in any law-abiding community. There must be proper respect for the law, including Norebo and its employees,” he said. “The raiders will fail. Norebo group will not be intimidated by criminals.”
A spokesperson for Tugushev said he has no connection to the authorities who carried out the raid.
In 2016, Tugushev made a criminal complaint to the Russian authorities against Orlov “for large-scale fraud”, the spokesperson told Undercurrent.
“Since that time, the complaint has been dealt with by the appropriate government authorities only, who (as reported) recently undertook a raid as part of their investigations,” the spokesperson said. Tugushev “has no connection to the investigation authorities and will continue to fight for his interest” in Norebo in the court.