Russia’s Norebo faces police raids, document seizures amidst ownership spat
Police have conducted a raid of the offices of Russia’s Norebo Group, amidst a dispute in the company’s ownership.
A week ago, investigators of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, a law enforcement unit responsible for dealing with special affairs, together with anti-corruption departments of the Ministry of Interior Affairs, entered Norebo’s offices in Murmansk and seized documents, computers, and interviewed staff.
Norebo issued a statement decrying the actions of the police.
“Norebo has … been the victim of a raid orchestrated by unscrupulous, criminal elements,” the company said. “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.”
Norebo is a group of companies that together comprise the largest fishing company in Russia with combined total quota holdings of 437,000 metric tons (MT) of walleye, pollock, cod, and other species. In 2017, Norebo’s catch was 592,000 MT.
The company said its core business operations were not affected by the raid and that it continues to do business as normal, though “threats to safety of distantly-fishing vessels and timely payments to personnel may emerge.”
Difficult weather conditions require consistent and effective communication between Norebo’s on-shore departments and its vessels fishing in distant waters – particularly in the Barents Sea. At the moment, that communication has been disrupted, Norebo said.
Norebo was founded in the early 1990s by Alexander Tugushev, Vitaly Orlov and Magnus Roth. Roth eventually sold his shares to Orlov, while in 2003, Tugushev sold his shares in some of the group’s companies to Orlov before his appointment as deputy head of the State Committee for Fisheries (Goskomrybolovstvo), which is now the Federal Agency for Fisheries, Orlov said. Shortly after his appointment, Tugushev was accused of fraud, found guilty, and sentenced to six years in prison.
In 2015, Tugushev moved forward with legal claims to nearly 30 percent of shares in Norebo, which he claims he never sold to Ovlov. He filed a lawsuit in the High Court of London and, a bit later, entered a complaint with Russian police. The complaint to the police contained Tugushev's statements that his shares had been sold without his consent and knowledge through false contracts by an identified group of people (no one was accused in person).
Orlov, through Norebo, denies any wrongdoing. Tugushev signed an official letter in 2012 that he didn’t have any shares in any businesses, deputy CEO of Norebo Sergey Sennikov told SeafoodSource. According to the letter, he had sold his shares in 2003. This letter will be also presented to the High Court of London, Sennikov said. The next court’s hearing is scheduled in November.
Tugushev told the Russian business paper Kommersant that his shares were taken away illegally.
In a recent statement, Tugushev said he was committed to resolving the issue via legal means.
"In 2016, I filed a criminal complaint with the relevant authorities relating to the misappropriation of his interest in the Norebo Group. Since that time, I have had no further involvement with the investigation, and the complaint has been dealt with by the appropriate government authorities only,” Tugushev said. "Mr. Orlov’s business practices have led to a number of challenges in multiple jurisdictions, including the litigation in London. My priority is winning legal redress in the U.K. courts."
Russian chief business ombudsman Boris Titov claimed he had contacted the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation to get the police’s actions checked.
“I know the nature of the conflict, and it really seems to be a raider’s takeover,” he said in a statement.