KIEV, April 26 â€“ Bowing to pressure from the U.S. government, Raiffeisen Investments AG on Wednesday disclosed two owners of RosUkrEnergo, a controversial gas trader, seeking to dispel rumors the company may have links to organized crime.
Raiffeisen, which has been managing a 50% stake in RosUkrEnergo since its creation in 2004, confirmed media reports that two Ukrainian businessmen, Dmytro Firtash and Ivan Fursin, actually own the stake.
But the disclosure may trigger new attacks against RosUkrEnergo, in Ukraine and internationally, amid reports suggesting at least one of the businessmen may actually have a link to a controversial figure.
RosUkrEnergo was four months ago named as the only gas supplier to Ukraine for the next five years, but the company had been defying governments by refusing to publicly disclose its real owners.
The U.S. Justice Department's organized crime division has recently stepped up its efforts to investigate the true ownership of RosUkrEnergo, according to a repot by The Wall Street Journal. RosUkrEnergo and Raiffeisen officials have been recently meeting U.S. investigators in Washington, the newspaper said.
The pressure accelerated amid reports suggesting Semyon Mogilevich, a Ukrainian-born businessman wanted by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations for allegedly leading an organized crime group, may have been involved.
Media reports also suggested that powerful Russian politicians may have links to the gas trader after RosUkrEnergo had suddenly won lucrative gas supply contracts from Gazprom, the state-controlled Russian gas giant.
Although the disclosure doesnâ€™t establish any direct link to Mogilevich, Interfax reported that Firtash had been the president of an affiliate of Hungaryâ€™s Highrock Holdings Ltd., which is thought to be owned by Mogilevich.
Mogilevich, wanted by the FBI for suspected racketeering, fraud and money laundering, is thought to be living at a luxury dacha near Moscow and is thought to have connections to powerful Russian political figures.
Zeev Gordon, an Israeli lawyer representing Mogilevich, told Reuters on Wednesday that Firtash is acquainted with Mogilevich. But he repeated earlier denials by Mogilevich of any involvement in RosUkrEnergo.
"I spoke to him [Mogilevich] today, and he said: 'It is not mine and I am not connected to it'," Gordon said.
Raiffeisen vs. Gazprombank
Raiffeisen has been managing a 50% stake in RosUkrEnergo, while Gazprombank, a financial arm of Gazprom, has been managing another 50% stake apparently on behalf of other undisclosed individuals.
Gazprom recently announced that it would purchase the stake from Gazprombank after a wave of international criticism had been triggered by RosUkrEnergoâ€™s secrecy.
Russian daily newspaper Izvestiya, owned by Gazprom, reported on Wednesday that Firtash and Fursin were the beneficiaries of the stake managed by Raiffeisen. The report cited an audit made by PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
Raiffeisen said Wednesday it would pull out from its involvement with RosUkrEnergo for good within the next two or three months following the disclosure.
Firtash was reported to own 90% of the stake that had been managed by Raiffeisen, while Fursin was reported to own the remaining 10%.
RosUkrEnergo earned $659 million on sales of $3.7 billion in 2005, according to Gazprom. The reported distribution of shares suggests that Firtash earned $296.2 million from its ownership of RosUkrEnergo in 2005, while Fursin earned $33 million.
Firtash, who apparently spends most of his time in Hungary, also owns Kiev basketball club and two Ukrainian television channels, K1 and K2, which have been launched in 2005.
Fursin owns Misto-Bank in Odessa and is also the main shareholder in the Odessa Film Studio.
No plans to revise gas deal
Ukrainian government officials have said that should international investigators prove any corruption links within RosUkrEnergo, Ukraine will try to renegotiate its gas supply agreements.
RosUkrEnergo is to supply gas to Ukraine at $95 per 1,000 cubic meters in the first half of the year, but Gazprom had recently warned the price would probably increase later this year.
Some Ukrainian officials, such as Energy and Fuel Minister Ivan Plachkov, believe the gas price will probably stay unchanged during the next five years. Plachkov said the recently disclosure of ownership will not have any impact on the contract.
"Today, we have no grounds to revise the relations," Plachkov told Interfax.
"We have contracts, the price is good, and then we will see,â€ť Plachkov said. â€śUkraine will work and consume gas and it would be nice for the price to stay at $95 as agreed." (tl/nr/ez)