Privat seizes Dniproblenergo

Figures connected to Ukraine’s powerful financial-industrial group Privat seized the offices of electricity distributor Dniproblenergo on Friday, in a move reminiscent of previous Privat-led corporate raids against the downstream oil company Ukrtatnafta and the power generator Dniproenergo.

The Dnipropetrovsk-based Dniproblenergo (the “obl” in the middle comes from oblast, meaning “regional”) is Ukraine’s largest power distributor, providing electricity to about 24 thousand enterprises — around 27% of Ukraine’s consumers.  The state-owned Electricity Company of Ukraine (EKU) controls 75% of the firm, with the Cyprus-based Larva Investments Ltd (a part of the Energy Standard group) owning 15.9% and the remaining 9.1% in the hands of minority shareholders.  This last category includes 3 shares owned by the Privat-connected company Business Invest.

Andrey Martinyuk, the director of Dniproblenergo from 2005-2006, was elected to return as head of the company after board changes made at an April 30th shareholders’ meeting attended by EKU and Privat and held at Dnepropetrovsk’s Palace of Culture. The government’s securities and exchange commission declared the meeting invalid, but Martinyuk continued to assert his legitimacy to the post.

At 8:00 AM on Friday, a few dozen guards from the Privat-controlled private security firm B.O.G. (an acronym for “Security. Protection. Guaranteed.” spelling the Russian word for God) broke into Dniproblenergo’s offices.  According to Kommersant’s account:

Plowing through the gates [to the office], they neutralized [Dniproblenergo’s on-site] security, broke through doors and forcefully ejected the company’s general director Edward Sokolovskiy from the building. Upon arriving on the scene of the altercation, the police were presented with a July 25th ruling from the Zhovtneviy district court of Dnipropetrovsk [declaring] the naming of Andey Martinyuk to the post of general director as legal.

Dniproblenergo’s chief accountant apparently escaped from the raid, managing to take away with her the firm’s official seal.  (Stamps are a big deal for organizations in Ukraine.)  Despite this, Martinyuk is proceeding as if under complete control of the company.

EKU, whose president is the former financial director of the Privat-controlled oil company Ukrnafta, supports the move, citing poor financial performance as the impetus for the change in management.  Martinyuk, the state electricity company’s choice for a replacement, had been the director of EKU’s distribution department.  The Fuel and Energy Ministry is also on-board with the seizure.

The ousted Sokolovskiy, who is connected to Rinat Akhmetov’s DTEK, accuses Privat and EKU of collaborating in an unlawful attempt to replace him.  He denies financial problems, saying that the raid “could be connected to the fact that in 2007, the company increased its profits by 7.5 times — to UAH 86.8 million [$18 million].”  This figure does not match other reports claiming that the profits for 2007 stood at UAH 28.3 ($5.9 million).

The press office of Alexander Turchinov, Yulia Tymoshenko’s first deputy prime minister, announced that the seizure would be examined by a government commission this week.  A statement circulated by his office said that “We will make efforts to prevent raiders attacks by the side of the Privat group.”

The same security firm was used in the October 2007 seizure of the Kremenchug offices of Ukrtatnafta, where once again a former head of the company was reappointed under the guise of saving the firm from financial ruin.

In March 2008, B.O.G. led an attack at Dniproenergo but the raid was expected and rebuffed under the presence of the press.  The fate of the electricity generator remains in limbo, as Privat, Rinat Akhmetov, Tymoshenko and President Yushchenko all have interests in the matter.

Kommersant ends its article by listing a couple of other sites that may fall victim to Privat-led seizures, including the Crimean Generator Systems, Luganskteplovozu and the Dnipropetrovsk (sunflower seed) oil extraction factory TM Oleina.

As the Ekonomicheskie Izvestia article sums up,

Dneproblenergo, together with Dneproenergo and a range of other energy-providing companies, is one of the objects of conflict in the protracted battle [conflict] between the current leadership of the Fuel and Energy Ministry on the one hand and, on the other, the management of the energy companies that was appointed during the period of [former PM] Viktor Yanukovich’s government.

The tactics in this battle include moves such as these dramatic corporate raids, gerrymandered shareholders’ meetings, control over the physical shareholder register, competing judicial decisions and proxy confrontations in the political spectrum.

Of course, while they may make for interesting reading, such events are not very helpful for Ukraine’s business world…

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