Gas billionaire claims fraud over lost unit

Gas billionaire claims fraud over lost unit

A new row erupted yesterday in the murky east European gas trade when Dmitry Firtash, the Ukrainian gas billionaire, claimed he had lost control of a key subsidiary through the fraudulent actions of...

A new row erupted yesterday in the murky east European gas trade when Dmitry Firtash, the Ukrainian gas billionaire, claimed he had lost control of a key subsidiary through the fraudulent actions of a renegade employee.

The dispute over the ownership of Emfesz, a big Budapest-based gas and energy company, comes weeks after Mr Firtash was squeezed out of the Ukrainian gas trade under the terms of a new Russian-Ukrainian contract signed after the January gas supply crisis.

Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly, agreed to supply Ukraine directly, cutting out Rosukrenergo, a company jointly owner by Gazprom, Mr Firtash and another Ukrainian businessman.

In the latest argument, which raises fresh concerns about Europe`s gas security, Mabofi, a company wholly owned by Group DF (Mr Firtash`s holding company), alleged its 100 per cent stake in Emfesz had been "fraudulently transferred" to RosGas, a Swiss-based company.

Mabofi claimed that, unbeknown to Mr Firtash, Istvan Goczi, the Emfesz chief executive, had used old powers of attorney to carry out the transaction, which had been registered with the Hungarian authorities. Mabofi added that it had no information on the beneficial ownership of RosGas but one of its directors was Tamàs Gazda, a Hungarian lawyer, who was formerly employed by Emfesz, "under the direct instructions" of Mr Goczi.

"[Cyprus-registered] Mabofi is now actively pursuing all of its legal rights in Hungary, Cyprus and Switzerland, and is confident that the ownership of Emfesz will be restored to its rightful owner as soon as possible," said Mabofi in a statement.

Robert Shetler-Jones, a Group DF director, said the "fraudulent and illegal" share transfer had come as a complete shock to the group and to Mr Firtash.

At Emfesz`s offices an employee, who declined to give his name, turned down requests to speak to Mr Goczi or Mr Gazda, saying neither was in the country. He said in an e-mail that according to company records Emfesz now belonged to RosGas and Mabofi was its previous owner.

Yesterday`s development follows Emfesz`s efforts to secure gas supplies after the end of Rosukrenergo`s Ukrainian contract. Emfesz announced last week it was switching its gas purchases from Rosukrenergo to RosGas, the first time RosGas`s name was publicly -mentioned.

Emfesz then said RosGas belonged "to Gazprom interests". The claim was immediately denied by Gazprom, which said: "Gazprom has no relation to RosGas. It is not part of Gazprom."

Asked yesterday to clarify any connections between RosGas and Gazprom, the Emfesz employee said RosGas would soon publish information. Sergey Kupriyanov, a Gazprom spokesman, declined to comment.

Emfesz has been a key element in Mr Firtash`s business empire, with pre-tax profits in 2007 of 4.3bn forints on revenues of 179bn forints (£570m). It supplies about 20 per cent of Hungary`s gas, has export contracts elsewhere in the region and plans a 2,400 megawatt power station.

Group DF has long made far more money from supplying gas via Rosukrenergo and Emfesz to central Europe than from Ukraine, where it claims to have made losses. It has been under immense political pressure since Yulia Tymoshenko returned to power last year as Ukrainian prime minister, pledging to cut out Rosukrenergo. Vladimir Putin, her Russian counterpart, agreed this year to exclude intermediaries.

The deal left unclear what would happen to Rosukrenergo`s non-Ukrainian gas trade but the company`s difficulties have multiplied, notably with the Ukrainian authorities taking control of its gas stores.

By Stefan Wagstyl in London, Thomas Escritt in Budapest,,and Roman Olearchyk in Kyiv, The Financial Times

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