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Russia requests enforcement of EUR 20 million from airBaltic

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RURussia sent a legal assistance request to Latvia in November, requesting enforcement of more than EUR 20 million from airBaltic, according to information from LETA.

The request is associated with the now bankrupt Russian Investbank, which was previously owned by Latvijas Krajbanka’s largest shareholder Vladimir Antonovs. In March 2012, Investbank commenced three civil cases against airBaltic’s former shareholder Baltic Aviation System and airBaltic itself as a co-defendant, requesting the repayment of a supposedly allocated loan of EUR 18.4 million, interest and penalties.

Latvian Justice Ministry has confirmed that the institution has received legal assistance requests from Russian Justice Ministry on admittance of a ruling and its execution in Latvia. Requests in regards to enforcement of debt from airBaltic and Baltic Aviation Systems were received on 21 November 2017. However, Justice Ministry is unable to comment on the content of those requests.

Latvian Justice Ministry has requested additional information from Russia needed to ensure execution of the request. Once the requested information is received, the ministry will forward legal assistance requests to the appropriate Latvian district court for review, as noted by Justice Ministry’s representatives.

Information available to LETA shows that in the event of the request not being admitted, Russia may try other methods to recover the debt. One method may include airBaltic aircraft and other property.

The State Chancellery states that this particular case is not directly associated with the state.

Representatives of Latvia’s Transport Ministry – the holder of airBaltic’s state shares – note that everyday operational matters, including possible lawsuits are in the hands of the airline. Transport Ministry is not a participating party.

Ministry’s state secretary Kaspars Ozoliņš, who is the state capital holder’s authorized representative, emphasized that any lawsuit involving airBaltic is in the hands of the airline.

«As far as we know, there are no requirements addressed to the state. If something is requested from airBaltic, this request should be reviewed by the board and council, because it is their responsibility to take care of the company’s strategy, development and possible risks. Members of the board and council are paid money to do that,» Ozoliņš explains.

He says that he has no information about any specific requests aside from the enforcement of more than EUR 20 million from airBaltic in the conflict with Investbank.

When asked to comment on the state of the lawsuit, airBaltic representatives said that «all information regarding important lawsuits is reflected in the company’s annual account». airBaltic attorneys continue working on the lawsuit. With that, it is not possible to comment on any progress.

The last account was published at the beginning of 2017 and was about the situation at the end of 2016. LETA could not acquire more recent information.

Information detailed in the account stated that airBaltic is involved in four lawsuits. One of them is associated with Investbank, which commenced three civil cases against former airBaltic shareholder Baltic Aviation Systems and airBaltic itself as co-defendant. Investbank requested enforcement of EUR 18.4 million, interest and penalties from Baltic Aviation Systems for supposedly issued loans.

In 2016, Russian court had already ruled in favour of Investbank in two lawsuits. Amounts to be enforced in those two lawsuits are EUR 2.35 million and EUR 11.16 million. airBaltic remains a co-defendant in a lawsuit regarding remaining amounts requested to be repaid to Investbank. It is possible that the third lawsuit will end this year.

airBaltic believes any requests from Investbank contradict the agreement signed 3 October 2011 on the airline’s continued funding and management by shareholders and financiers. Because of that, the requested amounts cannot be enforced. airBaltic continues defending its interest against Investbank in Latvian and Russia courts, as mentioned in the airline’s accounts.

Last year, airBaltic earned EUR 1.2 million, which several times below the amount earned in 2015, when the airline earned EUR 19.5 million. The airline’s turnover as EUR 286 million last year, which is approximately 1% more than what the company had in 2015.

At the beginning of 2000s, Antonovs bought several banks. Most of them were later merged with Kaliningrad-based Investbank, which was handed over to Antonovs’ subordinate, but not two years later the bank’s licence was revoked because many different problems were uncovered in the bank’s internal function. On 4 March 2014, Moscow Commercial Court declared Investbank insolvent.

Antonovs also owned the now bankrupt Snoras Bank. Lithuanian citizen Raimunds Baranauskas was in charge of Snoras board, and Antonovs was in charge of its supervisory council. They each owned 25.31% and 68.1% of Snoras shares respectively. Snoras bank owned slightly more than 60% of Latvijas Krajbanka’s shares. In 2011, Snoras was nationalized after it was discovered the bank lacked finances. Shortly after, the bank was liquidated. Latvijas Krajbanka repeated its Lithuanian neighbour’s fate.

In 2014, British authorities permitted Antonovs’ and Baranauskas’ extradition to Lithuania, where local authorities wanted to interview them in relation to Snoras case. The two ran off to Russia, where they remain to this day.

This summer, Latvian prosecutor’s office submitted to court a criminal case on embezzlement of EUR 90 million from Latvijas Krajbanka. Charges are raised against five of the bank’s officials, including Antonovs.

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