This month, Orlov, whom The Times calls the “fish king,” was dealt a double blow, with the result that he could lose up to a third of his assets worth a billion dollars. The Murmansk court rejected the businessman’s motion to consider the dispute in Russian jurisdiction, and the third co-founder of the company supported the lawsuit against him.
The dispute between the founders of Norebo for a share in the international fishing business worth $ 1.5 billion was another battle for Russian business in a London court. The company catches and sells 400,000 tons of cod, haddock and pollock per year and is a leading supplier of frozen food producer Birds Eye and creator of filet-o-fish McDonald's.
Representatives of Tugushev, who initiated the proceedings in the High Court of London, in a statement sent this week to Forbes, said that they are now confident: negotiations on a settlement after recent events are “more likely”.
However, a spokesman for Vitaly Orlov told Forbes that Tugushev’s statements remain "complete nonsense." “Mr. Tugushev’s claims are groundless, and Mr. Orlov’s defense is substantial and convincing. Tugushev’s demands will be challenged hotly and decisively, ”he added.
Tugushev claimed rights to about 25% of the company - he estimates this share to be “at least” at $ 350 million. He claims to be the “victim” of a “complicated and confusing conspiracy” based on attempts to force him to leave the company.
The case will be considered in London - Tugushev explained the filing of the lawsuit in a British court by the fact that the "fish king" lives in the UK. Orlov himself denies this. He previously argued that this case was “an attempt by one Russian to put forward unreasonable demands on another Russian regarding Russian assets” and should be considered in Russia, preferably in his hometown.
The current opponents Tugushev and Orlov once studied at the same engineering school in Murmansk, made friends and in 1997 founded the company together. For the sake of career growth, Tugushev left the company in September 2003, lost his share in the business and took a high position in the department for supervision of the fishing industry (Goskomrybolovstvo).
In 2004, Tugushev was sentenced to six years in prison for fraud. Subsequently, he returned to Norebo, but was fired because he “impeded” the development of the company, Orlov said in 2017 (quoted by Financial Advisor).
A Tugushev spokesman told Forbes that he denied having committed any wrongdoing. According to him, the UK Migration Service “admitted that his arrest was politically motivated” and in 2018 issued him a visa, indicating that “Tugushev was one of the many victims of political processes in Russia.”
In the Norebo case since 2018, the advantage has passed either to Orlov, or to his former friend. On June 23 last year, a British court issued an order to freeze Orlov’s assets for $ 350 million. However, in July the court overturned this decision, receiving new documents proving that Tugushev refused his share in the company when he joined the Russian government in 2003 year.
In July of that year, an official statement was published on the Norebo website stating that “a Russian citizen previously convicted of fraud in Russia <...> fabricated charges in Russia and England that his shares in the company“ Almore Atlantic "(previously owned shares in various structures related to Norebo) were illegally appropriated by Mr. Orlov, but recently submitted documents clearly indicate that this did not take place."
Nevertheless, the last two events potentially strengthen Tugushev’s position. Firstly, despite the fact that the representative of Tugushev described as “a long-term conspiracy aimed at depriving Mr. Tugushev of his share in the company”, the new documents of the High Court, which Forbes got acquainted with, indicate that the co-founder of Norebo Magnus Roth Now "I agree that Mr. Tugushev has the right to a third of all assets."
It should be noted that Roth is involved in another legal dispute with Orlov. In August last year, the Undercurrent News seafood trade magazine reported that a court in Hong Kong ordered Rota to acquire 50% from Orlov in the fishing and transport company Three Towns Capital (TTC).
As follows from the documents of the Arbitration Court of the Murmansk Region, Orlov’s attempts to get the case to be examined in Russia, and not in London, were unsuccessful.
“The decision of the Arbitration Court of the Murmansk Region, directed against Mr. Orlov and Norebo, the city’s largest taxpayer and employer, with significant influence, demonstrates how unfounded his attempts to avoid the court in London,” said the representative of Tugushev. According to him, “this decision was another obstacle to Mr. Orlov’s attempts to deprive Mr. Tugushev of his share in Norebo.
The statement also reads as follows: “Now that Mr. Roth has confirmed that Mr. Tugushev has a legal right to a third of the joint business, Mr. Orlov’s position is completely untenable.” As if inviting the billionaire to the negotiating table, the authors of the statement add: “Mr. Tugushev intends to continue consideration of the claim in the High Court of London in order to achieve full restoration of his rights and compensation for the damage suffered.”
In response, Orlov’s team told Forbes that the motion to refer the case to a Russian court was “extremely formal” and that the court’s decision “had no effect on the ongoing process.”
Speaking about the statement of the third co-founder of the company Magnus Roth, the businessman’s representative added: “Mr. Orlov and Mr. Roth are arguing about other issues. The arguments of Mr. Roth’s defense should not be taken on faith, since they are dictated by selfish interests. ”
A preliminary hearing, where the schedule of the main trial will be set, is scheduled for May 2020.
Kings of the seas: who owns the Russian fish. Forbes Rating
Revenue: 58.2 billion rubles
The largest fishery holding in Russia began with the Murmansk company Karat and the Norwegian Ocean Trawlers, founded by partners Vitaly Orlov, Magnus Roth and Alexander Tugushev. Ocean Trawlers supplied the Russian fishermen with used Norwegian trawlers, and also bought the catch from them. In 2011-2013, the group experienced rapid growth, spending about $ 600 million to buy competitors in the North-West and Far East.
Today Norebo unites 16 fishing companies, and 100% of the holding belongs to Orlov, the only Russian fishing industry in the Forbes ranking of dollar billionaires. In London and Russia, Tugushev is suing him. In the early 2000s, Tugushev joined the State Committee for Fisheries, but was soon sentenced to six years for fraud. Now he is trying to prove that even after that he retained a third of Norebo, and Orlov stole that share from him.
Read more: Sea battle. Former friends, founders of the largest fishery holding share business
Companies: Gidrostroy, PBTF
Revenue: 34.6 billion rubles
In the early 1990s, the former military builder Alexander Verkhovsky, together with partners, created the Gidrostroy fishing enterprise in the Kuril Islands. Today, Gidrostroy is not only engaged in fishing and developing aquaculture. This is the main construction contractor in the Kuril Islands, implementing a substantial part of the federal target program for the development of the region until 2025. On the largest ridge island of Iturup, Gidrostroy built most of the infrastructure — roads, an airport, schools, residential buildings, and a stadium.
In 2012-2017, Verkhovsky represented the Sakhalin Oblast in the Federation Council. Returning to the management of Gidrostroy, for about $ 400 million he bought the Transfiguration base of the trawl fleet from the family of the Sakhalin Oblast Governor Oleg Kozhemyako. After that, Gidrostroy became the second fishing company in Russia. And Forbes estimated the ex-senator’s fortune at $ 800 million. Verkhovsky has partners in the fishing business — Roman Abramovich’s associates — Efim Malkin and Irina Panchenko.