March 6, 2021

The prosecutor's story: Fridman, from Zed's "great man" to muñidor of his fall


Although it has gained prominence in recent months due to the financial problems of DIA, that of the supermarket chain is not the first business of Russian businessman Mikhail Fridman in Spain, where a decade earlier he joined the Zed crossing when the group still I rubbed shoulders with the big techs.

But neither the success of the animation "Planet 51" nor the technical potential of the company, which boasted of being technologically prepared to make a movie like Avatar, saved Zed from the business debacle in 2016, unleashing a war between its owners, the Pérez Dolset family, and Russian shareholders, allegedly orchestrated by the tycoon.

This story is the preamble of the case that currently, after two years of investigation, instructs the judge of the National Court Manuel García Castellón, the same before which Fridman will declare after the summer as investigated for crimes against the market, unfair administration, punishable insolvency and corruption in business.

Although his last name was already in the initial complaint, it has not been until the beginning of August when prosecutor José Grinda has requested his complaint in view of the latest police report, from which the Russian's relationship with the group is inferred from a series of emails.

Anticorruption suspects that Fridman would have led to Zed's insolvency with maneuvers to asphyxiate it economically and then acquire it at a "ridiculous price" below that of the market, 20 million euros.

The links between the two date back to the end of the 2000s, when companies controlled by the already accused Vage Engibaryan and Sergey Gorbuntsov – alleged "subordinates" of the entrepreneur – entered into the shareholders of the group.

These ties would intensify later, in 2013, when Zed, in view of his growth, planned his debut at the US Nasdaq, an operation for which he required a credit line of 140 million signed with several entities.

One of them was the Amsterdam Trade Bank, the subsidiary of Alfa-Bank, controlled by Fridman, which with this action "secured a dominant position" that allowed it to enjoy a privileged role "in the face of any decision" for its double status as shareholder and creditor.

As an "action of pressure and economic drowning," its partners "planned an illegal strategy to interrupt dividend payments by Russian subsidiaries," which triggered "a total lack of liquidity" that brought the Spanish company to collapse.

Following the analysis of several emails between the founder of Zed, Javier Pérez Dolset, and his shareholders, the researchers put the focus on the role that Fridman played in the technology.

In one of these communications, dated August 12, 2013, Gorbuntsov refers to the "sufficient power" that "SHA" or "Misha", diminutive of Mikhail, has "to launch separate projects."

Even Pérez Dolset himself would refer to him as "the great man" in a conversation in which he agrees to "try to involve the great M in financial services as I know he likes it."

Affirmations that, according to the Prosecutor's Office, would verify how Fridman was aware of the business and even knew the conflict between Zed and the Russian subsidiaries over the "aggressive and unjustified" modifications of the contracts.

The Public Ministry also warns of the "loss of capital in alleged illegal commissions" from the Spanish group that, irregularly, "were used for the benefit of third-party projects and businesses whose final beneficiaries were Engibaryan and Fridman" through their commercial vehicles .

The alleged plot would end up entangling his business assault or "raid", a criminal technique born in post-communist Russia, in the last months of 2014, when Pérez Dolset was transmitted the "only solution" to stop any possible attempt to usurp the Zed's direction was to turn to Fridman.

The Anticorruption doubts, collected by the judge in his car, are based on a previous complaint from the founder of the group, which in 2016 presented a series of personal and corporate actions of its partners before the Prosecutor's Office.

Shortly after, the National Court opened a case against Dolset himself and nineteen other people, for an alleged crime of subsidy fraud that would have caused damage of more than 100 million euros.

"Any accusation that involves Mikhail Fridman regarding companies of the Zed group is totally false," he announced, just hours after the magistrate's decision, a spokesman for the magnate, who claimed that the complaint was "the product of a theory of the conspiracy invented by Dolset. "

What was Russia's second biggest fortune according to Forbes will undergo the interrogation of the Spanish Justice on September 12.

That afternoon, Fridman will embark on his way to the National Court from his office, the same one in which he sees DIA's actions collapse, which since "Misha" became its maximum shareholder a year and a half ago, has lost about 88% of its value in the stock market.

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