Bank's attempt to regain Kiev asset worth €60m foiled


It is more than a year since the State-owned Irish Bank Resolution Corporation should have asserted control over the Ukraina Shopping Mall in Kiev.

In November 2011, representatives of more than 90 per cent of the shares in Univermag, the Ukrainian company that operates the mall, voted to have local businessman Rostyslav Levinzon replace Larysa Yanez Puga as the director general, or managing director, of Univermag.

Nevertheless, Yanez Puga remains in control of the mall, which is worth up to €60 million and produces an annual rent roll of approximately €8 million.

The Univermag offices are on the second floor of the four-storey shopping mall, in the corner of a large bar and bowling alley.

When The Irish Times rang on the office intercom and, through an interpreter, asked to speak with Yanez Puga, it was some time before a representative of the company emerged from the office.

As the muscled man in a brown suit was coming out the office door, a security guard in a military style blue uniform could be seen taking up position inside the office.

Machine guns

The man in the suit, who said he was head of security for the shopping mall, said Yanez Puga was not there and that no one else was authorised to speak to the media.

He took contact details which he said he would pass on to Yanez Puga. But the office manager never made contact.

The four-storey shopping mall with parking is in a prime location in central Kiev, close to the main train station and on a wide boulevard. When The Irish Times stood outside to take a photograph of the mall, a uniformed security guard came out to say taking photographs was not allowed.

Inside the mall, which is fully rented out but did not seem particularly busy, the number of security guards on duty was very noticeable.

Last year when Levinzon sought to enter the Univermag offices, a stand-off that lasted a number of days ensued, attended by policemen armed with machine guns, and publicised on Ukrainian national TV.

The international property group built by Seán Quinn was held by way of a property holding group that had its holding company in Sweden. After IBRC had its share receiver appointed by the Swedish courts, he in turn set about appointing his representatives to the various companies within the group.

Levinzon was appointed over Univermag in early November, 2011. He went to the mall accompanied by his lawyer and members of the Univermag supervisory board and brought documentation showing his appointment.

He went to the Univermag door in the bowling hall, where he was met by two lawyers – Vadim Trushkin and Valeriya Kozachuk – who said they had no knowledge of any resolution appointing Levinzon, but who nevertheless refused to look at his documents.

The police were called and more than a dozen officers turned up, some of them carrying machine guns. The bowling hall was busy with children and their parents, many of whom promptly left.

The stand-off continued for hours, but Levinzon made no progress. When he returned the next day the police were again called. National TV was told of what was happening and that day’s stand-off featured in the evening news. The pattern was repeated for a number of days. Complaints were made to the police, but nothing came of it.

In time, court hearings were heard where, bizarrely, the incumbent management challenged the legality of Levinzon’s appointment while not disputing the fact that those who appointed him were the legal owners of Univermag.

The case has been to court and to a court of appeal, but Levinzon remains excluded.

What has been happening with the rent and cash on deposit with Univermag is unknown.