You can also play the article in audio version.
Almost two months after the outbreak of Russian aggression in Ukraine, it is showing how difficult it is in practice to catch up with Western nations’ efforts to cut off large businesses close to the Putin regime from public funds.
An example is the construction company Strabag, whose co-owner has been the sanctioned influential oligarch Oleg Deripaska in the EU since April. The construction giant’s management promised that the Russian financier would not reach the dividend. However, the News Report found that Deripaska could reach for the money now detained later.
The “trick” is that the unpaid dividend will remain in the company as a liability to the Cypriot company Rasperia, through which Deripaska holds a stake in Strabag. When the Russian war ends and the European Union ceases to impose sanctions on Deripaska, the oligarch reaches back into money.
“It should be noted that Rasperia’s unpaid dividends will not be transferred to retained earnings, but will be recognized in Strabag SE’s balance sheet as a liability to Rasperia,” confirmed Strabag spokeswoman Marianne Jakl.
Return to Cyprus
Recent history has shown that this is nothing new within Strabag and Deripaska. US sanctions were imposed on Deripaska as early as 2018, but the Austrian daily Der Standard later found out that Strabag had paid the oligarch a suspended dividend.
Strabag’s management admits that the company paid Deripaska’s Cypriot shell money in three years. Explaining that the sanctioned Deripaska did not own more than 50 percent of the shares in the incriminated company Rasperia.
“Rasperia was therefore no longer seen as a so-called blocked entity under the US sanctions regime, and Strabag subsequently had to pay Rasperia withheld dividends for fiscal years 2017 and 2018, as well as a dividend for fiscal year 2019. It was not an easy decision, but after an intense the legal analysis found no legal grounds for continuing to withhold Rasperia’s dividends, “added a spokeswoman for Strabag’s headquarters in Villach, Austria.
Minister of Transport Martin Kupka (ODS) admits that the situation around the Austrian construction giant is complicated.
“We are waiting for a proposal from the European Commission. She is now working towards Strabag and its co-owner Oleg Deripask. This is not an easy situation, because Strabag is involved in many projects in Europe and employs thousands of people in EU countries, “said Minister of Transport Kupka.
In any case, Oligarch Deripaska should not be able to profit from public procurement in any way. “Leaving aside Deripaska, the Strabag leadership is trying to help war-torn Ukraine in the field, it clearly rejected Russian aggression at the outset,” Kupka added.
Strabag is building a motorway or a new metro in Prague in the Czech Republic, these are billions in contracts. Isn’t the company’s promise not to pay Deripaska money from profits just a media game?
“From my point of view, Strabag’s promise is not a guarantee of non-payment of dividends to Oleg Deripask, it is only their postponement. If Strabag wants to continue to compete for public procurement in the EU, it should provide greater guarantees of cutting itself away from Russian capital. Here, the Czech Republic and the EU should put more pressure on Strabag to reveal the exact structure and clearly announce the non-payment of dividends, “said Petr Leyer, director of the anti-corruption organization Transparency International, for Seznam Zprávy.
According to the lawyer of the anti-corruption organization Lukáš Kraus, Reconstruction of the State, it will be important how the European authorities shine in Deripaska.
“So far, there is no clear legal guarantee that Deripaska will not receive dividends. In any case, it is necessary to functionally guarantee the real implementation of the sanctions agreed within the EU, so that they do not just stay on paper. That is, to freeze the oligarch’s share and ensure that he does not run out of public funds for the duration of the sanctions, “Kraus told the News.
Analyst Jiří Skuhrovec from the Datlab organization emphasizes that a key aspect of the crackdown on the oligarchs is to unravel their connection with the Putin Kremlin.
“The logic of sanctions should be that people on the lists can touch the property if they are removed from the list. The EU checks the lists, gaining a tool to put pressure on Russia’s elites, which it can operate for a very long time. All this, of course, provided that Děripaska will not be expelled from Strabag sooner, “Skuhrovec told the News.
It is not clear how much of Oleg Deripaska’s shares in Strabag own. For example, in 2014, Strabag reported that Deripaska owns 25 percent and one share in the company. But Strabag now says Deripaska owns less than 50 percent of Rasperia, which has a 27.8 percent stake in Strabag.
She did not give the exact number of the construction company’s spokesperson to the List of Reports, explaining that the Cypriot co-owner has no obligation to the Strabag management to disclose its shareholder structure. The company’s management is thus based only on documents from September 2020, by which Rasperia was to declare that Deripaska does not own more than a 50 percent stake in a Cypriot company.
Lawyer Marek Zelenka from the anti-corruption initiative Oživení is convinced that Czech contracting authorities should check the exact shareholder structure of Strabag and find out Děripask’s exact share.
“The fact that Strabag does not communicate this fact in public is something we cannot influence. According to the records of the real owners, we know that he is registered as one of the real owners. In addition, the ongoing contracts are to be terminated by October this year, so contracting authorities can still wait until they receive orders from the Ministry of Regional Development and the European Commission, “added Zelenka.