German authorities have launched an investigation into the transfer of a major stake in Tui, Europe’s largest holiday company, by Russian oligarch Alexei Mordashov, who is under western sanctions.
Tui said on Friday that the German government was investigating the transfer by Mordashov’s holding company, Unifirm, of a 29.9 per cent shareholding in the travel group. The transaction took place on February 28, the same day Mordashov was hit by EU sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The stake was transferred to Ondero Limited, a company based in the British Virgin Islands. No owner of Ondero was listed when the transfer was filed with the German markets regulator despite laws strictly mandating that stakeholders must be named in regulatory filings.
On Friday Tui said that in an updated filing by Ondero, the controlling shareholder was named as Marina Mordashova. She is believed to be the oligarch’s third wife, although that has not been publicly confirmed.
The investigation into the transfer by Mordashov — a steel magnate and Tui shareholder for 15 years — is the latest sign of how wealthy Russians are moving to protect their assets as western governments target those perceived to be close to President Vladimir Putin.
Tui said that until the probe into “the effectiveness of the notified transaction” had concluded, the transfer was “invalid” and the shareholding was frozen.
Mordashov bought about 5 per cent of Tui in 2007 in the hope of pushing the group to launch operations in Russia. Until March 2, he was also a member of Tui’s supervisory board and had invested millions of euros into the company in order to save it from going under in the pandemic.
Mordashov is one of Russia’s richest men thanks to his position as chief executive of Severstal, the country’s largest steel and mining company, and as chair of Severgroup, a holding company with stakes in assets that range from gold mining to media.
On February 28, Mordashov was one of more than half a dozen Russian businessmen to be hit by EU sanctions. Italian authorities said last week that they had seized a €65mn yacht belonging to Mordashov.
The EU said Mordashov controlled television stations that had actively supported Moscow’s aggressive stance towards its neighbour.
On the same day that he was hit with sanctions, Mordashov moved a 4.1 per cent shareholding in Tui to Severgroup, of which he is the controlling shareholder.
“Due to the EU sanctions, Mr Mordashov has no access to these shares as well as the voting rights and cannot derive any economic benefit from them,” Tui said.
However, the remaining 29.9 per cent — under the limit at which a formal takeover bid must be launched — was transferred to Ondero and therefore, officially, out of Mordashov’s control. Companies in the British Virgin Islands are not obliged to publish their shareholder register.
Severstal declined to comment on the transactions or the relationship of Mordashova to the Russian oligarch. A spokesperson said neither Mordashov nor Mordashova were immediately available for comment.
In a previous statement, Mordashov described the conflict in Ukraine as “a tragedy for two fraternal nations” and said: “I fail to understand how these sanctions against me will contribute to the settlement of the dreadful conflict.”
A person who is regularly in touch with Tui shareholders said that none had yet flagged any intention to dump Tui stock because of the reputational risk.
Tui shares had fallen by just over 2.4 per cent by lunchtime on Friday.
Germany’s economy ministry, which is running the investigation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Source: Financial Times