The Russian billionaire Alexei Mordashov may have avoided a freeze on a £1bn shareholding in Tui, the world’s biggest tourism company, after selling most of his 34% stake to a British Virgin Islands company.
Russia’s richest man had become the single largest shareholder in Tui, which has dual stock market listings in Frankfurt and London, after stepping in to keep it afloat during the pandemic. He resigned from the Tui board on 2 March, two days after being blacklisted by the EU. The UK government imposed sanctions on him on Tuesday.
Mordashov was among the first oligarchstargeted, with the EU citing his investments in Rossiya bank, described as the “personal bank” of Russia’s senior officials, and his stakes in television stations that had played a role in destabilising Ukraine through pro-Russia broadcasts.
Last Friday Tui announced in a regulatory filing and press release that Mordashov had sold 29.9% of his Tui shareholding to Ondero Ltd, based in the British Virgin Islands. The shares are worth £1.1bn at today’s prices. Tui said the remaining 4.1% had been sold to the businessman’s Russian investment vehicle, Severgroup. Tui said the transfers had been made four days earlier, on 28 February – the day Modashov was named on the EU sanctions list.
Under sanctions rules, Mordashov’s entire holding in Tui would have been frozen, which would have meant he could not sell his shares, collect dividends, vote at board meetings or profit from the stake in any other way.
However, Tui has confirmed that only the small portion held by Severgroup, worth £155m, was frozen. The firm said it did not know who the owners of Ondero were, or whether its 29.9% stake had been frozen under the sanctions regime.
A Tui spokesperson said: “We cannot judge whether and how the sanctions apply here. Tui would only have to be notified if there is a controlling shareholder [at Ondero]. Reporting obligations under capital market law in Germany apply to all shareholders of a company, no matter where they are based. As Tui and the German financial regulator BaFin did not receive any additional voting rights notification, the company cannot pursue this or identify the shareholders of Ondero.”
Bloomberg reported last week that the Ondero stake remained “affiliated” with Mordashov. The information about its true owner is hidden by British Virgin Islands secrecy rules. The UK overseas territory and former colony has resisted calls to make its company register public, which means information about shareholders can only be obtained in exceptional circumstances, such as a request by law enforcement.
Mordashov transferred another valuable asset on 28 February, handing a $1.1bn shareholding in the Russian mining group Nordgold to his wife, Marina Mordashova.
The businessman, who is the chief executive of Severstal, Russia’s biggest steel and mining group, also chairs its parent company, Severgroup, a private investment company, which has interests ranging from telecoms to gold mining, media and engineering.
A spokesperson for Severstal said the company could not comment on the Ondero deal. She added: “I just want to remind you that Mr Mordashov was included in EU sanctions list before [on 28 February]. So, nothing really changes for Tui with the UK sanctions being imposed on Mr Mordashov. I can also confirm that he doesn’t have any assets in the UK.”
Mordashov pushed back against the EU’s decision to blacklist him, saying a day later: “For a very long time, I have been engaged in the development of economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation with many European countries and I fail to understand how these sanctions against me will contribute to the settlement of the dreadful conflict in Ukraine.”