Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Norwegian, a Russian Billionaire and Trump Walk Into... Concord NC?

With the news yesterday on Deripaska and the rest of the oligarchs I was reminded of this story from last year. From McClatchey's D.C. Bureau, March 28, 2017:

Why was that Russian billionaire in Charlotte? He was looking in on his investment
Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev’s luxury jet generated global intrigue when it landed in the swing state of North Carolina days before the election and at nearly the same time as candidate Donald Trump.
Asked why Rybolovlev’s Airbus 319 flew in at least twice to Charlotte, his spokesman would say only for “a business meeting.” And now it’s clear: Spokesman Brian Cattell confirmed Tuesday the Russian oligarch’s family trust has invested in a billion-dollar company in Concord, North Carolina, called Alevo.
And at least three of Rybolovlev’s former associates from Russia have been installed as company leaders, McClatchy has learned. One of those Russian associates was involved in a criminal investigation in Belarus and Russia. The chairman of the company also faced questions about his taxes in Norway.

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Alevo is headquartered in Switzerland, where Rybolovlev has part of his global business empire. Alevo plans to make giant high-tech batteries that store excess electricity generated by power plants. It has fallen far short of initial production targets despite its significant startup costs.

For months after the overlap of the Rybolovlev and Trump jets on the Charlotte tarmac, the Internet was abuzz with speculation. Was Rybolovlev, who had bought Trump’s Palm Beach mansion for $100 million in 2008, shadowing Trump, first in Las Vegas, then in Charlotte?
Rybolovlev’s jet, with the recognizable call letters MKATE, had been photographed in Charlotte last April 21 and then again on Nov. 3, when it had stopped briefly in Concord and then overnighted in nearby Charlotte — because of meetings now known to involve Alevo officials.
Rybolovlev is known in Russia as “the Fertilizer King” and was the chief shareholder in Uralkali, which at one point controlled a fifth of the global production of potash, a natural fertilizer. He sold his Uralkali stakes for $6.5 billion in June 2010.
Three Russian executives from the company Uralkali are now executives at Alevo, which in February won more than $10 million in staggered tax incentives from North Carolina to prevent it from moving to China.
McClatchy has learned that three of Rybolovlev’s former associates spent the night in Charlotte on Nov. 3 — Kuzma Marchuk, formerly a top Uralkali financial officer; Elena Samsonova, once Uralkali’s human resources chief; and Mikhail Sazanov, a close financial adviser to the oligarch and sometimes director of Rybolovlev’s offshore companies that were ensnarled in his bitter divorce.
Two of those associates – Marchuk and Sazonov – are now directors of Alevo. And on March 21, about a month after it won the tax incentives from North Carolina, Alevo announced that it had appointed Vladislav Baumgertner its new CEO.

Baumgertner was CEO of Uralkali when Rybolovlev, as its largest shareholder, guided the company through a listing on the London Stock Exchange.

Baumgertner was also the subject of a high-profile corruption probe in Belarus and Russia. He was arrested in Minsk in August 2013, put in solitary confinement and eventually placed under house arrest in what Uralkali called political persecution for ending an export partnership in Belarus.
Russia sought Baumgertner’s extradition from Minsk later that year, and in November 2013 he was sent back to Moscow and placed under house arrest. He was released on bail 11 months later. The Russian news agency Tass reported on Feb. 23, 2015, that criminal charges against Baumgertner had been dropped.

So why didn’t Rybolovlev just acknowledge why he was in North Carolina?...

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Astute reader is probably way ahead of me on how this all turned out.
From the Charlotte Business Journal, August 21, 2017:

UPDATE: What led to Concord battery manufacturer Alevo's demise
See Correction/Clarification at end of article
Despite a lot of big promises, battery systems manufacturer Alevo may have foundered on relatively small debt — totaling as little as $20 million, according to its initial bankruptcy filings.
Alevo Manufacturing Inc. and Alevo USA Inc., the two U.S. subsidiaries of Swiss company The Alevo Group, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Aug. 18. Both are based in Concord, where Alevo kept offices and its manufacturing plant at the former Philip Morris manufacturing site.

Each list debts in the $10 million to $50 million range. Alevo Manufacturing listed assets in the same range, but Alevo USA says its assets are less, totaling $1 million to $10 million.

The largest single creditor for both is Matthews-based Century Contractors, which is owed more than $2.2 million by Alevo Manufacturing. The only other creditor owed more than $1 million by either subsidiary is Alantum Advanced Technology Materials of Dalian City, China, which is owed $1.02 million by Alevo Manufacturing.

Production struggles
More detailed filings in the future will lay out the full debt and asset picture for the company. The cases are filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, based in Greensboro.

The company started operation in Concord in 2014 with enormous fanfare and a promise of 2,500 jobs when the plant went into full production. It never got close. It had 290 employees at Concord when it closed. All but 45 have been laid off. Those workers will remain at the plant through September as the company closes up shop in preparation for liquidation of its assets.

Alevo has struggled to produce the 2-megawatt utility-scale batteries — housed in 40-foot tractor trailer carriers — that were central to the battery system it sought to market. More than three years after opening, it had only a single production line and little actual production. Only one battery — installed in March for the municipal utility of Hagerstown, Md. — has been delivered.

The bankruptcy has focused renewed attention on Alevo’s investors....MORE
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