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Minority shareholder requests share freeze at Orient Express

Finvision Holdings, through which Russian businessman Artem Avetisyan owns his minority stake in Public Stock Co. Orient Express Bank, asked an arbitration court to freeze 9.99% shares of the lender owned by its majority shareholder Baring Vostok Capital Partners Ltd., news agency Prime reported.

The request was filed as part of proceedings launched by Avetisyan's company to enforce the execution of a 2016 agreement under which his company had a call option to acquire a 9.99% stake in Orient Express from the main shareholder, but was not able to successfully execute the transaction.

Finvision Holdings also asked the court to prohibit Orient Express Bank's management to make any decisions and take any actions with regard to an additional share issue planned at the lender.

Meanwhile, Baring Vostok said in a separate statement that it plans to go ahead with the additional share issuance, which is aimed at boosting the lender's capital as part of its recovery plan and that has already been agreed upon by the Russian central bank.

"This additional share issue would mean that the shareholders behind the lawsuit would not have a controlling stake in the bank even if they were able to exercise the disputed call option," the company said.

Baring Vostok also added that the commercial dispute with Orient Express bank minority shareholders is the only reason behind the recent arrest of its employees. Baring Vostok founder, Michael Calvey, and several other executives were detained in February over the alleged embezzlement of 2.5 billion Russian rubles from Orient Express. They deny any wrongdoing, arguing that the accusations are part of a corporate dispute with Avetisyan over control of Orient Express.

Baring Vostok currently controls 51.62% of Orient Express Bank, while Finvision Holdings owns a 32.02% stake in the lender. Russian media outlets earlier reported that the capital hike at the bank, amounting to 5 billion rubles, is to be completed in April.

As of March 25, US$1 was equivalent to 64.08 Russian rubles.