James Ramsden and Rebecca Drake, instructed by Bryan Cave LLP and acting for former Yukos Oil head Konstantin Kagalovsky have succeeded in an application for committal for contempt in relation to Orders made under S.25 CJJA in aid of proceedings before the Commercial Court in Kiev. The claim is to recover ownership of TVi, one of the few independent media outlets in Ukraine.
Kagalovsky and Wilcox v Balmore Invest and others  EWHC 3876 (QB) (Comm).
Mr Kagalovsky alleged that earlier this year Alexander Altman, a US citizen based in Kiev, played a central part in a corporate raid the effect of which was to strip Mr Kagalovsky of control over TVi. This coup was accomplished using forged documents comprising fake powers of attorney, board resolutions and board minutes. Mr Kagalovsky commenced proceedings in the Ukraine to challenge the validity of the transfers. The orders which Mr Altman was alleged to have breached were made in the High Court in support of the substantive Ukrainian proceedings.
The jurisdiction of the High Court was first engaged when it became apparent that the shares in TVi’s holding company Media Info LLC had been transferred to a company domiciled in the UK, Balmore Invest Limited. James Ramsden and Rebecca Drake were successful in obtaining subsequent freezing orders in the Commercial Court under S.25 CJJA with the purpose of preventing further redistribution of the Media Info shares and requiring seven companies alleged to have been involved in such redistribution to disclose information relating to such shares.
When these orders were breached, Mr Kagalovsky brought proceedings for contempt of court, alleging that Mr Altman was the controlling mind behind these seven companies, each of which was alleged to have failed to comply with the interim orders.
Mr Altman denied this, notwithstanding his announcement at a press conference in the Ukraine that he was the new owner of TVi, and his registration at Companies House in the UK as director and shareholder of six of the seven respondent companies. He claimed that he was “the innocent dupe of third parties who have sought to implicate him in a plot to which he owes no allegiance”.
After a five day hearing during which Altman gave evidence by video link from Ukraine, Mr Justice Turner held that Mr Altman’s explanations were “mendacious”.
During the trial it was successfully argued that Altman had waived privilege on communications with his own lawyers in London. Having unsuccessfully attempted to appeal that ruling to the Court of Appeal during the trial, disclosure was made on the final day of trial of correspondence between Mr Altman and his solicitors which showed that he was the true controlling mind of the companies used in the fraudulent take-over of TVi.
Mr Justice Turner found that it had been proven beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Altman was the controlling mind and de facto director of the seven respondent companies, and had breached three court orders relating to them and was thus in contempt.
One of the demands of the current and widespread protests in Kiev is the restoration of a free press independent of President Victor Yanokovich.
The matter will be listed for sentencing.
To read the judgment please click here.