Russia Confiscates €800 Million From Deutsche Bank, Unicredit And Commerzbank

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by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, May 21, 2024 - 08:15 AM

After two years of being on the receiving end of a weaponized global reserve currency, getting booted from SWIFT, countless (toothless) sanctions and watching some $350 billion of its assets be frozen and soon confiscated, Moscow has had enough, and over the weekend the FT reported that a St Petersburg court seized around €800 million worth of assets belonging to three western banks - Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank and UniCredit.

The seizure marks one of the largest moves against western lenders since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine prompted most international lenders to withdraw or wind down their businesses in Russia. It comes after the ECB told Eurozone lenders with operations in the country to speed up their exit plans.

According to court documents, the court seized €463 million-worth of assets belonging to Italy’s UniCredit, equivalent to about 4.5% of its assets in the country, according to the latest financial statement from the bank’s main Russian subsidiary.

Frozen assets include shares in subsidiaries of UniCredit in Russia as well as stocks and funds it owned, according to the court decision that was dated May 16 and was published in the Russian registrar on Friday.

According to another decision on the same date, the court seized €238.6mn-worth of Deutsche Bank’s assets, including property and holdings in its accounts in Russia. The court also ruled that the bank cannot sell its business in Russia; it would already require the approval of Vladimir Putin to do so. The court agreed with Rukhimallians that the measures were necessary because the bank was “taking measures aimed at alienating its property in Russia”.

Finally, on Friday, the court also decided to seize Commerzbank assets, but the details have not yet been made public so the value of the seizure is not known. Ruskhimalliance asked the court to freeze up to €94.9mn-worth of the lender’s assets, and it is safe to assume that the final amount will be in the range.

Altogether, some €800 million in Western bank assets will be confiscated.

Russia counter-confiscation follow a claim from Ruskhimalliance, a subsidiary of Russian oil and gas export giant Gazprom. Ruskhimalliance is the operator of a gas processing plant and production facilities for liquefied natural gas in Ust-Luga near St Petersburg. In July 2021, it signed a contract with Linde for the design, supply of equipment and construction of the complex. A year later, Linde suspended work owing to EU sanctions.

According to the FT, the dispute with the western banks began in August 2023 when Ruskhimalliance went to an arbitration court in St Petersburg demanding they pay bank guarantees under a contract with the German engineering company Linde.

Ruskhimalliance then turned to the guarantor banks, which refused to fulfil their obligations because “the payment to the Russian company could violate European sanctions”, the company said in the court filing. The list of guarantors also includes Bayerische Landesbank and Landesbank Baden-Württemberg, against which Ruskhimalliance has also filed lawsuits in the St Petersburg court.

UniCredit said it had been made aware of the filing and “only assets commensurate with the case would be in scope of the interim measure”.Deutsche Bank said it was “fully protected by an indemnification from a client” and had taken a provision of about €260mn alongside a “corresponding reimbursement asset” in its accounts to cover the Russian lawsuit.

“We will need to see how this claim is implemented by the Russian courts and assess the immediate operational impact in Russia,” it added.

Italy’s foreign minister has called a meeting on Monday to discuss the seizures affecting UniCredit, two people with knowledge of the plans told the Financial Times.

UniCredit is one of the largest European lenders in Russia, employing more than 3,000 people through its subsidiary there. This month the Italian bank reported that its Russian business had made a net profit of €213mn in the first quarter, up from €99mn a year earlier.  It has set aside more than €800mn in provisions and has significantly cut back its loan portfolio. CEO Andrea Orcel said this month that while the lender was “continuing to de-risk” its Russian operation, a full exit from the country would be complicated.

The FT reported on Friday that the European Central Bank had asked Eurozone lenders with operations in the country for detailed plans on their exit strategies as tensions between Moscow and the west grow.

Legal challenges over assets held by western banks have complicated their efforts to extricate themselves. Last month, a Russian court ordered the seizure of more than $400mn of funds from JPMorgan Chase following a legal challenge by Kremlin-run lender VTB. A court subsequently cancelled part of the planned seizure, Reuters reported.