The trio of oligarchs behind Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) – the FTSE 100 miner being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office – have been hit by a fraud and bribery lawsuit against a separate part of their empire.
The Guardian has established that claims lodged in the Dutch courts show that International Mineral Resources (IMR) – which is wholly owned by the ENRC trio of Alexander Machkevitch, Patokh Chodiev and Alijan Ibragimov – is accused of "blatant fraud, exacerbated by bribery" by Russian fertiliser group EuroChem.
EuroChem had previously said it was claiming damages of $800m (£500m) from its supplier Shaft Sinkers, which is 48% owned by IMR, following problems with a $2bn Russian potash mining project.
In the new case, the fertiliser group alleges that an IMR executive bribed a EuroChem employee with hundreds of thousands of roubles to cover up the alleged ineffectiveness of Shaft Sinkers' work. It also claims IMR facilitated the concealment of a report that questioned whether Shaft Sinkers's sealing technology could be effective on the potash project.
EuroChem, which is owned by the Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko, is again seeking $800m in damages – but this time from IMR – having made a similar-sized claim in October in separate arbitration proceedings against Shaft Sinkers.
IMR says its defence to the Dutch case will state that the EuroChem employee had signed a formal consultancy agreement with Shaft Sinkers to help it promote its business, which he had cleared with his immediate superior. They will also argue the alleged briber was only a consultant to IMR, not an employee. An IMR spokesman added: "The suggestion that IMR was somehow involved in the legitimate arrangement between Shaft Sinkers and a EuroChem employee is a fabrication."
IMR says no payments were made by itas part of this process or at all, and also that Shaft Sinkers has at all times been run as a separate entity with separate corporate governance. It says any payments that might have made under any consultancy agreement between Shaft Sinkers and the Russian company would have been entirely legitimate and proper.
Shaft Sinkers, which terminated the contract to prevent flooding of a 1,000 metre mining shaft, has filed counterclaims in its separate cases with EuroChem for $15m of fees it says it is still owed.
A spokeswoman for Shaft Sinkers added: "Shaft Sinkers understands that EuroChem has issued proceedings against IMR in the Dutch courts and that IMR has instructed lawyers and intends to vigorously defend such proceedings.
"The three arbitrations [two in Zurich, one in Paris] between EuroChem and Shaft Sinkers and the claims brought by Shaft Sinkers in all three arbitrations are subject to confidentiality and we therefore cannot comment on these cases other than to reiterate that we believe EuroChem's claims are without merit and we are defending these claims and pushing our claims vigorously.
" Likewise we believe the claim brought against IMR is without merit. The original contract was awarded to Shaft Sinkers in 2008 and was terminated by Shaft Sinkers in 2012"
In 2010 Shaft Sinkers floated on the London Stock Exchange but, after initially performing well, the shares have now lost about 70% of their value, and slumped by about a third last October on news of the EuroChem dispute.
On Monday, Shaft Sinkers's annual results statement noted that last year's 15% drop in revenues to £192.5m was partly attributable to the termination of the project with EuroChem.
The oligarchs behind IMR also own 44% of ENRC, which faces an SFO inquiry into allegations of "fraud, bribery and corruption relating to the activities of the company or its subsidiaries in Kazakhstan and Africa". The move followed an internal ENRC investigation into string of corruption allegations, frequent corporate governance rows and a procession of high profile departures from the mining company.
ENRC has confirmed it is assisting and co-operating fully with the SFO. It said: "ENRC is committed to a full and transparent investigation of its procedures and conduct".
Meanwhile the ENRC founding trio also said last month that they are considering taking ENRC private once more.
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