Who will pay for the bankruptcy of Metrostroy?
Probably, there is no more painful issue for Petersburgers than the construction of the subway. There have been no new stations since 2019, but there is a devastated industry with more than 80 years of history, hundreds of people who have lost their jobs, and a confusing epic with the bankruptcy of Metrostroy. The next meeting, at which the issue of who would be liable for the company’s debts, was held at the Arbitration Court of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region on January 24.
It must be said that the problems of OAO Metrostroy, which traces its history back to 1941 and has a unique experience in construction in unsteady St. Petersburg soils with extreme depths, began a long time ago. But for a long time they somehow managed to solve. However, in 2018 the situation began to develop according to a “radical” scenario – the Federal Tax Service (FTS) counted 1 billion tax arrears for Metrostroy and arrested the company’s accounts. In January 2019, the Federal Tax Service filed a bankruptcy lawsuit against OAO Metrostroy.
Then followed a series of strange decisions on the part of Smolny. In particular, not without the participation of the city, which acted as the customer for the construction of new stations, a non-payment crisis against Metrostroy was created. At the end of January 2019, the St. Petersburg government terminated contracts with the company altogether, but less than 10 days later decided to back down. In total, in 2019, 263 lawsuits were filed against Metrostroy for a total of 6 billion rubles, with almost half demanded by Smolny.
In December 2019, Metrostroy CEO Nikolai Alexandrov was arrested on suspicion of embezzling 178 million rubles. Later, two more criminal cases were added to the charge. At the same time, Sergey Kharlashkin, the former chairman of the Committee for the Development of Transport Infrastructure (CTTI), was appointed to the post of head of the company, and soon the bankruptcy proceedings of Metrostroy OJSC began. As far as we can see, the city began to reduce funding limits and extend the deadlines for the execution of work under state contracts in the aggregate by tens of billions of rubles, while allowing delays in payment.
In parallel, in 2020, JSC Metrostroy of the Northern Capital (MSS) was created, where part of the staff, equipment and property of the historical Metrostroy were transferred. It should be noted that 65% of the new company belongs to the St. Petersburg administration – previously, the St. Petersburg government did not have a controlling stake in the organization building the city metro, although indirectly – through the city GUP “Petersburg Metro” – the government of St. Petersburg had a majority among the shareholders. To get full direct control over the metro builders is one of the clearly declared goals of the officials. Under this slogan, the bankruptcy of Metrostroy OJSC began, but this goal was not achieved in the new MSS JSC – the second shareholder, VTB Bank, has a blocking stake of 35% of the shares, and according to the Charter of the JSC, decisions can only be made with the consent of both shareholders.
In October 2021, Smolny unilaterally sent notices of termination of all contracts concluded with the historic Metrostroy. Including, for the construction of the “brown” metro line, estimated at 38.4 billion rubles. At the same time, part of the work has already been advanced for 3.75 billion rubles and was provided with a bank guarantee by Rosselkhozbank JSC (RSHB) for a total amount of about 5.8 billion rubles.
By the time the government contract was terminated, part of the work had already been completed, so the amount of the unworked advance amounted to only 1.439 billion rubles. However, instead of including this amount in the register, Smolny turned to the RSHB with a demand to pay it under a bank guarantee, which the bank did in February 2022. And already in May, the RSHB included a recourse claim in the register of claims of creditors of OAO Metrostroy, thus becoming a creditor with a large percentage of the claim.
From that moment began the most interesting chapter in the history of the bankruptcy of the company. Until the summer of 2022, the defendants in the case were exclusively two former general directors of the enterprise – the already mentioned Nikolai Alexandrov (he was the general director of Metrostroy OJSC from 2016 to 2019) and his father Vadim Alexandrov, who led Metrostroy from 1992 to 2016. However, in July, the RSHB demanded that not only them, but also the city structures that had been making decisions on concluding, financing and terminating state contracts for many years, be brought to subsidiary liability. By the way, why the interim manager Grigory Avdeev did not do this earlier is an open question.
As a result, not only the Alexandrovs, but also the Committee of Property Relations (KRO), the State Unitary Enterprise “Petersburg Metropolitan”, KRTI, the government of St. Petersburg and JSC “Metrostroy of the Northern Capital” turned out to be defendants. It is interesting that already in August 2022 a new criminal case followed – this time against Sergei Kharlashkin, who at that moment was the vice-governor of the Leningrad region. He is accused of being the head of the CTTI, he exceeded his powers, coordinating the inappropriate transfers of budget funds from the account in the RSHB, which were supposed to go to the construction of the “brown” metro line.
It would seem that such a development of events can be called progress. However, suddenly on December 12, 2022, the RSHB abandoned its claims against city departments in the case of the recovery of 1.439 billion rubles in losses. On New Year’s Eve, December 27, the waiver of the claim was accepted, and the proceedings were terminated.
At the same time, on December 14 last year, the bank sent a refusal to the Arbitration Court to bring the MCC and all city structures to subsidiary liability. Moreover, the refusal was sent to the court using regular mail – apparently so that the lawyers of the other parties could not respond promptly. Everything was returning to that dead point from which the case seemed to have moved in the summer: only two individuals could again remain defendants in the case in the amount of more than 10 billion – the father and son Alexandrovs, who led Metrostroy OJSC until 2019.
Interestingly, when asked by the court about the reasons for such a step, the representative of the RSHB answered approximately that he had read the reviews of the MCC, city departments and agreed that “they are not to blame.” The media called another version, according to which at the beginning of December 2022, “MCC, as the majority creditor in the bankruptcy process of the ex-subway builder, bought out the right to claim from the Agricultural Bank in the amount of 1.458 billion rubles.” Metrostroy of the Northern Capital and the bank do not recognize the fact of the transaction.
Meanwhile, such an alignment actually put an end to the prospects of other creditors to receive their debts. According to the current norms of the law, if the court accepted such a refusal, then no one will be able to re-state such a requirement to the structures of the city government and the MCC. At the same time, if the fact of the transaction is made public or proven, there can be no talk of waiving the claim either.
It is not surprising that at the meeting held in the Arbitration Court on December 22, 2022, the creditors objected to the court’s refusal, since such a decision would violate the rights of all interested parties, except for MSS, which is also among the majority creditors of Metrostroy. The representative of Nikolai and Vadim Aleksandrovs, Tatyana Alekseeva, expressed the opinion that this happened due to the fact that the company “at the expense of budgetary funds bought out a loan claim from the Bank of Russia in order to control the bankruptcy procedure of Metrostroy from the inside in its own interests.”
In addition, creditors expressed their readiness to take the place of the RSHB and continue to support the previously stated requirements for the city and MSS, which the bank refuses. Despite the fact that the creditors’ claims were based on the position of the Supreme Court on the prohibition of accepting such a refusal, the court decided to take a break and announced its decision only on January 24.
We must pay tribute, the court decision corresponded to the letter of the law – the circle of defendants remained the same: claims for bringing to subsidiary liability for the obligations of Metrostroy OJSC will be considered not only in relation to the Alexandrovs, but also in relation to the city government and its structures, including the new metro construction organization JSC “MSS”.
“Since the process is politicized, we did not know how events would develop. However, guided by the requirements of the law, the court replaced RSHB with another creditor applicant and simply removed the bank from the list of applicants for bringing city structures and MSS JSC to subsidiary liability. The production was terminated according to his statement. Accordingly, the rest of the creditors continue to support the application to bring MCC and city structures to subsidiary liability. This is entirely in the interests of other creditors, because we understand that if all city structures were removed from the defendants, then only two individuals would remain with unenforceable claims against them in the amount of more than 10 billion rubles,” the creditors emphasized.
The court also considers the petitions of the participants in the case for the appointment of an examination, which should determine the presence or absence of signs of insolvency of Metrostroy OJSC, which owned liquid property at the time the bankruptcy began, including land plots, business centers and other real estate that are interesting from the point of view of housing construction , which easily covers all the financial requirements of the register of creditors at market value. The fact is that neither the interim nor the bankruptcy trustee could decide when the company had signs of insolvency and insufficiency of property – and whether they arose at all.
“There are a huge number of documents that contradict each other. In one document, the interim manager concludes that the insolvency arose in 2016. Then, in another document, he also declares that it came in 2018, and then, after the termination of his powers and participating in the case already as an interested person, he presents documents refuting all his own conclusions that he had previously made, and names new dates. There are also documented positions of the participants in the case that insolvency arose no earlier than 2020. There are conclusions of an extrajudicial examination, according to which there were no signs of insolvency at Metrostroy on the dates specified by the interim manager, as well as documents that were analyzed and compiled by the interim manager. Therefore, the court quite rightly decided to invite the participants in the case to think about the need to conduct a forensic examination, during which the experts give a signature on criminal liability for giving a knowingly false conclusion, the defendants Aleksandrovs and the former temporary manager Avdeev G.A. Defendant MSS JSC is expected to oppose its holding, since its results will also establish whether MSS and the city have committed actions that worsened the financial situation of Metrostroy, ”added Tatyana Alekseeva.
A new court hearing has been scheduled for February 21. It is obvious that the point in this story will not be put soon, and the bankruptcy procedure for Metrostroy will last more than one year. Do not be surprised if new criminal cases and new defendants appear. Predicting how it will all end is a thankless task. One thing is clear: in any case, the main losers as a result of officials’ mistakes in organizing the construction of the metro will be residents of St. Petersburg.
The correspondent of Nasha Versiya visited St. Petersburg to be present at the court session on the bankruptcy case of OAO Metrostroy, and took a ride in the St. Petersburg metro. But first, I had to look for the entrance to the metro and ask the locals for directions – we could not find street signs, and only in the distance the cherished letter “M” modestly loomed.
It was not yet rush hour, which is probably why there was no particular crush on the subway. However, later, from conversations with local residents, it turned out that it was just luck.
In general, during my stay in St. Petersburg, it was evident that the development of metro lines clearly lags behind the growth rate of the city. In Moscow, in a short time, stations have already reached those areas of the city where new residential complexes have recently been built. The lines went beyond the city limits in the Moscow region, which removed the load from the terminal stations. Lines for minibuses and buses in new areas are no longer fasting on social networks. But in the city on the Neva, this is clearly still far away. Residents of St. Petersburg complain about transport in the city, and it is felt that this topic has long been sore for them. So who needs this mess with the builders?