In January, the Dutch Spyker agreed with GM on buying the Swedish Saab. Then the largest co-owner of Spyker (29,9%) was the head of Converse Group VLADIMIR ANTONOV. But GM agreed to sell Saab only in case the businessman comes out of Spyker. The position of GM was reportedly linked to the suspected relations of Mr. Antonov to organized crime and money laundering. But Vladimir Antonov believes that in fact GM wants to keep the Russian investor out of Saab.
K: How have you become a co-owner of Spyker?
VA: In 2005, I met with the head of Spyker Victor Muller. We quickly started communicating, and even then I offered him joining Converse group to the capital of Spyker. But Muller was not interested, he had serious sponsors, Spyker business grew and by 2006 almost reached a break-even point. But the rapid success of the company destroyed it. Spyker bought the team Formula 1, and it destroyed the company's business, as by the end of 2007 it was almost bankrupted. Then I again called Muller and offered to come back to the idea of Converse Group entering Spyker. Then we had just started looking for something similar: for example, examined the British TVR, which was then bought by Nikolai Smolensky. Muller caught at it, so we met in December 2007, at two o’clock, and in January made the deal. As a result, a part of Converse Group - "Lithuanian Bank Snoras became the main shareholder in Spyker and the holder of its golden share; Spyker was completely refinanced, and all claims of creditors were dropped.
K: When did you decide to buy Saab?
VA: We had been contacting with GM previously, as it is the future supplier of Spyker. On November 24, 2009 the Swedish Koenigsegg came out of the deal of buying Saab, so we immediately decided to start negotiations. They sent a letter of offer to one of the top executives in GM; we were told they were ready to discuss it. In two days we signed Non Disclosure Agreement and received all the information about the business plan of Saab. I spent the whole night reading it. To be honest, I was delighted, because the management of Saab, Koenigsegg and their consultants had developed a brilliant plan.
K: How did you know that GM did not want you to take part in the transaction?
VA: Due Diligence took us about a week, and the end of December all the documents were ready. On December, 18 I was invited to the Swedish National Debt Office, which is an analogue of our Federal Property Agency, which approved the loan guarantees for Saab. But during the flight to Stockholm GM came out of the transaction unilaterally, pleading some insurmountable difficulties. That was a formal basis. The informal basis was the fact I should have not been present in the transaction. Everyone was shocked as we had spent a month negotiating with GM and the authorities in Sweden. A credible detective agency Kroll, hired by the Swedish government, was nearby all the time and after they had checked me the Swedish side said that it had no objection to my participation in the transaction.
K: But the Western press reported that GM received a report by the FBI, in which it was said you had had relations to organized crime.
VA: I've never seen this report, and no one told me about it. The only thing I know - I could have been checked by the FBI at the time when my visa to the U.S had been issued. This is a standard procedure. I have received a U.S. visa, so that took off the issue. In addition, our banking group works with many banks, including the United States. Somehow, until now no one in the U.S. has been hindered with my reputation.
K: What did you decide to do after the declaration by GM?
VA: Along with Muller we decided to continue the deal with the only difference - I'm out of the capital of Spyker and sell him my stake, including the golden share. In addition, I and my people are leaving the board of directors in Spyker. But still the first Spyker’s payment for the shares of Saab amounting to $ 25 million has been made for my money. It is a completely open information, which is known in the Swedish government, the European investment bank, and in GM. The money has been provided to Konversgrup Holding, which belongs to Conversgroup UK, which belongs to me. And if GM has reason to believe that I have relation to money laundering, then why didn’t GM object to the participation of that money in the deal of Saab?
K: But Akademhimbank and Conversebank, that you own, were not allowed into the Russian system of deposit insurance.
VA: Yes, but I can assure you: it was quite clearly written in the acts of audits of both banks that they met all the requirements to be admitted to the insurance system. The Central Bank revokes license from banks laundering money in a week, i.e. instantly. Then problems with the MIA start. In our case, nothing like this happened. I have my personal opinion in regard of the reasons we had been kept out of the system, but I do not want to comment this. The main thing is that banks that had not been admitted subsequently were merger with the Kaliningrad Investbank, and they easily entered the deposit insurance system.
K: Why was the Lithuanian Snoras refused to open a branch in the UK?
VA: I think the problem is that Snoras belongs to a Russian citizen. Do you know any banks in the UK with the Russian capital? I know one alone - VTB Europe. By the way, the story of the opening of Snoras’s branch in the UK was also studied by Kroll and it found no grounds for the ban. In principle, we could go to court, but we did not do so. First, it is unclear how to work with the local regulator after litigation, and secondly, the crisis hit, and we ourselves decided to scrap the project in the UK.
K: How would you comment the assassination attempt on your father in March 2009?
VA: There are Russian citizens whose names I will not name because they are on trial. They tried to buy the business of Converse Group at low price through capture attacks. First, we were proposed to sell the business with uncivilized terms of price, so we rejected. Then the direct threats came to my father and father-in-law who stated about them to the FSB, to the MIA and Prosecutor General's Office. Those statements were lost somewhere. And in March there was an assassination attempt. Thanks God, they have not achieved their goal, and now a few perpetrators are arrested in this case. Hopefully, the same will happen with the customers.
K: Will you name the customers?
VA: No, though I am and market participants are fully aware who they are and why they are still at large.