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Glencore shrugs off Paradise Papers spotlight on SwissMarine stake

Partner Victor Restis tells Lloyd’s List of frustration at ‘sensationalist’ resuscitation of quashed allegations

GLENCORE has been unmasked amid the fall-out from the Paradise Papers as the largest single shareholder behind SwissMarine, one of the world’s most active dry bulk operators.

At least one report fingered the much-pilloried Swiss commodities trader’s involvement in the company as tantamount to being “linked to a ghost fleet”.

SwissMarine currently controls a fleet of more than 150 chartered-in ships, including 84 capesizes, and 11 owned capes – all of which are detailed on the company’s website.

It turned over more than $1bn last year and carried more than 128m t of cargo worldwide, the site says.

According to the Australian Financial Review, one of the 96 media partners in the international investigation that produced the so-called Paradise Papers, Glencore hid its relationship with SwissMarine.

It also wove lurid connections with SwissMarine co-founder, the Greek shipowner Victor Restis, who has in the past been entangled with accusations of Iranian sanctions busting and financial allegations in Greece – all since dismissed.

All parties connected with SwissMarine on Monday seemed underwhelmed to find the company unexpectedly under the microscope.

Forced to address a number of issues stemming from the massive leak of 13.4m files, mainly from corporate law firm Appleby, Glencore admitted its investment in SMC was previously “not widely disclosed.” This was “for commercial reasons”.

It told the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists: “Where required, Glencore has disclosed its beneficial ownership in SMC. For example, to banks or tax authorities.”

SwissMarine was not a subsidiary of Glencore “nor is it a significant investment for the company”, the trader said. The shipping company was run by its own management team.

Lloyd’s List’s enquiries reveal that SwissMarine was established in 2001 as a joint venture between Mr Restis and Glencore, initially under the name of a subsidiary, each with a 45% shareholding. Macsteel, part of the Mittal group, was a junior partner, with about 5% as was Peter Weernink, the company chief executive.

As a result of management hitting targets that entitled them to further shares, the two major shareholders’ stakes were somewhat diluted. However, this changed in 2013 when Mr Restis found himself the target of a web of allegations that were all later dropped.

Jailed for about 100 days that year, and with family and group bank accounts frozen, the Greek owner decreased his stake, selling about 20% of the company to fellow shareholders, predominantly to Macsteel, but also to Glencore and the management.

As a result, Glencore’s stake is now restored to about 47%, while Macsteel ranks second, with Mr Restis holding “less than 20%”, he told Lloyd’s List.

“We lost a lot by selling assets cheaply to raise liquidity during that difficult period,” he said.

Reports about SwissMarine stemming from the Paradise Papers were just “dredging up the same and same again,” he said.

“It is just a sensational article that presents a picture that is far from the reality and intentionally mixes things up.

“SwissMarine and Glencore are multinationals, run by professional people that are regulated. It appears they are doing so well that it causes jealousy.”

Mr Restis remains non-executive chairman of SwissMarine.

Contacted for comment, Mr Weernink said the shareholdings of Glencore and Mr Restis were previously public knowledge.

Glencore, Macsteel and the Restis group are each represented by three directors on the 10-member board, with the remaining one member being appointed by Mr Weernink’s own holding company, he said.





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