Hidden Belgium: The Strange Case Of Frank Monstrey

Frank Monstrey is per­haps best known in Belgium for his real estate project, Sterea, near Brussels, which includes The National Golf Brussels in Sterrebeek. Golf and real estate may be fine, but Frank Monstrey also is – or rather was – an oil tycoon in Kazahstan. And this put him in the com­pa­ny of some rather unsa­vory characters.

The story of Nostrum Oil & Gas

Nostrum Oil & Gas (for­mer­ly named Zhaikmunai until 2013) was formed in March 1997 to explore, pro­duce and sell hydro­car­bons in north-west­ern Kazakhstan, in the north­ern part of the oil-rich pre-Caspian basin, accord­ing to the company’s website.

In 2004, Frank Monstrey, a Belgian busi­ness­man, acquired Nostrum from its pre­vi­ous own­ers. In 2011, he man­aged to list Nostrum at the London Stock Exchange (https://www.ft.com/content/fd0a3f80-139c-11e1-81dd-00144feabdc0). From 2004 until this year, Monstrey was the main share­hold­er at Nostrum, via two com­pa­nies, Claremont Holdings Limited and Claremont Holdings C.V..

Everything looked fine, until dis­as­ter struck. On 20 March 2017, Claremont Holdings C.V. issued the fol­low­ing state­ment: “Claremont Holdings Limited and Claremont Holdings C.V. have received notice of an injunc­tion grant­ed by the High Court in London which has the effect of pre­vent­ing them deal­ing with their assets, includ­ing any shares they hold in Nostrum Oil & Gas plc.  This may pre­vent the exer­cise of the vot­ing and oth­er rights attached thereto.”

As a con­se­quence, being Nostrum’s chair­man, Frank Monstrey was no longer able to deal with the shares he held in the com­pa­ny. Trying to avoid fur­ther com­pli­ca­tions, on 20 April 2017, Monstrey resigned from the board of direc­tors of Nostrum Oil & Gas (http://www.lse.co.uk/AllNews.asp?code=jth2d2yg&headline=Nostrum_Oil__Gas_Chairman_Resigns_To_Avoid_Distraction).

Frank Monstrey and Mukhtar Ablyazov

So what hap­pened? Why every­thing went so bad for Monstrey all of a sudden?

The already men­tioned UK High Court order of injunc­tion was “in rela­tion to ongo­ing pro­ceed­ings brought by Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank JSC against Mukhtar Ablyazov and oth­er defen­dants.” (http://www.morningstar.co.uk/uk/news/AN_1490015231853472200/extra-nostrum-oil-chairman-monstrey-hit-by-uk-high-court-injunction.aspx)

OSI wrote exten­sive­ly about Mukhtar Ablyazov and his jaw-drop­ping scheme (see here: http://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/belgium/kazakhgate-relay-bulat-utemuratov-mukhtar-ablyazov/). Ablyazov, a Kazakh oli­garch, was the chair­man of BTA Bank in Kazakhstan between 2005 and ear­ly 2009, before he fled to England after the bank was nation­al­ized. The bank claimed he had presided over the mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of 10 bil­lion dol­lars “for his own per­son­al ben­e­fit” that prompt­ed 11 sets of pro­ceed­ings being initiated.

In June 2017, BTA Bank reached an agree­ment with Claremont Holdings, accord­ing to which BTA acquired 3.76% in Nostrum from Claremont and its affil­i­ates. The rest of the 9.44% stake which Claremont and its affil­i­ates have retained in Nostrum would also be acquired by BTA. In oth­er words, Claremont gave up its shares in Nostrum to BTA (http://www.prnewswire.co.uk/news-releases/bta-bank-and-claremont-settle-nostrum-dispute-and-bta-bank-acquires-nostrum-shares-628102853.html).

The strangest thing in all this is that Claremont is 100% con­trolled by Frank Monstrey. So why did he agree to pay for Mukhtar Ablyazov’s deeds? The only log­i­cal expla­na­tion is that Monstrey was in fact a front for Ablyazov and that BTA Bank some­how man­aged to prove this in a con­vinc­ing man­ner before the UK High Court.

However, this pos­es more trou­bling ques­tions. If Ablyazov, a Kazakh oli­garch, was indeed con­trol­ling Monstrey with­out any sus­pi­cions what­so­ev­er from third par­ties, who con­sid­ered the Belgian a legit­i­mate busi­ness­man, how many oth­er Belgian busi­ness­peo­ple could also be, in fact, Ablyazov’s fronts? In oth­er words, how safe is Belgium from Ablyazov’s influence?

Hidden Belgium: The Strange Case Of Frank Monstrey

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