Iran in legal bid to claim all stakes of airlines company in Turkey
İpek Yezdani - ISTANBUL/TEHRANThe Iran Oil Ministry has filed a case against a private company in Turkey, claiming all stakes of Turkey’s Onur Air that are owned by Mehdi Shams, a trustee of Babek Zanjani, an Iranian businessman currently imprisoned in Iran on corruption charges and connected to Turkey’s massive 2013 graft case, are actually the Iranian state’s.
Zanjani has been accused of swindling the Iranian state $2.8 billion in his hearing, which started at the beginning of October. The Iranian state has seized his wealth both in Iran and abroad. In this vein, the Iranian state has filed a number of legal actions against a private company in Turkey for the first time in its history by claiming all stakes of Turkey’s Onur Air are owned by Shams and Kudret Tuncel, who are actually the trustees of Zanjani; the state has asked for the return of these stakes to Iran.
Turkey’s courts have said the transfer of stakes requires the permission of Shams as well as of Tuncel. On the other hand, the lawsuit petition has claimed Tuncel transferred million dollars’ worth of stakes in the company, owned by him on paper but originally owned by Zanjani, to Cankut Bagana, the current owner of Onur Air, for no charge on Jan. 9.
Turkey’s Onur Air was sold in May 2013 to Tuncel and Dubai-based British citizen Shams for a reported $250 million. It was previously believed the real owner was Zanjani’s Qaeshm Air airlines in Iran, but this claim was refuted by both sides. It was later said the former owner of Onur Air bought the company back in May 2015 for a lower price.
The documents of the court, which was opened by the Iranian Oil Ministry around three months ago in Turkey, have showed that a trustee agreement was signed between Shams and Tuncel on June 29, 2012, as the majority of any Turkish company must be in the hands of a Turkish citizen in accordance with the Turkish Commercial Code. Tuncel is claimed to be the trustee of Shams in line with this agreement in the court documents.
Stakes transferred in Iran under supervision of oil ministry
The court documents have claimed that 49 percent of Ten Tour, which owned 92.8 percent of Onur Air, was sold to Shams, Zanjani’s trustee, and 51 percent of it to Tuncel, Shams’ trustee, in a deal in 2013. It is also claimed that the remaining 7.2 percent of Ten Tour would be bought by Shams in line with the trustee agreement. Shams has thus been alleged to have bought 100 percent of Ten Tour and transferred some 51 percent of Ten Tour stakes and 3.67 percent of Onur Air stakes to Tuncel. Shams and Tuncel then transferred all of their stakes in Onur Air and Ten Tour to Zanjani on Feb. 23, 2014, for no cost, in line with a mandate letter under the supervision of the Iranian Oil Ministry and in the presence of Tehran’s 518th Notary. After, Zanjani transferred all of his rights in Onur Air to the Iranian Oil Ministry to pay some of its debts to the state. The ministry then opened a series of lawsuits in Turkey around three months ago, claiming all stakes of the airliner were actually owned by the Iranian state, as the company had been earlier bought with the state’s money.
The court documents also claimed the stake transfer deal between Tuncel and Bagana in 2015 was also void as Tuncel made this deal without the permission of Shams, his trustee.
The court documents claimed the sixth article in the establishment agreement of Onur Air, which made the approval of all board members and partners necessary in any stake sale decision, was changed by the company’s chairman Bagana in the absence of Shams at a board meeting on April 24, 2015.
“Cankut Bagana, another shareholder of Onur Air, plans to sell his all shares both in Onur Air and Onur Air’s owner company, Ten Tour, without the permission of Mahdi Shams,” claimed the court petition.
The court decided to stop the execution of any changes in the mentioned article of the company’s establishment agreement during a session in September.
This means that the court has also decided that the sale of any stakes in Onur Air cannot be realized without the permission of Shams.
Upon press request for a comment, Onur Air management said, “As Onur Air management, we believe that any comments about an issue which is in the court now will be one-sided and will thus mislead the public opinion.”
The Iranian deputy prosecutor asked for the seizure of all of Zanjani’s wealth, including his assets, which were allegedly transferred to other people after Zanjani had been arrested, in line with the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the case’s third hearing at the beginning of October.
The deputy prosecutor also read criminal charges against Zanjani’s former business partners, known by the initials H.F.H. and M.SH. He claimed that M.SH. spent some $235 million of Iran’s oil money to buy stakes in Turkey’s Onur Air.