Denis Ershov, the controversial Russian businessman once declared a persona non grata in Bulgaria, has been charged with embezzling funds from Petrol, the country’s second-largest fuel retailer, in which Ershov until recently owned a large stake.
Ershov was detained on August 13 when he arrived at Bourgas Airport and had his bail set at 500 000 leva, a record amount for Bulgaria.
Ershov initially denied that he was arrested. It later emerged that he was detained in Bourgas and was escorted to Sofia, where he was presented with the charges. Ershov had been out of the country to recover from illness and was not on the run from law enforcement, his lawyer said.
The episode appears to be the latest in the long-running dispute between Ershov and his former partner in Petrol, Mitko Subev. Since 2010, both Ershov and Subev have attempted to seize control of the company by installing their proxies as chief executive.
The duo had worked together for nearly a decade, since privatising Petrol in 2000, but the dispute erupted when Ershov accused Subev of losing the firm 190 million leva by gambling on oil futures prices in 2007 and 2008. Numerous suits and counter-suits were filed by both sides over the past two years.
Ershov, who is notorious in Bulgaria for being one of five Russian businessmen banned in August 2000 from entering the country for 10 years as threats to national security (he appealed against the ruling and it was reversed in 2004), exited his troubled investment in June selling his 47.5 per cent stake to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the millionaire former president of Kalmykia.
Ilyumzhinov has also bought the five per cent held by Russian national Alexander Melnik and was reportedly in talks to buy out Subev’s 47.5 per cent stake as well.
On August 13, Russian business daily Vedomosti ran a profile piece on Ilyumzhinov describing him as a fixer. According to Ilyumzhinov, he had an unnamed partner in the acquisition of Petrol, whose name would become known once Ilyumzhinov secured full control of the Petrol by buying out current shareholders.