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Whisky firm’s Russian backers had links to Russia’s government

Russian businessmen who have agreed to resign as directors of a Scots whisky firm have links to Russia’s government and military.

Lindores Distilling Co – which owns Lindores Abbey Distillery in Newburgh, Fife – announced this week that its Russian shareholders had agreed to step down as non-executive directors of the company.

The development followed the Scottish Government urging businesses to sever links with Russia, following its invasion of Ukraine.

There is no suggestion that anyone linked to Lindores Distilling has done anything wrong.

More than 75 per cent of Lindores Distilling Co is owned by Spirex Ltd, a holding company with an Edinburgh address controlled by four Russian nationals including Anton Buslov, Sergey Fokin and Sergey Uryadov.

At time of writing, Buslov and Fokin are still listed as “active” directors of Lindores Distilling Co with Companies House.

These are more than trying times for very many people. First and foremost for those in the Ukraine but to a lesser extent for anybody who has been dragged into a situation not of their own making.

Lindores Distilling

Lindores Distilling’s latest financial statement shows that it received a £10.4m loan from Spirex Ltd, with £9.9m of that sum “interest free and repayable on demand”. 

Three of the Russians who control Spirex Ltd have reported links to the Russian state. Fokin, Buslov and Uryadov, were listed as shareholders in U-BF Management LLC, and named as directors of Avilex LLC, a Russian technology firm whose work includes information security, surveillance and encryption.

Avilex has won contracts with the Moscow Counter Terrorism Commission, Moscow City Government and Gazprom.The firm has also worked with the Russian army and provided a surveillance system for the Moscow Metro. 

According to a Russian business website, Avilex had a licence issued by the Centre for Licensing, Certification and Protection of State Secrets of the FSB (Russia’s Federal Security Service). The licence was for “the right to engage” in activities such as protecting information systems using encryption. The FSB was the successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB.

There is no suggestion that Avileks and U-BF Management LLC, or anyone associated with these firms, has done anything wrong.

Announcing that its Russian directors had agreed to resign, Lindores Distilling said: “They are certainly not oligarchs and certainly not on any sanctions list. They are first and foremost whisky lovers.”

Its statement added: “We have never hidden the fact that we have Russian investors – indeed these investors were introduced to us by Business Gateway a Scottish Government agency.

“We are currently in negotiations with them to agree a situation whereby the McKenzie Smith family (also directors) will acquire their shareholding thus moving the company to 100 per cent Scottish ownership and control.

“These are more than trying times for very many people. First and foremost for those in the Ukraine but to a lesser extent for anybody who has been dragged into a situation not of their own making.”

Lindores stressed that its immediate concern is to protect local jobs and the “ongoing health of the company.”

Its statement continued: “Lindores Abbey Distillery is a Scottish Company based in Newburgh, Fife that produces Single Malt Whisky utilising barley only from local farms. Our employees are Scottish based and their livelihoods and those of their families depend the company’s ability to continue to operate.

Last week the Scottish Government urged businesses to stop trading with Russia. Finance and Economy Secretary Kate Forbes asked companies to take “economic action” by reviewing operations for links and connections to Russia and severing them.

When asked to comment on developments at Lindores Distilling, the Scottish Government said: “The Scottish Government and its economic agencies will use all available powers to avoid supporting trade and investment activity with Russia. Support and advice will be offered to businesses as they adapt to removing links with Russia.

“The UK Economic Crime Bill will make legitimate business more transparent – so it is harder for those who have gained wealth unlawfully or illegitimately to make use of that wealth in Scotland or the UK. This will ensure companies in Scotland operate in a fair and open commercial environment.”

Avilex did not reply to our request for a comment. We also asked Lindores Distilling if the people named above would like to comment.

The Ferret recently reported that nearly 70 per cent of malt distilleries are ultimately owned by companies outside Scotland. Wealthy people linked to the whisky industry — including a French fashion billionaire, an Australian yoghurt tycoon, a Swiss philanthropist and Thailand’s richest man.

Photo Credit: iStock/Kellyvandellen

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