Cobalt chairman Diacou informed in August about stakeholder’s indictments (Update-1)


(Adds more background in thirteenth paragraph)

By Stelios Orphanides

Cobalt chairman and shareholder Gregory Diacou became aware of the indictments of the Swiss director Urs Meisterhans, as early as in August 2015 while the airline was trying to raise capital abroad, one of its founding members said.

The stakeholders the Cobalt joint venture “were informed on August 3, about the findings of a background check carried out on shareholders” by a London-based “capital raising company” which helps start-ups find equity investors, Peter Kelly, then a Cobalt joint venture member said in an interview. The due diligence of a second capital raising company also resulted in similar findings.

Urs MeisterhansAccording to US court order, Meisterhans was indicted by Swiss authorities on May 20, 2015, of “aggravated money laundering, securities fraud and negligence in financial operations”. On June 15, a spokesperson of the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland confirmed that Swiss authorities filed three indictments against Meisterhans, one of which was subsequently rejected so that the case can be further investigated.

The Swiss financier declined to comment when contacted by the Cyprus Business Mail by phone on Monday. Kelly said that he, as a cofounder of the joint venture which led to the incorporation of Cobalt, saw Diacou become a member on July 31.

Back then, when the Cobalt joint venture was on the search for $40m in equity investment, “the capital raising companies conducted detailed due diligence checks into all people involved with Cobalt,” Kelly, a former executive at Qantas, Australia’s national airline, said.

“They refused to invest in Cobalt while Meisterhans was in any way involved,” Kelly said adding that the directors of one of the capital raising companies were “otherwise happy to invest and one suggested a buyout of Meisterhans and his colleague Diacou”.

“They included Diacou because he was so closely associated with Meisterhans,” Kelly said.

One of the investment companies proposed to buy Meisterhans and Diacou out and offered them over €2m in exchange for their stake which they rejected, Kelly said.

The investment company’s management “thought that Cobalt was an attractive investment and they had mentioned it to a number of clients who were very interested in the project,” Kelly continued. “Then, they found out about Urs (Meisterhans). They then said they would not introduce their wealthy clients to a company that had such people associated with it”.

Cobalt plans to launch its flight programme on Jul 7, after obtaining a commercial licence from the Air Transport Licencing Authority, known by its acronym ATLA. The issue of the certificate requires a clean record, which Meisterhans has, as he has not been found guilty with regard to the above-mentioned indictments.

Diacou, who served in the board of directors of the state-owned telecom CyTA until mid-2009 and is according to the website of the Registrar of Companies listed as owner of 49 per cent of the Cobalt voting rights, did not respond to repeated requests for a comment. On Thursday, Meisterhans said that he is not directly or indirectly a shareholder of Cobalt.

In a telephone interview on June 16, Meisterhans dismissed information that he had been indicted in Switzerland and described this information as “rumours”. On the same day, Diacou said that it was “not his business” to answer questions related to Meisterhans’s indictment.

The Chinese state-owned aircraft manufacturer Aviation Industry Corporation, which the Cyprus Business Mail understands is owner of 26,400,000 shares without voting rights, has not responded to a request for comment.

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