TALLINN - The list of the richest businessmen is Estonia suddenly, and somewhat mysteriously, changed last month when Uhispank founder Ain Hanschmidt acquired a huge swathe of Tallink though paying a measly 166,600 kroons (10,645 euros) for the asset.
According to reports, Hanschmidt's lawyer, Aare-Heino Raig, transferred his shareholding in OU Abante, which controls a significant portion of Tallink shares via subsidiaries, to Hanschmidt.
Independent sources say the real value of the Abante stock is some 45 million euros.
What's more, two days after the deal was made, Hanschmidt started working as CEO of Infotar, a firm that owns 55.53 percent of the Tallink Group, which specializes in ferry services along the Tallinn-Helsinki route.
Hanschmidt has declined to comment on the transaction, while analysts have surmised that the businessman most likely exercised an option that he arranged in the late '90s.
The business paper Aripaev speculated that the deal might have been arranged when Hanschmidt was CEO of Uhispank, the only bank that issued a credit to a cash-strapped Tallink in 1996.
Unfortunately, all who might have been involved with the old deal refused to comment or were unreachable.
Hanschmidt resigned as bank chief in January this year and as chairman of the council at the end of July.
The bank's current council chairman, Mats Kjaer, was quick to deny that the bank had any connection to the deal. "As far as SEB Eesti Uhispank is aware, there is no connection to SEB Eesti Uhispank in this matter. However, we always take all issues of ethical concern very seriously," Kjaer told the Baltic News Service.
Eesti Paevaleht, a leading daily, was not surprised by the deal and pointed out that when Enn Pant went to lead the Hansatee Company (the forerunner of the Tallink Group), Hanschmidt gave his blessing through financial arrangements. And now that the former Uhispank CEO has become unemployed, Infotar has apparently returned the favor.
The weekly Eesti Ekspress attempted to trace the ownership trail. According to that paper's data, Hanschmidt owns Abante along with Enn Pant. Kalev Jarvelill owns OU Lindadell, while Infotar, now led by Hanschmidt, is owned by Lindadell.
One way or another, Ain Hanschmidt is the chief, the paper said.
Aripaev wrote that Abante had at least 25 million kroons in cash on its accounts and Nokia stock to the tune of 4 million kroons. Furthermore, three Lindadell owners 's Pant, Jarvelill and Hanschmidt 's have reportedly purchased one more enterprise, OU Villore, which is supposedly involved in real estate.
Other sources claim that Hanschmidt also had a hand in the sale of the Rocca Al Mare superstore. The property was sold to the Finnish real estate company Citycon for a record 932 million kroons in June.
Hanschmidt's share in that deal is not clear yet.
Infotar OU possesses several branch establishments, such as Fastinvest and the Sunbeam companies and Vaba Maa publishing house. Incidentally, Estonian Finance Minister Aivar Soerd, before assuming office, was CEO at AS Vaba Maa.
According to reports, Infortar had a banner financial year in 2004. The company posted earnings of 258.6 million kroons on sales of 3.4 billion kroons.