Toronto billionaire Alex Shnaider says he spent day after day in court last year as his lawyers waged a tangled battle against a group of former business partners for one reason: He wanted to send a message.
“I wanted to show them that they had picked the wrong person to intimidate,” Mr. Shnaider said in an e-mail exchange with The Globe and Mail, conducted through a spokesman. “I wanted them to see that I had the time, the patience and the commitment to take it to the end.”
Last week, Ontario Superior Court Justice Mary Anne Sanderson sided with Mr. Shnaider, ordering his former associates to pay him tens of millions of dollars for fraudulently luring him into investing $50-million in a Russian oil venture that went awry soon after it was launched in 2006.
The judge’s decision also completely dismisses a counterclaim filed by the defendants, including Calgary-based former Russian oil executive Michael Shtaif, that contained a long list of sensational allegations against Mr. Shnaider, including bribery and even attempted kidnapping.
Mr. Shnaider says he sat with his lawyers for about 85 per cent of the months-long trial. Some days after court he could be seen dashing out of the University Avenue courthouse and hopping into the back seat of a waiting Bentley.
Mr. Shnaider – who is travelling with his family in Asia – said he decided early on not to pay to settle the case quietly, despite concerns that the allegations would be made public. Citing various documents, the judge concluded the defendants “urged each other to use the media to put pressure” on Mr. Shnaider and had a plan to do so, but Justice Sanderson could not determine who actually provided the allegations that were reported in the media before the trial began.
“I knew that my reputation would be damaged during the process,” Mr. Shnaider said in his e-mail. “… We could have settled, but I didn’t want these people to have any more of our money. They had already gotten enough.”
The soft-spoken 45-year-old Mr. Shnaider, who was born in Russia but moved to Toronto with his family from Israel when he was 13, does not shy away from the spotlight.
After attending York University in Toronto, he worked as a steel trader in Europe, where he made deals with former Soviet steel mills after the fall of the Iron Curtain in the 1990s. He and partner Eduard Shyfrin built Midland Resources Holding Ltd. into a steel powerhouse after buying a large former state-owned steel mill in Ukraine.
Mr. Shnaider, who says he has few assets left in Ukraine but prays for his friends living through the current strife there, has since made his share of other headlines.
He has dabbled in Formula One racing, and backed Toronto’s new Trump Tower, where he plucked the building’s $20-million penthouse for himself. He once mused about buying the Toronto Maple Leafs. And last September, pop star Justin Bieber reportedly sang at his daughter’s 16th birthday party at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Mr. Shnaider said in his e-mail to the The Globe that he and Mr. Shtaif – who told court he once got a ride in Mr. Shnaider’s Ferrari before their relationship broke down – were never friends.
However, the billionaire says he and Mr. Shyfrin believed Mr. Shtaif’s credentials in the oil business could make a plan to snap up undervalued oil properties in Russia profitable: “But obviously we didn’t get the team we thought we were getting.”
Both Mr. Shtaif and one of his co-defendants, Toronto lawyer and businessman Gregory Roberts, have said they will appeal the judge’s decision, which ordered them each to pay almost $60-million. Others involved were also ordered to pay smaller amounts.
Mr. Shnaider’s lawyer, Symon Zucker of Danson & Zucker, said he believed the judgment was “virtually bulletproof” because so much of it rests on Justice Sanderson’s findings of fact in the tangled case – findings he said appeal judges were unlikely to challenge.
Mr. Shtaif had alleged that Mr. Shnaider and Mr. Shyfrin bribed Russian police, conspired to have Mr. Shtaif jailed and had their people seize a Russian oil company’s office at gunpoint. He also alleged that he was pressured to sign a loan agreement in a Russian police station when an officer pulled out his gun.
But Justice Sanderson said she found Mr. Shtaif was not a “credible witness,” rejecting much of his “inconsistent” evidence.
“She just didn’t believe him,” Mr. Zucker said of Mr. Shtaif.
In an e-mail on Wednesday, Mr. Roberts said the judge unfairly found he had made “further misrepresentations” than those alleged by Mr. Shnaider at trial, denying him the “fair opportunity” to counter these “so-called misrepresentations.” He said this “flies in the face of the Rules of Court and fundamental fairness.” Mr. Shtaif did not respond to e-mails Wednesday, but said last week that the case was “wrongly and unfairly decided.”