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Judge orders Toronto billionaire’s ex-partners to pay millions

Alex Shnaider says he pursued the lawsuit, rather than settle it quietly, in order to clear his name.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

A group of Alex Shnaider's former business associates must hand over tens of millions of dollars for engaging in "fraudulent misrepresentation" and an "unlawful conspiracy" to lure the Toronto billionaire into investing about $50-million in a Russian oil joint venture, an Ontario Superior Court judge has ruled.

In an 166-page ruling issued late Friday afternoon, Justice Mary Anne Sanderson also completely rejects a list of sensational allegations made by Mr. Shnaider's former associates against the billionaire and his business partner, Eduard Shyfrin, that range from bribing Russian police to threats of kidnapping,

The judgment orders Michael Shtaif, a Calgary-based former Russian oil executive at the centre of the failed joint venture, to pay Mr. Shnaider's Midland Group $46.1-million (U.S.) plus interest, or $59.56-million. Gregory Roberts, a Toronto-area lawyer and businessman, must also pay $59.56-million.

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Two other men involved in the matter, convicted Toronto fraudster Irwin Boock (also known as John Howard) and another man, Stanton De Freitas, have each been ordered to pay $8.27-million (U.S.). Another former friend of Mr. Shnaider's, Eugene Bokserman, must pay $1.5-million.

In a brief e-mail, Mr. Shtaif vowed to appeal: "Respectfully, I believe the case was wrongly and unfairly decided and I have retained counsel to appeal the decision."

Mr. Roberts, who represented himself at last year's trial, also said he will appeal the ruling.

"The judgment in my view amounts to an ambush," he said in an e-mail.

Mr. Roberts said he was denied a "fair opportunity" to counter some of the allegations on which the judge made findings as, he said, they were not relied upon by Mr. Shnaider's lawyers at the trial.

In a press release, Mr. Shnaider said that he pursued the lawsuit, rather than settle it quietly, in order to clear his name. The defendants had warned before the litigation began that they would make their allegations public, he said.

"Mr. Shyfrin and I were determined not to give in to threats," Mr. Shnaider said.

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Friday's decision repeatedly rejects testimony provided by Mr. Shtaif. "I did not find him to be a credible witness," the ruling reads, saying that he "failed to answer questions directly," that his evidence was "often inconsistent" and that he failed to produce promised documents to back up his testimony.

The judge said she rejects Mr. Shtaif's testimony that he was forced to sign a loan agreement in a Russian police station after an officer drew his gun.

As for Mr. Roberts, Justice Sanderson said she found much of his evidence "unreliable."

She rules that he engaged in "deceit" and in a "breach of fiduciary duty" for failing to tell Mr. Shnaider that a man involved in the venture who called himself John Howard was actually Mr. Boock, who "had a criminal record and was using a false name to hide his criminal past."

At the centre of the case was the setting up of a joint venture to buy underdeveloped Russian oil fields in 2006. Mr. Shnaider had insisted that his planned $50-million investment would be contingent on another investor adding $70-million, the judge's ruling says.

Justice Sanderson ruled that Mr. Shtaif engaged in "fraudulent misrepresentation" for failing to tell Mr. Shnaider that a promised $8-million payment from the other investor had not materialized – a payment that was supposed to be the first instalment of the $70-million investment, which was actually committed by a shell company controlled by Mr. Boock.

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