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Russian Bailiffs Freeze Banana King’s Property Over Bank Loans

Feb. 19 (Bloomberg) -- St. Petersburg bailiffs froze real estate and cash belonging to Vladimir Kekhman, the head of Russia’s biggest banana importer and director of the Mikhailovsky theater, over a debt of more than 3 billion rubles ($100 million).

Kekhman was barred from leaving Russia and ordered to pay part of his salary to debtors, the bailiff service said today in an e-mailed statement. The frozen property includes non-residential estate, a plot of land and cash, it said.

The businessman, nicknamed “Banana King” after he built a fortune importing the fruit through his JFC Group, said by e-mail that he knows nothing about an order or lien on his property and salary and declined to comment further.

Kekhman had personally guaranteed a 6 billion-ruble loan from OAO Sberbank to JFC Group, the Moscow-based bank said in an e-mailed response to questions. The lender won suits seeking payment from Kekhman after JFC Group sought bankruptcy in the St. Petersburg commercial court in February 2012, according to the statement.

JFC, which says it holds about 40 percent of Russia’s banana market, owes a total of about 15 billion rubles, according to the court documents. Sberbank and Raiffeisen Bank International AG’s Russian unit are the biggest creditors.

Russian police searched Kekhman’s offices at the Mikhailovsky opera and ballet theater and JFC’s headquarters during an investigation of alleged loan fraud resulting in losses to JFC’s creditors of about 10 billion rubles, the Interior Ministry said in a statement on its website Jan. 24.

The police froze JFC’s accounts and returned 400 million rubles to lenders, the ministry said last month.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anatoly Temkin in St. Petersburg at atemkin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

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