After faltering the first time around, a group of Harry Vafias-linked companies are back in court looking to collect from Atle Bergshaven over fraud allegations.
Armed with a $7.4m arbitration award won in London, StealthGas shipowning subsidiary Sikousis Legacy filed suit against a slew of Bergshaven-connected companies in an attempt to seize the 115,100-dwt tanker Berica (built 2008).
It alleges Bergshaven stripped B-Gas Ltd of its assets, changed its name to Bepalo LPG Shipping and forced it into liquidation after Sikousis refused to rearrange charter payments in May 2020.
“In correspondence to third parties ... they specifically blamed the insolvency of B-Gas Limited a/k/a Bepalo on [Sikousis'] refusal to accede to the demand to discount the charter hire rate,” the complaint, filed last month in the US federal court for the Northern District of California, read.
The new lawsuit makes many of the same allegations as the first lawsuit, filed last year in the Southern District of Texas, save the added detail that B-Gas attempted to sell itself to StealthGas in August 2019.
In both lawsuits, Vafias’ companies allege that five months after B-Gas was denied in its request to halve the charter payments for six months, the company began insolvency proceedings in Cyprus.
Before declaring insolvency, though, B-Gas ownership was allegedly shuffled to a company called B-Gas Holdings and its fleet transferred to LPG Invest with a newly-created parent Bergshav Invest.
All those companies are named as defendants, along with Danish B-Gas A/S, Bergshaven himself, Bergshav Shipping, Bergshav Shipholding and the Berica’s registered owner Bergshav Aframax.
In the intervening months, Sikousis had also commenced arbitration proceedings, which resulted in a June 2021 award.
Neither B-Gas nor Bergshav Aframax's attorneys at Blank Rome returned a request for comment.
In court papers, Bergshav Aframax moved to vacate the Berica’s attachment, arguing the company has no connection to the dispute as it was transferred no assets.
According to automatic identification system data, the Berica is on the Pacific Ocean side of the Panama Canal.
Bergshav Aframax further argued that Bepalo LPG Shipping is not a corporate alter ego of either Bergshav Shipholding or Atle Bergshaven, as Bergshaven only controls 51% of the company and a shareholder rights agreement protects the company's other two investors, Lorentzen Skibs and Pareto Maritime Secondary Opportunity Fund.
Bergshav Aframax requested an expedited hearing to vacate the attachment and that Sikousis be forced to produce an officer for a cross-examination.
The first lawsuit against the Bergshaven-connected companies was dismissed after the court found the Vafias-linked plaintiff did not properly verify the complaint, with Stealth Maritime chartering manager Christian Krohn-Hansen only stating that he had read the allegations.
In this lawsuit, the complaint was verified by Sikousis’ attorney, George Gaitas of Gaitas & Chalos.
Bergshav Aframax said it was a “transparent attempt” to avoid a similar outcome.
“That is, [Sikousis seeks] to hide behind their counsel so that they do not have to take the affirmative step of verifying, under penalty of perjury, that the ‘fact’” alleged in the complaint which purportedly establishes the basis for alter-ego liability on the part of Bergshav Aframax are true and correct,” the motion read.