Benko Investigated For Money Laundering: What Does This Mean For DryShips And Ocean Rig Investors?

Includes: DRYS, ORIG
by: Erik Gholtoghian

The international media is reporting detailed information about George Economou's business interests which are not covered by the U.S. media. In fact, the articles are generally not written in English. Recently, an acquaintance of mine translated some of the latest news media concerning George Economou and his business partners for me. The news was insightful, to say the least.

Rene Benko and George Economou are business partners. Benko is the largest property investor in Europe - founding his company at the age of 22, likely financed from family wealth. Economou owns 50% of a company run by Benko called Signa Holding. The company Economou owns which has this ownership interest is called GlobalBasis Limited. Both Benko and Economou are making plans in a joint venture of sorts to try and purchase Galeria Kaufhof, 134 shopping malls in Germany, for the price of 2.4 billion euros.

The media is also reporting that Rene Benko is in the focus of the Vienna general prosecutor. He is suspected of money laundering, and the prosecutor has a large amount of evidence. This means that George Economou is not only highly suspect of illegal and unethical business activities himself, but his largest and most current business partner is now being formally accused of money laundering in Austria.

Economou and his related parties have been suspected for insider trading on the recent purchase of OceanFreight (NASDAQ:OCNF), as illustrated in my prior article.

Economou has led many, many transactions between his private companies (Cardiff Marine, Drytanks) and his publicly traded companies (Dryships (NASDAQ:DRYS), OceanRig (NASDAQ:ORIG), OceanFreight). On a daily basis, Economou's private companies manage the logistics of Dryships and Ocean Rig. The fees are widely seen as out-of-line with arms-length transactions. Additionally, most every ship Economou has purchased for Dryships can be demonstrated to have been overpaid for by at least a few million dollars when compared to purchases he has made for his privately held companies.

Most Dryships followers are aware of the infamous options Economou sold to himself and then let expire, allowing him to bank millions during the peak of the financial crisis, but even the more recent oil tankers purchase was dramatically out of line with market values. Economou evaded the subject of valuation by talking up a spinoff for the assets, which still has not happened.

All of this information begs the question, who will protect the Dryships and Ocean Rig investors in the United States if all of these allegations prove correct and these companies go bankrupt? It also begs the question, why would bankers be so stupid so as to make exceptions for Dryships' broken loan covenants over and over again? Why would banks trust someone who clearly has such a questionable ability to fairly and competently manage a company? It also begs the question, are the Greek shippers and their related parties somehow partly responsible for the debt problems in Greece?

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

About this article:

Author payment: $35 + $0.01/page view. Authors of PRO articles receive a minimum guaranteed payment of $150-500. Become a contributor »
Problem with this article? Please tell us. Disagree with this article? .