Earlier this year, ExploreP2P listed a €850,000 loan made by Latvian P2P platform Kuetzal to a company called Alborg Petrol as the loan we did NOT like, in our regular series on good and bad P2P loans. There were several things about the loan that did not seem to make sense to us. The loan had an interest rate of 20.5%, with a two year maturity, and was meant to help the company develop its ‘oil trading and transporting solutions’. Companies in that industry don’t usually pay those types of interest rates, or borrow money from small P2P sites.
Since then we have been performing some follow up investigations and analysis. This has has included review of several company filings, internet resources, and site visits in Riga, Latvia. We have also sent several questions to the new CEO of Kuetzal, and followed up on his answers. We feel that now is the time to publish our findings to date, but we welcome any further analysis or research our readers can offer. Please email us, or post comments below, if you have observations of your own. If any more significant information becomes available, we will update the page.
Yesterday, Alborg Petrol took down its website. We expected this to happen once we started asking detailed questions about the company. Thankfully we saved some screenshots of the site, which you can find here.
So what makes us suspicious about this loan? There’s a lot. Too much to publish. But here are the highlights:
1. Most of the text on the Alborg Petrol website was copied from another company's website
The Alborg Petrol website was designed to look impressive and give the appearance of a large, important company. Yet a simple google search shows that almost all the text was been copied from the website of a very large, Russian owned company called Gunvor Group. Gunvor Group is one of the largest commodity trading companies in the world. The activities that Alborg Petrol claims to be undertaking are almost identical to those of Gunvor Group. We have listed below just some examples of the text that was copied onto the Alborg website.
2. We went to the Alborg Petrol company address in Riga. We didn't find it
Alborg’s stated address on its website and company filings is Biekensalas 21 in Riga, Latvia. A representative of Explore P2P visited that address. The building at that address matches the office building photo on the company website. It is a small industrial park building out of which several companies are operating. However, Alborg Petrol was not listed as one of the tenants of the building, and the receptionist at the building had no knowledge of the company.
Kuetzal have however represented to us that they met the company at this address.
3. The office photos in the Alborg website were taken from the internet
After visiting the official address of Alborg Petrol, we can confirm that the building foyer in no way looks like that of the photo on their website.
There’s a good reason for that – a reverse image search on google suggests that the photos were sourced from a Russian CGI artist who produces 3D office visualisations. The offices shown on the Alborg website cannot be those of the Alborg offices, because the offices shown don’t exist anywhere. They were created by a computer program.
4. Government filings show that Alborg Petrol is a tiny company
Alborg Petrol claims to be ‘One of Europe’s independent commodities trading houses’. It also mentions that it will ‘make and extend’ investments in assets such as refineries, pipelines and terminals. Companies that trade commodities, and own assets of this type, tend to have revenues and balance sheets that are in the billions. In fact, Gunvor Group, which Alborg appears to be attempting to replicate, reported revenues of €87 billion in 2018. What was the revenue of SIA Alborg Petrol in 2018? It was €1,738 according to their profit and loss filing to Latvian authorities. Their filings also show the company had total assets of €6,350 with negative equity of €19,469. The number of employees of the company is recorded as 1.
5. There is no record of Alborg Petrol operating anywhere on the internet
A google search for Alborg Petrol comes up almost empty. The only information that exists is the company website itself, information relating to the loan raised on the Kuetzal site, and links to government filings (which we have purchased).
We like to look at linkedin when performing background checks on companies. Linkedin has no record of Alborg Petrol at all (by comparison, Gunvor Group has 440 employees listed).
When we questioned the lack of public profile for Alborg Petrol, Kuetzal responded that “There are a lot of contacts with Russian corporations, and it is one of the reasons Alborg Petrol is not that public. Also the competition on the markets is very high, so personal reputation for companies like Alborg Petrol is valued much more, than wide publicity.“
6. The company was purchased just before the funds were borrowed from Kuetzal
The Alborg Petrol website lists a Mr Valdis Kiegelmanis as being the Chairman of the Board of the company. Strangely, for an international petroleum trading company, the personal mobile number of Mr Kiegelmanis was published as the way to contact the company.
We can see from public records that Mr Kiegelmanis purchased SIA Alborg Petrol on the 26th June 2019. The following day, he purchased another company called SIA Alborg Petroleum. Shortly after, the company obtained a loan of €854,376 from Kuetzal. Mr Kiegelmanis appears to be a very low-key individual for someone who is Chairman of an international petrol company. In fact, there is almost no record of him at all online.
We asked Kuetzal to explain the share transaction. Their explanation was “That was one of our request to secure our loan.” In response to our questions about why Mr Kiegelmanis has no public profile, they explained that “As far as we’ve been concerned, large part of Alborg Petrol business is connected with fuel corporations in Russia. Some of these corporations are privately owned, some is partly govermental. Though none of the contacts are under any kind of sanctions or restrictions, it is understandable that Alborg is not that public oriented.“
7. The credit approval was based on some mysterious Russian contracts
So, how could a company with virtually no assets and no revenues be approved for a loan of €850,000? The explanation provided by the Kuetzal CEO is this – “By providing thorough business strategies along with presentation of current undergoing contracts, Alborg Petrol made the positive loan decision worthy for Kuetzal. Also Alborg Petrol representatives provided the proof of direct contact with highly respectable executives within the market.”
To us, this sounds like an extremely weak basis for providing such a large loan to what is effectively a shell company.
As to why there are no revenues showing for this company we were told that “As a trading house Alborg Petrol strategy is commission earnings. Usually, there are up to 4 participants in regular Contract. And commission earnings can go to other transaction parties either affiliated with Alborg Petrol or not….Being a trade house (acting as intermediary or agent), Alborg Petrol usually does not take possession under the contracts involved, so the turnover is not the indicator of company’s activities.”
Even if the above explanations are accurate, there is a problem. If Alborg Petrol does not receive any income from contracts, and does not possess any contracts, how will it be able to repay the loan? And what was the money used for? The loan description suggested it was going towards purchasing assets like oil trucks.
8. Kuetzal now publicly declares that it performs no due diligence
Under section 5.6 of Kuetzal’s new terms and conditions, it states that ‘The Portal operator does not perform any due diligence of the borrower or project’. To us, this is clearly true. Even worse, under section 1.7, the ‘Portal Operator may terminate the operation of the Portal at its own discretion at any time’. Kuetzal investors are asked to buy loans with no due diligence being performed, and where the platform can disappear overnight.
So. Where’s the money now? We asked Kuetzal CEO Maksims Reutovs:
‘Being a TradeHouse Alborg Petrol purticipates in multiple closed fuel products auctions. In order to have the ability to buy and sell there, the participant have to guarantee its abilities to fullfill the obligations taken, so the company has to have a deposit within the Auction. Secondly, Alborg Petrol provided the business plan for organising, buying or renting several excise warehouses in Balkans. Having access to resources, provided in Black sea region of Russia, the plan is to be able to import and wholesale oil products, such as diesel and gasoline in countries like Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary.’
The funds are now somewhere in either Russia, Belarus, or the Balkans. Difficult places to get money back from. There is always a chance that Alborg Petrol is a legitimate company, with a very lazy web designer and extremely low profile employees. Perhaps it is a company that has ‘struck oil’ in finding a P2P lender that doesn’t ask too many questions. More likely though, in our view, the Alborg Petrol tanker is heading for the rocks.
With thanks to our reader JV, who pointed out that the ‘Development Manager’ of Alborg Petrol, Erik Feldman, as listed on the Kuetzal website, is actually a university lecturer called Walter Guttmann.
Kuetzal have now removed their picture of 'Erik Feldman' who is quoted on their site as saying "With Kuetzal we are planning to develop new oil trading & transporting solutions to improve efficiency, which will help to decrease prices to our customers". However his photo is still (for now) saved on their server.
With considerable thanks to all who helped with the background research and Riga fieldwork.