Sanjeev Gupta’s metals group is to launch an independent investigation after web domains resembling those of commodities trading firms were reportedly registered to a Gupta company email address.
The web domains were only slightly different to existing domains owned by commodities trading businesses. One of the companies affected has sent Gupta’s GFG Alliance a cease and desist letter and demanded an explanation for why the web domains existed, after the Financial Times reported their existence.
The revelations are likely to add to pressure on Gupta as he seeks to find a new lender to finance GFG and its subsidiary, Liberty Steel, after the collapse last month of a key backer, Greensill Capital.
GFG employs 35,000 people around the world, including about 5,000 in the UK across steel mills, an aluminium smelter and an energy company. Some Liberty Steel workers will return from furlough on Tuesday to restart production at plants in Rotherham and Stocksbridge in South Yorkshire.
Gupta last week vowed that “none of my steel plants under my watch will be shut down”, but he is urgently seeking a deal with administrators for Greensill to prevent them from calling in loans to GFG. The UK government has declined a separate request from Gupta for a £170m loan, and is understood to have had concerns over the opacity of the company’s structure, alongside apprehension that taxpayer money could end up flowing abroad.
GFG declined to comment on whether it had evidence that the web domains were ever used. Registering a web domain can theoretically allow someone to send emails from associated email addresses.
In a statement on the web domain registrations, GFG Alliance said: “We take these allegations very seriously and have initiated a third-party investigation into the matter.” GFG declined to comment on who would carry out the investigation, or on what communications it had received from the allegedly affected commodities companies.
The affected companies were Gunvor, an oil trading firm, steel trader Salzgitter Mannesmann and metals trader Concord Resources, the FT reported.
Concord confirmed it was investigating the registration of concordresources.net. Mark Hansen, its chief executive, said a web domain using its name had been registered “by what appears to be an officer employee of Liberty House”.
He said Concord sent a cease and desist letter “because we are an independent, global metals and minerals merchant that has no links to GFG Alliance or its various subsidiaries. As part of our formal notice to GFG Group and Liberty we have reminded them of our trademarks and that we consider it at a minimum inappropriate. Our investigation is ongoing.”
It adds to the questions facing Gupta and GFG after the company acknowledged that some of its borrowing from Greensill was lent against notional invoices for income from potential customers. It came after the Financial Times last week reported that auditors had approached a German scrap metal company, RPS Siegen, about an invoice despite it never having dealings with GFG’s subsidiary.
A GFG spokesman said: “Many of Greensill’s financing arrangements with its clients, including with some of the companies in the GFG Alliance, were prospective receivables programmes, sometimes described as future receivables.”
He said Greensill had “selected and approved companies with whom its counterparties could potentially do business in the future”. Greensill also set the amount and the length of the loans, GFG said.
Greensill, founded by Australian banker Lex Greensill, had lent as much as $5bn (£3.6bn) to GFG companies by the time of its collapse. It hired former UK prime minister David Cameron as an adviser 2018 and Cameron later lobbied for access to government coronavirus loan schemes on the company’s behalf.
On Monday, Reuters reported that Germany’s private banking association has paid out about €2.7bn (£2.3bn) to more than 20,500 customers of a Greensill subsidiary, Greensill Bank, as part of its deposit guarantee scheme after the bank collapsed last month.
The banking association said only a few customers had yet to receive compensation under the protection fund, which protects individuals but not institutional investors, Reuters said.
Gunvor, Salzgitter Mannesmann and RPS Siegen did not respond to requests for comment. Greensill’s administrators, Grant Thornton, declined to comment.