Companies linked to Singapore trade finance platform Triterras have sought to take control of several insolvent traders in India, despite historic accusations of fraud against those firms, documents show. 

Corporate registry information and stock exchange filings show that two Hyderabad-based trading companies – Sujana Universal and Splendid Metals – have already been taken over by a Triterras-related company in recent months.  

Another entity linked to Triterras is seeking to take over Bartronics India, a Hyderabad-headquartered IT provider. As of press time, the move is awaiting clearance from the country’s company law tribunal. 

Neueon Towers, a steel trader formerly called Sujana Towers, was also subject to an attempted takeover by a third company with links to Triterras, but the move was blocked by the tribunal in October. 

The three Sujana-related companies are part of a wider network, known as the Sujana Group, that has been connected to alleged trade finance fraud schemes dating back several years. An investigation by India’s Economic Times describes the group as “one of the biggest bank defaulters in India”.

The group has historic ties to Indian MP Sujana Chowdary, who has been investigated by Indian authorities for suspected fraud among businesses he controls or has controlled in the past. He has denied the allegations.

All three opened insolvency proceedings between April and July 2019. 

Bartronics, meanwhile, has disclosed that it is subject to a criminal case filed by a creditor in Delhi, as well as petitions from two financial institution creditors, since becoming insolvent in late 2019. 

All accusations predate the Triterras acquisitions. 

Representatives for Triterras did not comment when asked by GTR why it was seeking to take over the four companies, nor whether the historic allegations of fraud or other wrongdoing are a concern, stating only that the queries did not relate to its Nasdaq-listed entity. 

 

Triterras-related companies 

The connections between Triterras’ Nasdaq-listed company and the companies involved in the takeovers are complex. 

In the case of the Sujana Universal and Splendid Metals takeovers, the acquiring company is Antanium Holdings, a Singapore-registered entity that was previously called Triterras Holdings, and prior to that, Rhodium Holdings. 

Though a separate legal entity to Triterras Fintech – operator of blockchain-based trade finance platform Kratos – it shares the same registered address in Singapore. 

Its previous company names also overlap. Srinivas Koneru, co-founder and chief executive of Triterras Inc, is also founder and chief executive of Antanium Resources, a Singapore trading house that was previously called Rhodium Resources. 

With Bartronics, documents show that a takeover proposal from Antanium India Private – previously called Triterras Smart ID Systems Private – has been accepted by creditors and is awaiting legal clearance. 

In the case of Neueon Towers, the attempted takeover was by Longview Resources, a Hong Kong-based trading company. Longview’s founder and chief executive, Rick Maurer, is also co-founder of the Triterras trade finance platform and owns its parent company, Netfin. 

 

Trade finance fraud claims 

Many of the Sujana-related fraud allegations centre on action against Best & Crompton Engineering Projects, a now defunct Chennai-based company that specialised in railway electrification and other construction work. The company was also taken over by Triterras co-founder Koneru in 2015. 

Reports produced by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 2017 and 2018 show complaints from two banks over working capital and letter of credit facilities that were allegedly misused by Best & Crompton. 

One CBI report contains allegations from Andhra Bank, following a forensic audit launched in 2014.   

The audit found the company “diverted [funds] through fictitious purchases and sales, which were more book entries”, and that many creditors and debtors were “friendly entities through which money has been siphoned off”, the report says. 

A second CBI report says Corporation Bank found “most” Best & Crompton trade transactions were fictitious. It names a Sujana metals trading company among several firms where transactions were later found to be “book entries through which the funds were diverted”. 

Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank – two public sector lenders – were merged by the government in 2020 to form Union Bank of India. 

According to court reporting from the Times of India in June this year, the CBI said in July this year it believes the Best & Crompton transactions are part of a wider network that has duped banks out of US$670mn. The claims were part of proceedings related to the Indian MP Chowdary. 

The publication says Sujana Universal, Splendid Metals and Neueon Towers all face CBI accusations of raising false invoices, with some transactions relating to the Best & Crompton investigation. 

The 2015 Koneru takeover of Best & Crompton took place after the allegedly fraudulent transactions but before the CBI action. 

 

Reversing fortunes 

The purpose of the takeovers is not always specified in corporate filings, and Triterras did not respond to queries on why the strategy was being pursued. 

However, in the case of Sujana Universal, documents show Antanium Holdings plans to “turn round” the fortunes of the insolvent company and partially return funds to creditors. 

It says the company – then known as Triterras Holdings – has “the necessary technical management and operational expertise in the business of the company”. 

As of July 2020, Sujana Universal owed nearly US$263mn to financial creditors. Triterras Holdings’ plan involves paying approximately US$2.7mn upfront followed by a further US$13.6mn in instalments over the following two years. 

Splendid Metals faces creditor claims of US$488mn, though says in its 2021 financial results it only owes US$327mn. Neueon Towers’s results say it owes creditors around US$313mn, as of September this year. Bartronics owed around US$143mn as of August. 

Triterras has also sought to acquire distressed assets from outside India. 

According to US court documents filed in August last year, Triterras Asia Pte Ltd – now called Antanium Global Pte Ltd – acquired assets relating to International Investment Group’s (IIG) structured and global trade finance funds in early 2019. 

IIG had its licence revoked by the US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) later that year following what the regulator called “a string of frauds”. Senior staff later pleaded guilty to being involved in a Ponzi-like scheme to defraud investors. 

 

Nasdaq listing under threat 

Triterras Inc currently faces the threat of being delisted by Nasdaq, after repeatedly missing deadlines for filing audited accounts. It has been given a second extension until December 1. 

The company has attributed these delays to difficulties in finding a new auditor, following the resignation of KPMG in January. 

Triterras is also involved in a lawsuit filed by investors, who claim the company understated the proportion of trades carried out by companies linked to Koneru and Maurer. As of press time, the case has been stayed until November 25. 

The company has been targeted by short sellers, who claimed in January that blockchain data shows significant trading volumes by related parties.  

GTR has since revealed that trade-related information is publicly visible covering a period of over 18 months, after which Triterras says it made security improvements. 

There has also been turbulence among boardroom members and company executives at the company.  

In April, two directors stood down from the company’s board following a disagreement over its response to the allegations, with one saying senior management staff “have very different views to my own as to the optimal path forward for the company at this extremely challenging time”.  

On November 23, the company disclosed to the SEC it was considering consolidating its senior operating leadership teams in either Singapore or Dubai, though will retain remote offices in the US and UK. 

The filing referred to “certain disclosures” relating to its chief operating officer, John Galani. Triterras did not provide details on those disclosures, but said it is “in discussions with Mr Galani regarding his employment status and future role with the company”.