Exclusive: Ex-Louis Dreyfus grain traders launch new trading business - sources

PARIS/GENEVA (Reuters) - A group of senior European and Black Sea grain traders who left Louis Dreyfus [AKIRAU.UL] at the end of August plan to launch a new business in Switzerland targeting the Ukrainian market, three sources with knowledge of the matter said.

The business, called Sierentz Global Merchants according to one of the sources, was registered on Sept. 13 in Paudex, near Lausanne, Switzerland.

A company called Sierentz Global Merchants is already present in the United States and is controlled by members of the Louis-Dreyfus family, but distinct from the historic group Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC) where the grain trading team used to work.

The U.S. company mainly trades energy products such as natural gas but is expanding into grains, one source said.

The Swiss firm will focus on the import, export and trading of raw materials, mainly grains, information on the business published in the Swiss Official Gazette showed. Activities will also include international trading, brokerage and charter.

The ex-LDC traders, including former Louis Dreyfus Global Head of Grains David Ohayon and former head of Ukraine and Balkans Lamprakis Lazos, left without saying what they would do next, fuelling intense market speculation.

Ohayon and Lazos were the most senior traders who left LDC at the same time, sources had said. It was not clear how many would now join the new Switzerland-based business.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the new business would start operating in early 2018. Ohayon would remain in Geneva, while Lazos would lead activities in Ukraine and hire more staff there, they said.

Ohayon and Lazos did not respond to requests for comment. Sierentz declined to comment.

Official information published by the local administration showed property rights of the building in Paudex where Sierentz Global Merchants has been registered belong to Peter Mann.

Mann is one of the Louis-Dreyfus family members behind Sierentz Group, which invests in commodities.

He is a descendent of Leopold Louis-Dreyfus, founder of the agriculture group in 1851, who was born in the French town of Sierentz.

Mann is no longer involved in the main trading group, now controlled by Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, but through Sierentz has investments in energy in North America and farming in the Black Sea region through Russian branch RZ Agro Ltd.

RZ Agro Ltd in 2012 established a joint venture with Russia’s Sistema gathering grain and oilseed farms and assets of the two groups in Russia.

The joint venture’s chairman, French national Thomas Schulz, has also been named administrator of the Swiss-based Sierentz Global Merchants.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain exporters, shipping corn and wheat in competition with the European Union and United States.

Ohayon left LDC, one of the world’s top grain trading firms, after differences of opinion with the company’s management. He was replaced by Adrian Isman as Senior Head of Grains and Value Chain Platforms.

LDC’s grain division has struggled to make profits in a period of high global supplies and subdued prices, in line with other major agricultural trading companies.

The group said the business had weak results in the first half of the year, even as the wider company posted improved profits.

Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, Gus Trompiz and Valerie Parent in Paris, Pavel Polityuk in Kiev, Tom Miles in Geneva, Silke Koltrowitz in Zurich, Jonathan Saul in London and Polina Devitt in Moscow; Editing by Veronica Brown, Alexander Smith and Mark Potter