The drama around Disco Elysium developer ZA/UM is getting even more twisted. It has been reported that the studio was taken over through a fraud scheme involving the dubious sale of game-related sketches.
Wonder if Harry Du Bois or Raphaël Ambrosius Costeau… or at least Tequila Sunset could solve this case?
Last week, the Estonian Ekspress detailed the complicated situation surrounding ZA/UM and the creators of Disco Elysium who were recently kicked out of the studio. The newspaper cited a lawsuit filed by Kaur Kender, Estonian writer and executive producer of Disco Elysium.
Here are the main parties (besides Kender) involved in the conflict:
- Robert Kurvitz, the creator of the Disco Elysium world and the game’s lead designer and writer;
- Aleksander Rostov, Kurvitz’s comrade-in-arms and the art director of Disco Elysium;
- Ilmar Kompus, Estonian businessman who eventually took over ZA/UM through a intricate scheme;
- Tõnis Haavel, controversial Estonian banker and convicted swindler who is believed to be Kompus’ puppeteer.
Detailed timeline of events
- Last year, Margus Linnamäe, who was ZA/UM’s largest shareholder and provided funding for Disco Elysium, decided to sell his stake in the studio.
- According to Kender, this stake should have been divided among the rest of the shareholders. However, Linnamäe sold it directly to Ilmar Kompus.
- Linnamäe wanted €4.5 million for his stake. But things get really twisted when looking at how this deal was made.
- To get the money, Kompus-owned firm Tütreke bought a short story draft and four sketches depicting a man in a spacesuit. They were made for the Disco Elysium sequel codenamed Pioneer One.
- Tütreke allegedly paid only one pound sterling for them and then eventually sold these sketches back to ZA/UM for €4.8 million. So Kompus basically pulled money from the studio to take over the same studio.
- Being mostly focused on game development and other creative stuff, Kurvitz and Rostov knew nothing about it. The realization came only five months after Kompus acquired the majority stake in the studio.
- The Disco Elysium masterminds were demoted to ordinary artists and writers. So they demanded answers and documents, but were kicked out of the company and deprived of their work shortly after.
- Kompus wanted to quickly sell ZA/UM to a big publisher like Tencent or Microsoft. This potential deal could be worth tens of millions of euros, not to mention that Amazon was interested in making a TV series based on the game.
- However, all attempts were unsuccessful because Kurvitz had the right to block any deal related to the Disco Elysium IP. So it is a weird situation when the exiled creator can still affect some business decisions but can’t make a sequel to his brainchild.
- Speaking of other parties to this conflict, Kaur Kender initially benefited from the takeover, as he was paid €500,000 by ZA/UM’s UK entity in the fiscal year that ended in the spring. But he was put on leave after asking difficult questions about the studio’s future and was eventually fired.
- Kender also claimed that Kompus cheated him out of €913,000 and decided to file a lawsuit against the businessman. On October 28, the court agreed to seize Tütreke’s controlling stake in ZA/UM to prevent the studio’s sellout during any ongoing legal procedures and so that the money from this potential deal won’t end up in an offshore account.
- On top of that, Kender is also targeting Tõnis Haavel, who he claims pulled the strings and was the gray eminence behind this takeover. For example, ZA/UM’s subsidiary Yessirnosir Ltd, which owns all rights to the Disco Elysium IP, is run by Haavel’s life partner Anu Reiman.
- Kender claimed that Haavel preferred to act behind the scenes because he was bankrupt. The former banker still has to pay €11.2 million in compensation to businessmen who lost money in the Baku land affair (Haavel was sentenced to seven months in prison in this case).
- As we already know, Robert Kurvitz recently filed his own lawsuit against ZA/UM, with the hearing scheduled for November 28.
- Earlier this month, Kurvitz and Rostov wrote an open letter, detailing their version of this story. They want to sue ZA/UM in both Estonian and UK jurisdictions, believing that Kompus and Haavel’s actions were criminal and could result in up to three years in prison.