The situation around the studio that has achieved great success with Disco Elysium is scandalous.
Ilmar Kompus, the studio’s CEO, is accused in new documents of spending €4.8 million of ZA/UM’s money to gain a majority in the company. The legal dispute is between two parties. On one side are Disco Elysium creators Robert Kurvitz and Aleksander Rostov (allegedly forced out of the studio late last year) and executive producer Kaur Kender, who left in August; on the other side, Kompus and former executive producer Tőnis Haavel (the latter was convicted of investment fraud in 2015 when he was still working as a banker). Despite Kurvitz, Rostov, and Kender having left ZA/UM, they remained partners for the company.
The dispute between them is over Disco Elysium 2. Four concept artworks provide the first glance at the game, and these were reportedly bought by a shell company, Kompus-controlled Tütreke, for one euro and then bought back by ZA/UM for €4.8 million. In October, Kurvitz and Rostov said in a Medium post that Kompus had illegally acquired a majority in the studio and that Tütreke was, in their view, a “vehicle” for Kompus and Haavel. According to them, the €4.8 million was reserved for the studio and its shareholders to finance the sequel. Kompus used this money to buy shares from an investor, Margue Linnamäe, last year. Linnamäe was supposed to distribute the shares to the partners, but it did not happen.
Rostov and Kurvitz were then demoted before they discovered the Estonian company registration that control of ZA/UM had been taken over by Kompus. From there, the aim was to sell the company, in which Microsoft, Tencent, and Amazon were also interested. In their post, the duo highlighted that once speculation started internally, they were quickly dropped from daily operations and terminated. It is reportedly what happened to Kender, who was put on leave before being fired in August. However, Kurvitz, as a minority owner and creator of Disco Elysium, has veto power over a potential acquisition.
Kender launched the latest legal dispute. In a lawsuit in Estonia in October, he claimed that Kompus had “cheated” him out of about €1 million, and at his request, the court seized Kompus’s stake in ZA/UM to prevent a takeover or sale during the legal process. The lawsuit also accuses Haavel of Kompus’ actions. According to the documents, the IP rights to Disco Elysium are held by a subsidiary, Yessirnoir Ltd (owned by ZA/UM UK), whose director is Anu Reiman, allegedly a partner of Haavel. According to Kender, Haavel’s involvement is kept secret because he owes €11.2 million in debts from his 2015 conviction.
Kompus denied the lawsuit against him to the Estonian Ekspress, while Haavel called the accusations absurd. The newspaper presented the documents to both of them, but neither responded. In November, ZA/UM told Gamesindustry (https://www.gamesindustry.biz/disco-elysium-lawsuit-accuses-zaum-ceo-of-illegally-taking-majority-share-in-studio) that it would win in court and that the accusations against the studio were unsubstantiated and false. It called the firing of the former team members justified because they were not engaged in their responsibilities, created a toxic work environment, and did not behave appropriately with other employees. Still, the studio did not accuse any of the named individuals of these actions. “The rumor that our decision to terminate the contracts of these individuals was taken for financial gain is entirely unfounded and does not in any way reflect the facts. It was a decision that had to be taken for the well-being of the collective,” the studio said.
This case seems complex…