New information regarding a legal battle between partners at Disco Elysium studio ZA/UM has surfaced, this time surrounding ownership of the IP and misuse of company funds.
The dispute is between two parties; one side consists of Disco Elysium creatives Robert Kurvitz and Aleksander Rostov - who were allegedly forced out of ZA/UM late last year – and Kaur Kender, executive producer on the game, who left in August.
The other half is current ZA/UM CEO Ilmar Kompus and former executive producer Tõnis Haavel, also an ex-banker convicted of investment fraud in 2015. Kompus is the largest shareholder in Studio ZA/UM, and Kurvitz, Rostov and Kender remain partners, despite their departures.
According to the Estonian Ekspress (via PC Gamer) the latest dispute follows the rights to Disco Elysium 2. Four concept sketches – said to be the first look at the sequel – were allegedly purchased by shell company Tütreke, which is controlled by Kompus.
The sketches were said to be sold to the company for €1, and then re-sold to ZA/UM for €4.8 million.
Last month, Kurvitz and Rostov made claims in a Medium post that the majority stake in the studio was obtained illegally, and referenced Tütreke as "a vehicle" for Kompus and Haavel. The pair also claimed that Kompus made the €4.8 million purchase with money that should have been reserved for the studio and its shareholders to fund the sequel.
It's this money that allegedly enabled Kompus to acquire shares from investor Margue Linnamäe in 2021, making Kompus the new majority stakeholder. The Ekspress reports that Linnamäe was expected to split his shares among the partners, but made the aforementioned deal instead.
Following this, Rostov and Kurvitz claim they were demoted initially, before discovering via Estonian company registration that control of ZA/UM had transferred to Kompus. It is said that the intent from there was to sell the company, with Microsoft, Tencent, and Amazon reportedly showing interest in the studio.
In their own Medium post, the pair claimed that after this transaction took place and speculations began internally, they were "quickly excluded from daily operations," and their employment was terminated. The same thing allegedly happened to Kender, who was allegedly put on leave and then fired in August.
However, Kurvitz remains a minority shareholder and, as the creator of Disco Elysium, has the right to block any potential acquisition.
The latest legal battle was lodged by Kender, who claimed in an Estonian lawsuit last month that Kompus "cheated" him out of almost €1 million. At Kender's request, the court seized Kompus' stake in ZA/UM to prevent a sale or transfer of holdings during the proceedings.
Haavel is also accused in the lawsuit of following Kompus' actions. The filing pointed out that the holder of the IP rights to Disco Elysium is a subsidiary called Yessirnoir LTD, which is owned by ZA/UM UK. The director of this company is an Anu Reiman, who is also reportedly a partner of Haavel's.
Kender claims that Haavel's involvement is being "kept secret" because he's €11.2 million in debt as a result of his 2015 conviction.
Speaking to the Ekspress, Kompus denied the existence of a lawsuit against him, and Haavel called the allegations "completely absurd." Both were shown legal documents by the outlet and did not respond.
Earlier this month, ZA/UM issued a statement to GamesIndustry.biz claiming allegations against the studio were "baseless claims and falsehoods", and that it was confident it would prevail in court.
It also claimed that "former ZA/UM Studio team members" were fired for reasons it called "justified," including limited to no engagement in their responsibilities, creating a toxic work environment and misconduct towards other employees, though the company did not accuse any named individuals of any of these behaviours.
ZA/UM added that "the rumour 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," and that it was "a decision that had to be taken for the wellbeing of the collective."