It’s been a wild couple of months for the team behind hit game Disco Elysium. Reports of several key members of the creative team and shareholders in developer ZA/UM leaving the company “involuntarily” were followed a few weeks later by the news that lead designer Robert Kurvitz had filed a lawsuit against ZA/UM. Shortly following that, in early November, executive producer Kaum Kender was also seemingly forced out of the company — and it’s here that the real dirty laundry started to be aired.
Ilmar Kompus and Tõnis Haavel, two remaining senior team members of ZA/UM, have seemingly been caught in a massive fraud the likes of which Estonia has never seen before, potentially amounting to almost 5 million euros, according to Estonian newspaper Eesti Ekspress (translation here). In a convoluted plot that involved re-selling a stack of concept art back to the company at an inflated price of €4.8 million, in order to buy out the shares of a departing executive which had previously been agreed to be distributed amongst the founders equally, Kompus managed to take a majority share in ZA/UM, effectively using the company’s own money to secure his position and force out his rivals.
Kender, for his part, was allegedly on board with Kompus’ new slate at first, but after raising one too many objections as talks of selling the company or the IP of Disco Elysium began to ramp up, he was sent on leave and subsequently fired last week. Kender took the matter to court, though, suing Kompus and claiming that he had been cheated out of €913,000. The Harju County Court ended up freezing Kompus’ shares in ZA/UM, preventing them from being sold or moved until the whole business is sorted out.
The full story is still developing, but even at this early stage, it resembles a subplot from Disco Elysium itself, involving not just all the named parties but also Tõnis Haavel, a producer and ex-banker previously convicted for investment fraud, in a complex web of equity dealings, shell companies, and shady debts. Still, the step of freezing the shares of ZA/UM should at least give the courts a bit of breathing room to try and figure everything out and deduce what exactly has been going on. If only they had a reliable ally like Kim Kitsuragi to lend a hand.