External Affairs

US ‘Oligarch List’ Names Russian Bank CEOs, Metals Tycoons and Gas Chief

The list of 210 people, including 96 ‘oligarchs’ with wealth of $1 billion or more, was drawn up as part of a sanctions package signed into law in August last year.

Vehicles drive past the wall and towers of the Kremlin in central Moscow, Russia November 29, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

Moscow: The US Treasury Department named major Russian businessmen including the heads of the country’s two biggest banks, metals magnates and the boss of the state gas monopoly on a list of oligarchs close to the Kremlin.

The list of 210 people, including 96 ‘oligarchs’ with wealth of $1 billion or more, was drawn up as part of a sanctions package signed into law in August last year.

The document said it was not a sanctions list and that inclusion should “in no way” be interpreted to mean those named were likely to be sanctioned. Although it is unclear what it will mean in practice, it will cast the shadow of potential sanctions risk over a wide circle of wealthy Russians.

“Publication of such a wide list of everything and everyone could potentially damage the image and reputation of our firms, our businessmen, our politicians, and of members of the leadership,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, himself included on the list, told reporters.

President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle is already subject to personal US sanctions imposed over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, although Putin himself is not on either list and nor is central bank chief Elvira Nabiullina.

The White House said on Monday it would not immediately impose new sanctions on Russia.

“All this looks more like a book, Who’s Who in Russian Politics. I as a member of the government am obliged to be on this list,” Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, one of 114 government officials named, told Reuters.

Deals

The 2017 sanctions package that led to the compilation of the “oligarchs’ list” was prompted partly by Washington’s belief that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. The Kremlin denies these allegations.

The list covers people beyond Putin’s circle and reaches deep into Russia’s business elite.

“The aim of the report is a warning, to threaten. To add a pressure, create discontent,” said a former high-ranking official with deep connections to the Russian government.

The list mirrors a Forbes magazine ranking of Russia’s wealthiest people published last year, which estimated the total wealth of the oligarchs listed at almost $400 billion.

A Western banker who is currently involved in a deal with a person named on the list said it was unclear what inclusion meant. “If all these people were banned, 80% of deals (with Russian firms) will stall,” he said.

Absent from the list were some names with close connections to Putin, a fact that may raise questions among Russia’s elite.

One high-ranking person told a Reuters correspondent he would break off communication after being asked why his name was not among those listed.

“Why are you asking? To be provocative?” the person said.

Asked why certain names were absent from the list, Peskov said that “hard work would be needed to understand the basis, reasons” for the report. “There are more questions than answers now,” he said.

Market reaction

Another US report outlining potential restrictions on investment by foreigners in Russian government debt was not published on Tuesday as many had expected.

The rouble opened down 0.1% against the dollar on Tuesday. Shares in some big companies fell, although Russian stocks and the rouble later edged higher overall.

Norilsk Nickel was down 1.2% after its co-owner Vladimir Potanin was included on the US list. Aluminium giant Rusal, whose co-owner Oleg Deripaska was also named, saw its shares tumble 1.4% in Hong Kong.

“For now it all looks pretty mild,” said Oleg Kuzmin, an economist at investment bank Renaissance Capital.

Representatives for Potanin and Deripaska, and other businessmen including metals magnate Alisher Usmanov, part-owner of London’s Arsenal soccer club, and Alexei Mordashov, co-owner of Severstal, declined to comment. Others had yet to reply to requests for comment.

The US Treasury Department said in a statement accompanying the list that people had been included based on their net worth and “their closeness to the Russian regime”.

German Gref, chief executive of Russia’s Sberbank, speaks during a session of the Gaidar Forum 2018 “Russia and the World: values and virtues” in Moscow, Russia, January 17, 2018. Credit: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

The names included German Gref, CEO of Sberbank, Russia’s biggest lender, and Andrey Kostin,chief executive of No. 2 bank VTB. Both lenders are state-controlled.

Sberbank declined to comment. VTB did not respond to a request for comment. Kostin told Reuters in an interview last week that he was not afraid of being on the list.

Alexei Miller, CEO of state-controlled gas export monopoly Gazprom, was on the list, as was Leonid Mikhelson, co-owner of private gas producer Novatek.

Eugene Kaspersky, CEO of the Moscow-based cyber security company that carries his name, were also listed.

“I believe the people behind the list don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘oligarch‘ otherwise wouldn’t include me and other successful businessmen with no ties to the government,” Kaspersky wrote on Twitter. He said his company’s operations were unaffected.

(Reuters)

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