Monday 20 May 2019

Russian oligarchs hammered by US sanctions

Assets frozen as penalty for money laundering and Kremlin interference

US President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One for a trip to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, this week. Photo: AP/Evan Vucci.
US President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One for a trip to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, this week. Photo: AP/Evan Vucci.

Ben Riley-Smith

Thirty-eight Russian individuals and entities including Oleg Deripaska - one of the best-known oligarchs living in Britain - have been hit by new sanctions from US President Donald Trump.

The 50-year-old energy tycoon has been accused by America of acting "directly or indirectly" on behalf of the Russian government.

The US Treasury said Mr Deripaska had been accused of money-laundering, "threatening the lives of business rivals" and illegally wire-tapping a government official.

British ministers last night came under pressure to explain why Mr Deripaska was allowed to float EN+ Group, an energy company in the Channel Islands he controls, on the London Stock Exchange in November.

Billionaire Oleg Deripaska owns tranches of Russian business and industry. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP
Billionaire Oleg Deripaska owns tranches of Russian business and industry. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

The new sanctions were taken by America to punish Russia for its recent "malign behaviour", including its attempt to "subvert Western democracies" and support of the Syrian regime.

The Salisbury spy poisoning was also included in the actions being punished, according to a senior US administration official, although it was not the direct cause of the sanctions.

Seven Russian oligarchs and their 12 companies have been targeted as well as 17 senior government officials, a state-owned weapons trader and its subsidiary, a Russian bank.

The government officials affected include the chairman of the state-owned Gazprombank and the director of the Federal Service of National Guard Troops.

All those targeted will have their assets under US jurisdiction frozen. Americans are also generally barred from dealing with them.

Mr Deripaska, who owns property in Britain, is well known in the UK for his infamous yacht meeting with Labour politician Peter Mandelson and former Tory chancellor George Osborne in 2008.

The pair were entertained by Mr Deripaska on his 73-metre Queen K in Corfu. At the time, Mr Mandelson was EU trade commissioner and Mr Osborne was the UK shadow chancellor.

The meeting triggered a political backlash for both men. Mr Mandelson faced questions after supporting cuts to European aluminium import duties which benefited Mr Deripaska's company. Mr Osborne was accused of soliciting a donation from Mr Deripaska, who was not a British citizen. Both denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Deripaska's company EN+ Group, based on Jersey in the Channel Islands, is being hit by sanctions. It is an aluminium and power producer.

Basic Element Limited, a private investment and management company linked to Mr Deripaska, is also being targeted. So too is EuroSibEnergo, one of the largest independent power companies in Russia.

The US Treasury said Mr Deripaska was among those who "owned or controlled" the companies "directly or indirectly".

The Trump administration's decision to deliberately target figures close to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is a deliberate attempt to force him to change direction.

Steven Mnuchin, the US Treasury secretary, said: "The Russian government engages in a range of malign activity around the globe, including continuing to occupy Crimea and instigate violence in eastern Ukraine, supplying the Assad regime with material and weaponry as they bomb their own civilians, attempting to subvert Western democracies, and malicious cyber activities.

"Russian oligarchs and elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government's destabilising activities."

Senior US administration officials said the action was "not in response to any single issue" but designed to tackle "the totality" of Russia's "increasingly brazen" activity.

One said that the message to Russia was that "actions have consequences" and called on those hit by the sanctions to "wield their influence" to encourage a change in direction.

Kirill Shamalov, another Russian energy tycoon who is married to Mr Putin's daughter Katerina, has been targeted.

The US Treasury claimed his fortunes "dramatically improved" after the marriage, receiving a "large portion" of shares in Sibur, a Russia-based oil and gas company, 18 months after the wedding in 2013.

Also on the list is Suleiman Kerimov, a businessman and politician with an estimated $5bn (¤4bn) fortune, dubbed "the Russian Gatsby" for his extravagant spending.

He made his fortune through a series of canny investments in the 1990s. In 2011 his profile was raised when he bought Anzhi Makhachkala football club and lured high-profile players such as Roberto Carlos and Samuel Eto'o, before selling it in 2016.

Mr Kerimov's family controls 83pc of London-listed Polyus, Russia's largest gold miner. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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