MOSCOW (Reuters) - The U.S. government’s decision to include Russian magnate Oleg Deripaska on its sanctions blacklist on Friday will reverberate around the world because his business empire has a global footprint and counts major multinationals as partners.
Washington imposed sanctions on seven Russian oligarchs, 12 companies they own or control, as well as 17 senior Russian government officials because, it said, they were profiting from a Russian state engaged in “malign activities” around the world.
Deripaska, estimated by Forbes magazine to have a net worth of $6.7 billion, is the main owner of the conglomerate EN+, which in turn is the co-owner of some of the world’s biggest metals producers, Rusal and Nornickel.
Deripaska’s inclusion on the U.S. sanctions list could potentially create complications too for companies with which he does business; they include German car giant Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) and commodities trader Glencore (GLEN.L).
Deripaska called the U.S. decision “very unfortunate but not unexpected.”
“Certainly the grounds for putting my name on the list of SDNs as provided by U.S. officials are groundless, ridiculous and absurd,” he said, in a statement sent to Reuters by Basic Element, one of his businesses. SDN stands for “Specially Designated National.”
Hong Kong-listed Rusal is one of the world’s biggest aluminum producers. It says exports to the United States account for over 10 percent of its output.
Rusal owns assets in Italy, Ireland, Sweden, Nigeria, Guyana, Guinea. It owns a stake in Australian QAL, the world’s top alumina refinery.
Nornickel has assets in Finland, in Australia, where it holds a license to develop the Honeymoon Well Project, and in South Africa, where it has a 50 percent stake in the country’s only nickel concentrate producer, Norilsk Nickel Nkomati.
A Nornickel representative declined to comment on the risks resulting from the sanctions on their shareholder.
In its statement announcing the sanctions, the U.S. Treasury Department said U.S. entities will be “generally prohibited from dealings with” the people and firms on the sanctions list.
In addition, it said, companies outside the United States “could face sanctions for knowingly facilitating significant transactions for or on behalf of” sanctioned entities.
Volkswagen has a joint plant with GAZ, a Russian carmaker which is a subsidiary of Basic Element, which was also sanctioned on Friday. Under a contract that runs until 2025, the plant assembles vehicles from the Volkswagen stable.
The German automaker has been in talks to buy a stake in GAZ, five sources familiar with the discussions told Reuters in December last year.
Swiss-headquartered Glencore is a shareholder in Rusal, and his said it plans to switch those shares to Deripaska’s newly-created holding company, EN+.
According to a Rusal prospectus, its major customers include Glencore, Toyota (7203.T), and Rio Tinto Alcan.
Other foreign firms with ties to Deripaska’s empire include Austrian construction company Strabag, in which the Russian’s firm Rasperia has a blocking stake, and Singapore’s Changi Airports International, which is a partner with a Deripaska-owned airports firm.
In his life and career, Deripaska has frequently intersected with the Kremlin and Russian officialdom.
He holds regular meetings with President Vladimir Putin, he invested heavily in building infrastructure for Russia’s 2014 Sochi winter Olympics, and has said his own interests are indivisible from the state’s interests.
The mother of Deripaska’s children, Polina, is the daughter of Valentin Yumashev, who was presidential chief of staff under former Russian president Boris Yeltsin. Yumashev later married Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko. Yeltsin and his entourage were instrumental in elevating Vladimir Putin to power as the anointed successor to the ailing president.
In February, the website of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny published a report alleging that Deripaska met Sergei Prikhodko, Russia’s deputy prime minister, on a yacht belonging to the businessman off the coast of Norway in 2016.
Deripaska accused Navalny and others of spreading lies that he had committed unlawful actions and obtained an injunction from a court requiring media outlets stop disseminating the disputed content. The Russian state telecoms watchdog blocked Navalny’s website.
Deripaska did business in the 2000s with Paul Manafort, who later became campaign manager for Donald Trump when he was running for president.
At the time he was doing business with Deripaska, Manafort, a Republican operative, was providing campaign advice to Viktor Yanukovich, a pro-Moscow challenger for the presidency of Ukraine. Yanukovich was elected president in 2010.
A Cyprus-based company tied to Deripaska, Surf Horizon Limited, sued Manafort and his aide Rick Gates, in a New York state court in January, accusing them of misappropriating more than $18.9 million earmarked for deals in Ukraine in 2008.
That lawsuit emanated from a business partnership that dates to 2006 when Manafort and Gates convinced Deripaska to invest in a private equity fund that would make investments primarily in Russia and Ukraine, according to an offering memorandum referenced in the lawsuit.
Jeffrey Eilender, who is representing Manafort in the lawsuit, told Reuters last month he planned to argue for dismissal based in part on the assertion that Surf Horizon’s claims are past the statute of limitations.
On Friday, Eilender said he believed the sanctions would make the pursuit of the lawsuit meaningless. “As a practical matter, he can’t take money or assets out of the United States,” Eilender said, referring to Deripaska. Gates currently does not have counsel in the Surf Horizon case.
Despite the lawsuit, Manafort sought to stay in contact with the oligarch. Last year the Washington Post reported that Manafort sent an email in July 2016 through an intermediary offering Deripaska “private briefings” about Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Manafort was chairman of the campaign at the time.
Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni has said the email exchanges were “innocuous” and aimed at collecting money owed by past clients.
Additional reporting by Anastasia Lyrchikova in MOSCOW, and Nathan Layne and Karen Freifeld in NEW YORK; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Tom Brown