Wednesday, September 28

Oleg Deripaska: Putin ‘favourite’ with strong ties to Britain | Oleg Deripaska


He is said to be Vladimir Putin’s favorite industrialist, with deep links among the British and Russian establishments. Unlike some of his countrymen, Oleg Deripaska has cultivated influence quietly, preferring to stay out of the spotlight.

Yet the metals tycoon has found himself at the heart of a string of high-profile political rows, culminating in Thursday’s decision by the UK government to add him to the list of individuals hit with sanctions in response to the war in Ukraine.

The British rationale is that Deripaska is “a prominent Russian businessman and pro-Kremlin oligarch” who is “closely associated with the government of Russia and Vladimir Putin”, according to his entry on the sanctions list.

“Deripaska is or has been involved in obtaining benefit from or supporting the government of Russia,” it states, by virtue of his interests in the “Russian extractives and energy sectors, sectors of strategic significance to the government of Russia”.

The 54-year-old has previously come under scrutiny for his UK political links, too. In 2008, he became embroiled in a bitter row that exposed his ties to two of the most powerful figures in modern British politics: Lord Mandelson and George Osborne.

It all began when it emerged that Peter Mandelson, then trade secretary, had cut import duties affecting Deripaska’s aluminum empire, Rusal, after being entertained aboard the oligarch’s “superyacht”, the 73m Queen K, off Corfu.

Oleg Deripaska’s luxury yachts Sputnik and Queen K anchor at Bodrum, Turkey. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The plot thickened when the financier Nat Rothschild wrote to the Times to say that George Osborne, the Tory shadow chancellor and a fellow alumnus of Oxford’s Bullingdon drinking club, had also met the Russian in Corfu, at the Rothschild family villa.

Osborne, he said, “found the opportunity of meeting with Mr Deripaska so good” that he invited the Conservatives’ fundraiser Andrew Feldman to visit Deripaska on his yacht.

Rothschild claimed that the idea was floated that Deripaska could donate to the Tories via one of his British companies, avoiding a ban on the foreign funding of political parties. Deripaska was not present during the conversation and Osborne later said that the mention of donations was not a suggestion but a standard explanation of the rules.

The Russian’s addition to the sanctions list means he is now bound by a different set of rules entirely, including a freeze on his UK assets and a travel ban that covers private jets and yachts.

Yachts were not part of the 54-year-old’s early life. He hails from Krasnodar in southern Russia, where he was raised by grandparents after his widowed mother had to move away to find a job. After graduating from Moscow State university with a degree in physics in 1993, he became a metals trader.

Like many oligarchs, Deripaska owes much of his wealth to the tumultuous fall of the Soviet Union. He gained control of vast previously state-owned aluminum assets, which he later consolidated within the Rusal group, in partnership with Roman Abramovich, a fellow sanctions target.

Rusal, now part of Deripaska’s En+ Group, raised $1.5bn with a listing on the London Stock Exchange in 2017. But in 2018 the US included the company and Deripaska himself on a list of sanctioned entities and oligarchs, in response to “worldwide malign activity ”byRussia.

That same year, the Belarusian model and escort Anastasia Vashukevich claimed to possess evidence of Deripaska’s involvement in attempts to interfere in US elections, after spending time on another of his yachts, the Elden.

Anastasia Vashukevich
Anastasia Vashukevich claimed to possess evidence of Deripaska’s involvement in attempts to interfere in US elections. Photograph: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

She was arrested upon her arrival in Moscow after deportation from Thailand.

US sanctions on En+, although not on Deripaska himself, were eventually lifted with the help of the Tory peer Greg Barker, who earned a bonus said to be worth more than £3m for his role in negotiating with the US Treasury. Deripaska agreed to leave the board of En+ and reduce his ownership interest to less than 50% under the agreement. Barker was chair of En+ until he stepped down earlier this week.

Deripaska’s British business interests were helped by learning English at the London School of Economics in the 00s. His wife of him from 2001 to 2018, Polina Yumasheva – the daughter of a senior adviser to the former Russian president Boris Yeltsin – already spoke English well, having been sent to the Somerset public school Millfield as a teenager.

While Deripaska has strong ties to the UK, one person familiar with En+ and Deripaska said his view of the west had been “jaundiced” by its apparent rejection of him and that he had become “increasingly anti-American”.

“He’s fun, intelligent, articulate, he’s got a sense of humour,” they said. “He likes yoga and he’s extremely fit, a very intelligent guy who studied physics at university. But he’s torn between loving the west and on the other hand underneath it all he’s very much a Russian ideologue.”

“I don’t think he’s a particular fan of Putin, but he’s a Russian patriot through and through.”

Deripaska’s yachts have now been at the center of two major political scandals, in the UK and the US. One, the Clio, was sailing up the Suez Canal as of Thursday afternoon. She had previously been identified among five other superyachts moored or sailing near the Maldives, all owned by Russian billionaires.


www.theguardian.com

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