Friday, November 4, 2011

Seven Oligarchs of Russia - Yeltsin Era

1. Boris Berezovsky 
Boris Abramovich Berezovsky (born in Moscow on 23 January 1946) is a Russian businessman, mathematician, member of Russian Academy of Sciences, and a former government official and Deputy in the Duma. He is often described as a Russian oligarch. Although once a supporter of Vladimir Putin, Berezovsky clashed with the new president soon after his election in 2000 and remains a vocal critic. In late 2000, after the Russian Deputy Prosecutor General demanded that Berezovsky appear for questioning, he did not return from abroad and moved to the UK, which granted him political asylum in 2003. In Russia he was later convicted in absentia of economic crimes Russia has repeatedly failed to obtain the extradition of Berezovsky from Britain, which has become a major point of diplomatic tension between the two countries.

Berezovsky made his fortune during Russia's privatisation of state property. He took ownership of the Sibneft oil company and became the principal shareholder in the country's main television channel, ORT. In 1997 Forbes Magazine estimated Berezovsky's wealth at $3 billion.

He was at the height of his power in the later Yeltsin years, when he was deputy secretary of Russia's security council, a friend of Boris Yeltsin's influential daughter Tatyana, and a member of the Yeltsin inner circle, or "family". Berezovsky helped fund Unity – the political party, which formed Vladimir Putin's parliamentary base, and was elected to the Duma on Putin's slate. However, following the Russian presidential election in March 2000, Berezovsky went into opposition and resigned from the Duma. After he moved to Britain, the government took over his television assets, and he divested from other Russian holdings.

Berezovsky's political credo was laid out in a 2000 article in Washington Post, in which he proclaimed the right of "oligarchs" to meddle in the nation's politics arguing that in the absence of civil society it is acceptable – indeed, necessary [for the rich]- to interfere directly in the political process in order to protect democracy. A prominent critic on the global stage was George Soros, who compared Russian oligarchs with the American Robber Barons of late 19th century and blamed them for the failure of reforms in Russia.

From his new home in the UK, where he and associates including Akhmed Zakayev, Alexander Litvinenko and Alex Goldfarb became known as the "the London Circle" of Russian exiles, Berezovsky has publicly stated that he is on a mission to bring down Putin "by force". Berezovsky established the International Foundation for Civil Liberties, which gave grants to human rights groups in Russia and criticized Putin's record in the West.

2. Mikhail Fridman
Mikhail Maratovich Fridman (born 21 April 1964 in Lviv, Ukraine) is a Jewish Russian businessman. He is one of the youngest of Russian oligarchs. In 2011, Forbes assessed his wealth as $15.1 billion, making him the 7th richest man in Russia.

Along with Peter Aven, Fridman founded the Alfa Group Consortium, a holding company which today controls Alfa Bank (opened in 1991), Alfa Capital, Tyumen Oil and several construction material firms (cement, timber, glass) as well as food processing businesses and a supermarket chain. The two are also major holders of tea and sugar plant processors.

Fridman in 2003 sold half of his Alfa group's oil subsidiary Tyumen Oil to BP for $6.15 billion, so far the biggest foreign investment ever in a Russian company.

In 2005, he succeeded Sergei Karaganov as Russian representative on the International Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Since 2005 he has been a member of the Public Chamber of Russia.

He has been an active supporter of Jewish initiatives in Russia and Europe. In 1996 Friedman was one of the founders of the Russian Jewish Congress, now sitting on the RJC Presidium. He makes large contribution to the work of the European Jewish Fund, a non-profit organization aimed at developing European Jewry and promoting tolerance and reconciliation on the continent.

Alfa Group and its telecoms subsidiary Altimo have been the subject of various actions taken by other telecoms operators, concerning disputed stakes in a range of companies.

3. Vladimir Gusinsky
Vladimir Aleksandrovich Gusinsky (born 6 October 1952) is a Russian media baron, is known as the founder of Media-Most holding that included Most Bank, the NTV channel, the newspaper Segodnya and magazines.

After moving abroad in the summer of 2001 he created satellite TV broadcasting company RTVi, which portrays the events in Russia as presented by the TV network Echo's journalists. The related web site carries textual, photographic, and video news from Russia.

On August 23, 2003, Gusinsky travelled from Israel to Athens, where he was arrested under a Greek-Russian treaty for fraud amounting to millions in damages. Intense pressure from American leaders (mainly from US ambassador in Athens Tomas Miller), Israeli officials on the Greek government and especially the European Jewish Congress, led to Gusinsky's release within five days.

According to the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, Gusinsky was a very close friend of U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos.

He holds dual Israeli and Spanish citizenship and often resides in Spain. Gusinsky also had a share of holding in Hapoel Tel Aviv basketball team for a period of three and a half years, acquiring 60% of the team in November 2000.

Gusinsky created NTV, the first independent TV channel in Russia. The emergence of 'NTV+', an offshoot from NTV channel, was a groundbreaking event for Russian media. NTV+ was the first satellite channel ever to broadcast in the former USSR. Gusinsky now owns the RTVi television channel.

Until November 2008, Gusinsky held 27% of prominent Israeli newspaper Maariv shares, which he exchanged with Bank Hapolaim to recover a $28 million debt to the bank.

Gusinsky and fellow Russian businessmen Konstantin Kagalovsky. launched on March 17, 2008 Ukrainian TV station TVi. They split due to a business dispute and Kagalovsky controls and continues to fund TVi on his own.

4. Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky (born 26 June 1963 in Moscow) is a Russian prisoner, considered by some - such as Amnesty International - to have been imprisoned for political reasons, jailed until 2016 and a former Russian oligarchand businessman. In 2004, Khodorkovsky was the wealthiest man in Russia, and was 16th on Forbes list of billionaires, although much of his wealth evaporated because of the collapse in the value of his holding in the Russian petroleum company Yukos.

On 25 October 2003, Khodorkovsky was arrested at Novosibirsk airport by the Russian prosecutor general's office on charges of fraud. Shortly thereafter, on 31 October, the government under Vladimir Putin froze shares of Yukos because of tax charges. The Russian Government took further actions against Yukos, leading to a collapse in the share price. It purported to sell a major asset of Yukos in December 2004.

On 31 May 2005, Khodorkovsky was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to nine years in prison. The sentence was later reduced to 8 years. In 2003, prior to his arrest, Khodorkovsky funded several Russian parties, including Yabloko, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and even, allegedly, the pro-Kremlin United Russia.

In October 2005 he was moved into prison camp number 13 in the city of Krasnokamensk, Zabaykalsky Krai.

In March 2006, Forbes magazine surmised that Khodorkovsky's personal fortune had declined to a fraction of its former level, stating that he "still has somewhere below $500 m."

On 31 March 2009, a new trial of Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev began in Moscow for fresh charges on embezzlement and money laundering. On 27 December 2010, a judge found both men guilty of the charges laid against them in 2009. In October, prosecutors asked for a 14 year sentence but indicated that it should include time already served. This would mean that Khodorkovsky and his partner could remain in jail until 2017; however, Khodorkovsky's defense have vowed to appeal the sentence. Suggesting that the legal process was only 'gloss', a US diplomat has described his trial as 'lipstick on a political pig'.

On 30 December 2010, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment in the second trial. This term includes the sentence from the first trial.

Khodorkovsky appealed his convictions to the European Court of Human Rights. On 31 May 2011 the court ruled that Khodorkovsky failed to prove that his prosecution was politically motivated. The court ruled, however, that Russia committed serious violations of Khodorkovsky's rights during his arrest and pretrial detention.

5. Vladimir Potanin
Vladimir Olegovich Potanin (born January 3, 1961) is a Russian businessman and oligarch. His partner has been for many years Mikhail Prokhorov. He acquired his wealth notably through the controversial loans-for-shares program in Russia.

Potanin was born in Moscow, in the former USSR, into a high-ranking communist family.

In 1978, Potanin attended the faculty of the International economic relations at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), an elite school that groomed students for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Upon graduating MGIMO in 1983, he followed in his father's footsteps and went to work for the FTO "Soyuzpromexport" with the Ministry of Foreign trade of the Soviet Union.

During perestroika, Vladimir Potanin quit the State’s structures of Foreign trade and in 1991 created the private association Interros using his knowledge gathered at Ministry of Foreign trade and his previous professional network.

In 1993, Potanin became President of United Export Import Bank. From August 14, 1996 until March 17, 1997 he worked as First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.

Since August 1998, Potanin hold the positions of President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Interros Company.

Potanin's Interros owns 30% and controls Russian Nickel giant Norilsk Nickel, a company owned by Oleg Deripaska's RUSAL, Abram Reznikov's Alamak Espana Trade and Alisher Usmanov's Metalloinvest.

Since March 2003 Potanin has taken charge of the National Council on Corporate Governance (NSKU), whose main goal is to improve the legislative regulations in Russia and to introduce professional and ethical standards of corporate governance into the operations of Russian companies to boost up the reputation and investment appeal of the Russian business.

Since December 2001 he has been a member of the Board of Trustees of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation (NYC). In April 2003 Potanin was elected Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the State Hermitage, the most renowned Russian art museum. Since 2005 Potanin has been a member of the Public Chamber of Russia.

In January 2007 in Paris Potanin was named an Officer of the prestigious Order of Arts and Literature for his cultural contributions. The French Ministry of Culture and Communications granted the award.

In March 2009, Potanin sued former business partner and Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov $29 million over a property disagreement in Moscow.

6. Alexander Smolensky
Alexander Pavlovich Smolensky (born July 6, 1954) was the founder and president of one of the largest private banks in Russia - Bank Stolichny (later known as SBS/AGRO) which collapsed in the 1998 Russian financial crisis wiping out its investors' savings. When asked what he owed his investors he replied: "dead donkey ears". In 1999, Russian prosecutors issued a warrant for his arrest including charges of embezzlement and money laundering. This warrant was later dropped. He currently controls the newspapers Kommersant and Novaya Gazeta.

Smolensky began his business activities on the black market of the so-called "shadow economy". His private ventures included trading foreign currency, moonlighting on a second job in a bakery with a counterfeit permit as well as typesetting and printing Bibles using government presses and ink. For these activities he was arrested by the KGB in 1981 and charged with economic crimes. Subsequently he was sentenced to two years of hard labor although he only served one day.

Smolensky's net worth in 2003 was 230 million USD. 

7.Vladimir Vinogradov
Vladimir Viktorovich Vinogradov (19 September 1955, Ufa — 29 June 2008, Moscow) was the owner and president of Inkombank, one of the largest banks in 90s' Russia. Considered one of Russia's oligarchs, he was ranked 12th in the list of the top 20 richest Russians in 1996. His bank underwent bankruptcy following the 1998 Russian financial crisis.

Vladimir Viktorovich Vinogradov was born in 1955 in Ufa, Bashkiria. He lost his father when he was a child, and grew up in modest circumstances. He graduated from the Moscow Aviation Institute with a degree in mechanical engineering. From 1979 until 1985 he worked at the Atommash factory in Volgodonsk as a construction engineer. He took a leading role in the Komsomol, the Communist Youth organisation, and was given the opportunity to continue his studies at the Plekhanov Russian Academy of Economics, becoming the Soviet industrial bank Promstroibank’s chief economist in 1988.

In October 1988, he founded one of Russia's first wholly private commercial bank, Inkombank, also called the Moscow Innovative Commercial Bank, which eventually became Russia’s largest private bank. Vinogradov joined Boris Yeltsin’s business advisory council, being one of the so called “seven bankers”, the financial groupe around Yeltsin. In 1997 he was the vice president of the Association of Russian Bankers.

In April 1992 Vinogradov declared his support for Moscow's Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and the city government, defending them from accusations of corruption. The declaration was endorsed by other figures on the financial scene, including Vladimir Gusinsky, Leonid Nevzlin and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who formed an influential economic group known as PPI, which Vinogradov led from 1993. Although one of Yeltsin’s supporters in the years after the October 1993 crisis and an adviser to the Economics Ministry, Vinogradov critisised the government in 1995 of following too rigid an economic policy and said that the conflict in Chechnya was damaging the economy.

In May 1996 Inkombank, with reportedly $4 billion in assets, raised $20 million in Russia's first unsecured syndicated loan from Western banks. In November 1996 Vinogradov won a libel suit against the newspaper Kommersant and Russian TV controlled by Boris Berezovsky, who had spread rumors that Inkombank couldn't pay its interbank borrowings, and that a Central Bank inspection report implied that the bank was near collapse, a claim denied by the Central Bank. In December 1996 Vinogradov established the first American depositary receipt for a Russian bank in the US stock market, being one of the few Russian banks that adhered to US accounting standards. In February 1997 he reportedly predicted that 1,000 banks in Russia, about half the total, were going to disappear within the next five years, most of them going bankrupt.

According to CBS Money Watch, Vinogradov had a reputation for openness and fair dealing as well as for making impulsive and politically unwise statements. He had some important international connections, such as London's Rothschild Bank, and US consulting firm McKinsey, which had devised a business plan for him. Inkombank also had an industrial portfolio that included a minority stake in jet-fighter maker Sukhoi and control of aluminum fabricator Samara Metallurgical. In 1995 Vinogradov acquired the Babayev chocolate factory, in Russia's first hostile stock market takeover, a deal praised for its transparency and fairness: Even after he had gained 50 per cent of the shares, he offered the same terms to minority shareholders. On the other hand, Inkombank was accused of having been infiltrated by Russian organized crime figures tied to Semion Mogilevich in 1994.

In May 1998 Chase Manhattan Corp. arranged its first commercial paper program for a Russian bank with a $50 million program for Inkombank, reported to have $5.1 billion of assets. In summer 1998, during the Russian financial crisis, when the government defaulted, the bank suffered huge losses, and was granted $100 million in credit by the Russian Central Bank, but only survived temporarily. Vinogradov resigned, and two days later, on 29 October 1998, the Russian Central Bank revoked the bank's licence, explaining that “Inkombank had taken excessive risks ahead of the August 17 devaluation and that its obligations had shrunk its asset base.” The bank was declared bankrupt on 1 February 2000. There were accusations that the management had illegally transferred funds from the bank to subsidiaries outside of Russia.

Vinogradov had two daughters and one son with his wife Liudmila. He died of a stroke after a long illness in Moscow on June 29, 2008, aged 52.


Alex Konanykhin
Alex Konanykhin (b. Alexandre Pavlovich Konanykhine, Ostashkov, Russia, September 25, 1966) is a Russian entrepreneur, former banker, former oligarch and past member of Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s inner circle. In 1999, Konanykhin and Gratcheva were granted political asylum in the United States, the first citizens of post-Soviet Russia to be given this status. His asylum was later reversed in 2004, but reinstated in 2007.

Konanykhin studied at the Department of Space at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology to pursue a career in rocket science. In 1986, he was expelled from MIPT for running a small business during his summer vacation.After his expulsion, he took advantage of the loosening business climate during Mikhail Gorbachev’s economic reforms (perestroika). Within a few years, he became the head of a $30 Million construction enterprise.

In 1989, he financed Boris Yeltsin's bid for a position on the Russian Supreme Soviet. Konanykhin was later rewarded by Yeltsin for his support with the former state residence of Mikhail Gorbachev and a private security detail.

By the early 1990’s in Russia, Konanykhin amassed a $300 million banking and real estate empire. After a conflict with REB shareholders, he was removed from his post as president of the council. He fled Russia and settled in the United States.

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