The A-Z of Oligarchs
by Der Stürmer
Published by the Independent On-Line, May 26, 2006
Just 15 years ago, there wasn’t a single millionaire in Russia. Now it’s home to a breed of wheeling-dealing tycoons who measure their wealth in billions – and know how to flaunt it. But who are they? How have they built up such unimaginable fortunes in so little time? And can the world’s luxury yacht-makers keep up with demand? From Abramovich to Zingarevich, Andrew Osborn lifts the gold-plated lid on the masters of the post-Soviet universe
A IS FOR ABRAMOVICH
The undisputed oligarch of oligarchs. With an estimated £9.8bn to his name, Roman Abramovich, the 39-year-old owner of Chelsea Football Club, is Russia’s richest citizen. He spends much of his time in London, where he owns a town house in Belgravia, a flat in Knightsbridge and a country estate in Sussex. The reclusive billionaire is married with five children and visits Russia several times a year to perform his duties as one of its regional governors. Though Abramovich is said to be on good terms with President Vladimir Putin, many ordinary Russians resent the fact that he spends so much of his money and time in the UK. He made his billions in the anarchic 1990s, when much of Russia’s industry was sold off to a canny few for a fraction of its real value. In his case, he managed to get his hands on major oil and aluminium interests. Last year he sold the crown jewel in his empire – the Sibneft oil company – to the Kremlin-controlled Gazprom for £7bn, the biggest transaction in Russian corporate history. He owns three superyachts and a private jet.
B IS FOR BEREZOVSKY
One of the Russian oligarchy’s most colourful and political characters. With an estimated £540m in his back pocket, 60-year-old Boris Berezovsky is a former maths professor who used his powers of logic to get rich. Afraid of being jailed by the Kremlin, Berezovsky won political sanctuary in the UK, where he now lives and is officially known as Platon Elenin by the Home Office. The Russian government regards him as a criminal and has unsuccessfully tried to have him extradited on fraud charges. Berezovsky insists the charges are false and politically motivated. A fierce critic of Vladimir Putin, he has dedicated himself to toppling the Russian President, financing anti-Kremlin activity (including Ukraine’s Orange Revolution) across the former USSR. Berezovsky made his money in the 1990s by capitalising on his close contacts with the entourage of then President Boris Yeltsin. His connections saw him acquire lucrative stakes in the Russian oil, car and media industries, many of which he has since sold at enormous profit. Forbes estimates he is Russia’s 43rd-richest individual, and that most of his money is tied up in investment funds. He lives with his fourth wife in a palatial Surrey mansion and has six children from different marriages.
C IS FOR CHIGIRINSKY
Fifty-six-year-old Shalva Chigirinsky is one of the movers and shakers responsible for Moscow’s dramatic metamorphosis from drab Soviet-era city into a cutting-edge metropolis. Worth an estimated £525m, he is one of the Russian capital’s most successful property developers, and his firm ST Development has exclusive rights to redevelop some of the country’s most prestigious sites – a task for which he has signed up British architect Sir Norman Foster. Chigirinsky has commissioned Foster to play a leading role in the resurrection of the city’s oldest and most central district, adjacent to the Kremlin, where the hulking Soviet-era Rossiya Hotel currently stands. The oligarch is also paying Foster to design what will be Europe’s tallest tower, to redevelop an entire island district in St Petersburg, and to create a huge entertainment complex in southern Moscow. According to Forbes, he is Russia’s 47th-wealthiest individual and is married with two children. Some of his wealth comes from a London-listed oil company called Sibir Energy. Chigirinsky makes no secret of his dislike for Roman Abramovich, whom he accuses of having stolen half an oilfield belonging to Sibir. Abramovich denies the accusation.
D IS FOR DERIPASKA
Oleg Deripaska is the king of Russia’s aluminium industry, a man whose name strikes fear into many of his competitors. With a fortune estimated at £4.8bn, he also has interests in the timber and car industries. Aged 38, Forbes says the success of the company he controls, Basic Element, makes him the country’s sixth-richest individual. His competitors allege that he uses strong-arm tactics in hostile takeovers and is not easily dissuaded from backing down. In 2001 he married Polina Yumasheva, former President Boris Yeltsin’s granddaughter, and has long enjoyed close relations with Russia’s political élite. He and his wife have two children and a Grade-I listed Regency house in Belgravia that they are thought to have purchased for £25m. Deripaska spends a lot of time in Britain, where he has taken English lessons at the London School of Economics. He counts Roman Abramovich, a former business partner, among his friends, and has been known to turn up at Stamford Bridge on a Saturday to watch Chelsea play. He began his career in 1993 as a commodities trader.
E IS FOR EVTUSHENKOV
Vladimir Evtushenkov, 57, may not be a household name in the UK, but the Bill Gates lookalike should be. With an estimated £4.1bn to his name, Forbes says he is Russia’s eighth-richest man. The source of his wealth is the sprawling telecoms-to-real-estate conglomerate that he controls called Sistema, which he helped set up in 1993. The company floated on the London Stock Exchange last year with a value of £4.3bn. Sistema includes some of the juiciest assets that once belonged to the state in Moscow – the Russian capital’s fixed-line telephone network, its principal mobile phone operator MTS (which is now Eastern Europe’s biggest), the iconic Children’s World department store, thousands of square feet of prime office space and a big insurance company. Sistema also makes microchips and has a foothold in the biotech industry. Married with two children, Evtushenkov is regarded as one of the most erudite oligarchs, and has a doctorate in economics. Like mostoligarchs, he owns a private jet.
F IS FOR FRIDMAN
In his youth, Mikhail Fridman used to be a ticket tout. Now he is worth an estimated £5.6bn, and is Russia’s fourth-richest man. His success is based on the banking-to-telecoms consortium Alfa Group. He founded it and is today one of the company’s majority shareholders. He has come a long way since his student days in Moscow, when he made extra cash by selling theatre tickets and organising discos. His often-grinning face belies a tough business outlook, which he summed up in a TV interview in 2002. “Nobody is anyone’s friend,” he said. “Because to one degree or another we are all competitors.” The 42-year-old businessman is married with two children and is currently being sued for slander in a London court by Boris Berezovsky. Fridman has traditionally enjoyed good relations with the Kremlin but suffered a setback earlier this year when his sprawling dacha (country house) was seized by the Russian government. A court said the dacha, formerly state property, had been illegally privatised and ruled that Fridman had to return it. The Alfa group has significant stakes in Russo-Anglo oil joint-venture TNK-BP, a large supermarket chain, and a number of mobile operators.
G IS FOR GUSINSKY
Vladimir Gusinsky, 53, used to be one of Russia’s most powerful media magnates, but he lost almost everything and is now more minigarch than oligarch. Like several others on this list, his story shows how dependant oligarchs are on the Kremlin’s goodwill. Gusinsky flourished under President Boris Yeltsin but saw his empire collapse when Vladimir Putin came to power. In the 1990s the flamboyant former theatre director appeared to have the Midas touch, founding Media Most, a company that included newspaper Segodnya, independent TV station NTV, and a banking and property empire. But NTV became a thorn in the Kremlin’s side with its highly critical coverage of the war in Chechnya. In 2000 Gusinsky was accused of embezzlement and money laundering and was forced into exile. He denies wrongdoing to this day but resides in Israel. His fortune is estimated to have dwindled to £187m, a figure not high enough for him to make it into Russia’s “Golden 100”. He is married with three children.
H IS FOR KHAN
(Since there is no H in the Cyrillic alphabet.) Forty-four-year-old German Khan is estimated to have £3.6bn to his name, which makes him Russia’s 12th-richest individual. Yet little is known about him and he is regarded as one of the most reclusive, low-profile oligarchs. A close friend and business partner of fellow oligarchs Mikhail Fridman and Viktor Vekselberg, with whom he holidays every year, he owns a major stake in telecoms and banking consortium Alfa Group. But his speciality is oil, and he is on the management board of Anglo-Russian oil joint venture TNK-BP, in which Alfa owns a 25 percent stake. Like Fridman, he was born in the 1960s in what was then Soviet Ukraine. In the 1980s he met Fridman and several other future oligarchs while studying at Moscow’s Institute of Steel and Alloys, a twist of serendipity that was to make his fortune. He is married with two children.
I IS FOR IVANISHVILI
Boris Ivanishvili used to be known as “the man who nobody knew anything about”, despite being worth an estimated £2.5bn. Like many oligarchs, he shied away from publicity and until 2005 there was only one photograph of him in the public domain. Today, more is known about Russia’s 19th-richest individual, who is in fact of Georgian origin. Aged 50, and married with three children, the source of his wealth is metals and banking. Forbes’ description of the secret of his success could apply to dozens of other oligarchs. “He bought firms that nobody needed for tens of millions of dollars and sold them for billions of dollars.” He got his start in the 1980s selling computers, moved on to importing what was then a novelty in Russia, push-button phones, before moving into banking. As he grew more successful he bought run-down mines around the country that he was later to sell for big profits. He has now largely sold up and his money is in investment funds. He lives in a huge house cut out of a hillside in his native Georgia.
J IS FOR JORDAN & JENNINGS
Boris Jordan and Stephen Jennings are Russia’s honorary oligarchs. They do not possess Russian passports but they helped the bona fide oligarchs accumulate their wealth in the anarchic post-Soviet 1990s, managing to make some serious money themselves along the way. In 1992 the two men were brought in by the Kremlin to organise the country’s first privatisation auction, that of the Bolshevik Biscuit Factory in Moscow. Jordan is an American investment banker of Russian origin, Jennings a rugby-loving New Zealander. When the duo realised how cheaply Russia was going to sell off its crown jewels, Jordan, now 39, and Jennings, now 46, decided they wanted a slice of the action. The two made a fortune as stockbrokers in the Russian market, setting up investment bank Renaissance Capital in 1995. According to Forbes, both men would qualify for Russia’s rich list were it not for the colour of their passports. Renaissance Capital, which Jennings now heads, is estimated to be worth around £800m, while Jordan is managing some £300m worth of investments through his Sputnik Investment Fund.
K IS FOR KHODORKOVSKY
Once Russia’s richest man and its most powerful oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, 42, is now the country’s most famous inmate. He was jailed for fraud and tax evasion last year. His supporters contend that he was imprisoned because of his growing interest in politics, and his opposition to President Putin. The Kremlin claims that he was a latter-day Al Capone who was involved in organised crime who had to be stopped.
When Forbes published its first Russian rich list in 2004, Khodorkovsky headed it with an estimated £8bn fortune, ahead of Roman Abramovich. That figure is now estimated to have dwindled to several hundred million pounds, and he does not feature on this year’s rich list since he has been all but stripped of his assets.
Married (second time round) with four children, the original source of his wealth was oil, via the Yukos company that he built up during the 1990s. He is serving his eight-year prison sentence 3,100 miles east of Moscow in the remote Siberian penal colony of Yag 14/10, where his current existence bears little resemblance to the life he knew outside of prison. Khodorkovsky was recently attacked by a fellow inmate with a cobbler’s knife.
L IS FOR LISIN
Vladimir Lisin, 50, used to work in a coal mine in Siberia. Now he is worth an estimated £6bn, heads one of Russia’s largest steel-makers, enjoys shooting clay pigeons and chomping on Cohiba cigars, and is the country’s third-wealthiest individual. Lisin sold a seven per cent stake in his steel giant Novolipetsk to investors on the London Stock Exchange last year. The sale raised over £325m, and he still has an 83 per cent stake in the world’s fourth-largest steel-maker to fall back on. Married with three children, he has never dabbled in politics though he does pour some money into daily newspaper Gazeta. He worked his way up through the metals industry from the shop floor. In 1993 he became involved with Novolipetsk and steadily made it his own. While others were buying luxury cars or villas in France, he thought “it was time to buy up shares” in the metals sector, he told Kompaniya magazine. He keeps a low profile, but last year he was reported to have bought a sprawling Scottish hunting estate.
M IS FOR MORDASHOV
Nicknamed “the tank” because of his bear-like stature, Aleksei Mordashov is estimated to be worth £4.5bn. He is Russia’s seventh-richest man according to Forbes and a traditional oligarch in so far as he is a steel magnate. He owns a large stake in steel giant Severstal, which was privatised in 1993. Like so many of the oligarchs, the 40-year-old Mordashov was in the right place at the right time. He was finance director of the Cherepovets steel mill north of Moscow and was asked by the elderly general director to buy up the company’s shares to prevent them falling into the hands of an outsider. Mordashov snapped up a lot of the shares on the cheap for himself. In 1996 he became the firm’s general director and later turned it into a powerful conglomerate, buying a car-maker, coal mines, railway companies and port facilities. Unusually for an oligarch, he has lamented the huge gulf between Russia’s rich and poor. Married with three children, he is regarded as a Kremlin loyalist and as a staunch Vladimir Putin supporter.
N IS FOR NEVZLIN
Leonid Nevzlin, 46, must be one of the few billionaires who is also wanted for murder. Like his friend and long-time business associate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, he has incurred the Kremlin’s wrath and now lives in Israel. He contends that the fraud and murder charges against him are fabricated, and is doing all he can to avoid extradition back to his homeland.
In 2004, the last time he appeared on Forbes’ Russian rich list, he was estimated to be worth around £1bn. That figure is thought to be much lower today. Like Khodorkovsky, a large proportion of his wealth was tied up in the oil company Yukos, much of which has since been seized by the Kremlin.
Nevzlin is married with two children and began his ascent into the ranks of the super-rich one day in 1987 when he answered a job ad. He became a computer programmer working with Khodorkovsky and remained the famous oligarch’s right-hand man until 2001. He helped to organise and fund the successful re-election campaign of Boris Yeltsin in 1996. Like Khodorkovsky, he has a penchant for dabbling in politics and is a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin.
O IS FOR OIF
Of all the oligarchs, Valery Oif, a close associate and friend of Roman Abramovich’s, is the most mysterious. According to Forbes, he is worth around £500m, making him Russia’s 52nd-wealthiest individual. Yet there is precious little information on him, apart from the fact that he is 42 years old and married with one son. This is all the more surprising given that he is a senator representing a Siberian constituency in Russia’s Federation Council. By all accounts when he gets publicity he hates it – when his name was published on Forbes’ first Russian rich list in 2004 he was reportedly “furious”. The source of his wealth is oil – he had a senior management position and minority stake in Sibneft. Oif is a Muscovite and was friendly with Abramovich as a student when the two travelled round Russia with other friends. He was among those who set up a company with Abramovich making plastic toys, and he appears to have been one of his most important lieutenants ever since.
P IS FOR POTANIN
In the dying days of the USSR, Vladimir Potanin had just over £5,000 in his pocket, but he had a vision. Fifteen years later he is worth an estimated £4bn, and is ranked by Forbes as Russia’s ninth-richest individual. The company he manages, Norilsk Nickel, is the world’s largest producer of palladium and platinum. Potanin won control of Norilsk in the 1990s from the mine’s Communist-era directors. It was he who in 1995 devised a controversial scheme whereby the government sold off state enterprises on the cheap in return for loans. Potanin has always been an insider. His father was a senior trade official in the USSR and he himself graduated from Moscow’s élite Institute for International Relations. In 1996 he became the country’s First Deputy Prime Minister under Yeltsin, the highest office ever held by an oligarch. He is 45, married with three children, and lives in an exclusive Moscow apartment complex with its own ski run. He is now building his own ski resort in southern Russia.
Q IS FOR KLEBNIKOV
There is no Q in the Cyrillic alphabet, but Paul Klebnikov’s name will forever be associated with the oligarchs whose wealth he brought to global attention. Klebnikov, an American of Russian origin, was the editor of the Russian edition of Forbes, and it was he who in May 2004 published the country’s first authoritative rich list telling the world exactly how wealthy Russia’s super rich were, and what they spent their money on. Less than two months after the list hit the newsstands, Klebnikov was shot dead in a drive-by contract killing. He was 41 and married with three children. His killers have never been found, though the Russian authorities have tried to prove – so far unsuccessfully – that he was murdered by two Chechens acting on behalf of a Chechen warlord he had offended. Others believe that he may have been killed because of his exposure of the famously secretive oligarchs. When first released, the Forbes list caused anger among Russia’s super-wealthy, who were worried the tax authorities and kidnappers would use it to target them.
R IS FOR RASHNIKOV
In 1967 Viktor Rashnikov was a humble fitter in a workshop in one of the Soviet Union’s biggest steel plants. Nearly 40 years later, he chairs the company’s board and has an estimated personal fortune of £2.9bn, making him Russia’s 16th-wealthiest individual. The 57-year-old Rashnikov and a group of like-minded managers are thought to control 99 per cent of the shares in the iron and steel works in Magnitogorsk, Siberia. The mill is Russia’s largest steel producer and one of the most glittering jewels in the country’s industrial crown. The plant achieved legendary status during the Second World War when it churned out half of all Soviet tanks and ammunition. Little is known about Rashnikov except that he was born and bred in Magnitogorsk and still lives there. He enjoys the support of President Vladimir Putin, loves ice hockey, and is married with two children. He worked his way up from the workshop floor to become the plant’s general director in 1997. Since then he has resisted hostile takeovers and blackmail to become one of the country’s wealthier oligarchs.
S IS FOR SMOLENSKY
Nikolai Smolensky is the controversial 25-year-old known as “baby oligarch”. In 2004 he bought iconic British sports car maker TVR for an estimated £15m, only to announce the plant’s closure two years later with big job losses. Aleksander Smolensky, his father, is an oligarch of classic 1990s vintage who is no less controversial. The bank he once controlled – SBS-Agro – collapsed during Russia’s financial crisis in 1998, leaving thousands of ordinary Russians without their life savings. Smolensky Sr last appeared on Forbes’ rich list in 2004 when he was estimated to be worth £123m. The 51-year-old is married, and Nikolai is his only child. While many ordinary Russians were ruined by the 1998 crash, Aleksander Smolensky somehow bounced back and created a new bank that his son briefly chaired before it was sold on to another prominent oligarch for £110m. Smolensky Jr is an alumnus of British private schools and divides his time between his native Moscow and his adopted London. He is estimated to be worth about £50m.
T IS FOR TARIKO
Rustam Tariko is a vodka oligarch with a taste for fine art and an eye for beautiful women. The 44-year-old is thought to be worth just over £1bn, making him Russia’s 31st-richest individual. The source of his wealth is Russian Standard – a vodka-to-banking empire that has rapidly become one of Russia’s most successful companies. Tariko hit the headlines in early May when he was outed as the New York buyer of Pablo Picasso’s Dora Maar with Cat. He paid almost £51m for the canvas. He was in London for the Russian Economic Forum earlier this year when he spoke on the theme of luxury as a Russian national idea. He should know. His dog, Dow Jones, wears a Louis Vuitton collar, goes on holiday with him to Sardinia, and has its own “nanny”. Tariko is a bachelor, though he has two children from a previous relationship. He is an outgoing oligarch who can sometimes be spotted in some of Moscow’s more prestigious bars, where he loves to people-watch. His company’s name is taken from the first four letters of his forename – RUssian STandard.
U IS FOR USMANOV
Alisher Usmanov is known in business circles as “the hard man of Russia”. Worth around £1.7bn, Usmanov has built up a metals and mining empire that has made him Russia’s 25th-wealthiest man. In 2004 he bought into struggling Anglo-Dutch steel-maker Corus and waged an aggressive campaign to win a seat on the board, although he eventually backed off and sold his shares. He controls his affairs through a holding company called Metalloinvest and has admitted that his shares are his first love. The 52-year-old is married with two children.
V IS FOR VEKSELBERG
No matter how much wealth he accumulates, oil and metals magnate Viktor Vekselberg seems destined to always be known as “the bloke who bought those Fabergé eggs”. In 2004 this most patriotic of oligarchs spent an estimated £50m to acquire the second-largest collection of Russian Fabergé Easter eggs in the world. His stated aim was altruistic – he wanted to bring them back to the motherland so that ordinary Russians could admire their own cultural legacy. With an estimated £5.4bn to his name, Vekselberg is Russia’s fifth-richest individual. He was born in Ukraine and has a reputation for steering well clear of Kremlin politics. He started out in 1988 trading computers, before going into business with a former classmate who had emigrated to the US. In 1994 he led Russia’s first hostile takeover, but oil is the main source of his fabulous wealth. He is a major shareholder in Anglo-Russian joint venture TNK-BP. He is famed for his relatively modest lifestyle, though he does, of course, own a private jet. He is married with two children.
W IS FOR WOMAN
Elena Baturina is the only female oligarch to have ever made it onto Forbes’ Top 100 list, the quintessential badge of oligarchy. It is a status the 43-year-old has achieved with a little help from her powerful husband Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow. According to Forbes, the blonde-bobbed Baturina is worth £1.3bn, making her Russia’s richest woman and the country’s 29th-wealthiest individual. The source of her fortune is a monolithic Moscow construction company called Inteko, which she owns. Her detractors allege that she has been able to cash in on Moscow’s construction boom thanks to the patronage of her husband. The Moscow city government allots plots for construction, and Luzhkov has been the city mayor for the last 14 years. The powerful couple have two children.
X IS FOR ALEKPEROV
Oil tycoon Vagit Alekperov’s surname does not begin with X, but as Russia’s second-richest man he certainly has the X-factor. Forbes estimates he is worth £6.8bn, a fortune he has amassed by building up a huge stake in Russia’s largest oil firm, LUKoil. His subordinates call him “The General” due to the enormous power he wields as LUKoil’s president. The 55-year-old comes from oil-rich Azerbaijan, where his father worked in the Soviet oil industry and where he, too, cut his teeth. In the dying days of the USSR, Alekperov had the good fortune to be appointed First Deputy Minister of Fuel and Energy in Moscow. It was a position he used to lobby for the merger of three major Russian oil producers. That firm became LUKoil and he assumed its presidency. He is married with a son to whom he hopes to bequeath a large number of LUKoil shares.
Y IS FOR YAKOVLEV
The boss of the Russian Dixons and an oligarch who actually appears to have built up a business rather than “inherited” it, Igor Yakovlev is the owner of Russia’s largest electronics retailer, Eldorado. The 40-year-old has made a fortune tapping into Russians’ apparently unquenchable thirst for consumer durables. According to Forbes, Yakovlev is worth almost £520m and is Russia’s 48th-wealthiest individual. He founded the business with his brother Oleg in 1994 and has created an empire encompassing 848 stores and twenty per cent of the electronics retail market. By the end of this year, Eldorado expects to have 1,000 stores in 600 Russian towns, as well as 85 stores in neighbouring Ukraine. Yakovlev’s success has caught the attention of UK-based retailer Dixons, which last year took out an option to buy him out by 2011 for around £1bn. He is divorced with one son. His brother, Oleg, is apparently worth £176m, according to Forbes. He has founded a chain of hypermarkets selling goods for children called Banana-Mama, and a network of opticians.
Z IS FOR ZINGAREVICH
In the 1980s, Boris and Mikhail Zingarevich were poorly paid mechanics in bureaucracy-ridden Soviet-era pulp and paper mills. Today they have at least £352m (according to Forbes’ 2004 estimate) between them and sit on the board of Russia’s biggest forestry enterprise, the St Petersburg-based Ilim Pulp.
Like the Barclay brothers in the UK, they are intensely private. They are both 46 but it is not known whether they are twins or were merely born in the same year, or even whether they are married or have children. All that is known is that business-wise, Boris has been the more active. The duo founded Ilim Pulp in 1992 with one other partner after working their way up through the hierarchy of various pulp mills. Today Ilim is one of the world’s biggest timber firms, and the brothers comprise half of the company’s board. Other oligarchs have tried unsuccessfully to wrest control of the enterprise from them. In recent years the Zingarevich brothers have delegated day-to-day management to others so as to better enjoy the fruits of their success.