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How a Russian billionaire used his spouse to guard his wealth: Report | World News

Russian businessman Andrey Melnichenko ceded possession of two of the world’s largest coal and fertilizers firms to his spouse the day earlier than he was sanctioned by the European Union, in keeping with three folks aware of the matter.

Melnichenko, who constructed his fortune within the years following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, gave up his stakes within the coal producer SUEK AO and fertilizer group EuroChem Group AG on March 8, the day of his fiftieth birthday, leaving his spouse, Aleksandra Melnichenko, the useful possession of the businesses, the folks stated.

Till March 8, Melnichenko owned the 2 firms by means of a sequence of trusts and companies stretching from Moscow and the Swiss city of Zug to Cyprus and Bermuda, in keeping with authorized filings reviewed by Reuters.

Since 2006, Melnichenko’s spouse was second in line behind her husband on the record of useful homeowners of the 2 firms in belief paperwork, in keeping with the three folks, who spoke on situation of anonymity as a result of they don’t seem to be allowed to talk publicly in regards to the couple’s belongings. That meant that she stood to inherit possession of the businesses within the occasion her husband died, the folks stated.

When the warfare in Ukraine started in February, nevertheless, Melnichenko grew involved that he can be designated below the European Union’s Russia sanctions regime, the folks aware of the matter stated. On March 8, Melnichenko notified trustees of his retirement because the beneficiary, the folks stated. That triggered the identical chain of adjustments in belief information that might have occurred if the businessman had handed away, and made his spouse the beneficiary.

Reuters was unable to achieve Melnichenko and his spouse for remark.

A spokesman for Russia-based SUEK did not reply to messages looking for remark. Switzerland-based EuroChem confirmed that Aleksandra Melnichenko had changed her husband as useful proprietor.

“Following the departure of its founder, the first useful possession of a belief holding a 90% stake within the world fertilizer firm has robotically handed to his spouse,” the corporate stated in an announcement to Reuters on Wednesday.

The position of Melnichenko’s spouse at EuroChem was first reported by Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger. Her position at SUEK in addition to the timing of possession adjustments and different particulars are reported right here for the primary time.

Melnichenko, who based SUEK and EuroChem 20 years in the past, was ranked as Russia’s eighth richest man final yr by Forbes, with an estimated fortune of $18 billion.

The European Union sanctioned Melnichenko, citing his alleged proximity to the Kremlin, on March 9 as a part of a Western try to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine. The sanctions – which embody freezing his belongings, banning him from getting into the European Union and prohibiting EU entities from offering funds to him – don’t apply to his spouse nor the couple’s daughter and son.

Britain additionally put Melnichenko, who’s Russian however was born in Belarus and has a Ukrainian mom, on its sanction record on March 15. Switzerland imposed sanctions in opposition to him the next day.

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The businessman stated in an announcement to Reuters in March, after the EU sanctions had been imposed, that the warfare in Ukraine was “actually tragic” and he appealed for peace. A spokesman for Melnichenko stated at the moment he had “no political affiliations”.

Western governments have imposed sweeping sanctions in opposition to Russian firms and people in an effort to pressure Moscow to withdraw.

However some sanctioned Russian businessmen, together with Roman Abramovich and Vladimir Yevtushenkov, have transferred belongings to family and friends members, fuelling doubts over the effectiveness of those makes an attempt to strain Moscow.

Melnichenko, whose residence was registered within the Swiss alpine resort city of St. Moritz till he was hit by sanctions, gave his directions to alter the possession of his firms from a retreat close to Mount Kilimanjaro the place he was celebrating his birthday, in keeping with an individual aware of the matter. A Boeing 737 emblazoned with the billionaire’s signature “A” on the fuselage had landed in Tanzania on March 5, arriving from Dubai, in keeping with flight-tracking service Flightradar24.

A lawyer for Melnichenko did not reply to questions in regards to the Kilimanjaro journey.

Melnichenko’s switch of possession at SUEK and EuroChem had far-reaching implications.

After opinions lasting a number of weeks, Swiss monetary authorities concluded that the 2 firms might proceed working usually on the grounds that Melnichenko was now not concerned with them. SUEK and EuroChem stated that British and German monetary regulators have reached related conclusions.

The British and German regulators did not reply to requests looking for remark.

Upon completion of the opinions in late April, SUEK and EuroChem – which had revenues final yr of $9.7 billion and $10.2 billion respectively – had been in a position to resume distribution of thousands and thousands of {dollars} in curiosity funds to bondholders.

In current weeks, SUEK and EuroChem have additionally approached Western shoppers, exhibiting them paperwork with the brand new possession construction in a bid to reassure them that they’ll proceed doing enterprise with Mr. Melnichenko’s former firms, two folks aware of the matter stated.

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In Switzerland, the Secretariat for Financial Affairs (SECO) stated neither SUEK nor EuroChem had been below sanctions within the nation.

SECO stated that, so far as it was conscious, Melnichenko was now not a beneficiary of the belief to which EuroChem belonged on the time of his sanction by the EU and Switzerland.

SECO additionally stated it sought affirmation from Eurochem that it will now not present funds to Melnichenko.

“The corporate and its administration have assured in writing to SECO that the Swiss sanction measures shall be totally complied with and specifically that no funds or financial sources shall be made accessible to sanctioned individuals,” SECO stated in response to a question.

Swiss authorities have defended their resolution to not lengthen sanctions to Melnichenko’s spouse or to his former firms, pointing to the truth that EU authorities had not sanctioned them both.

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“On this case, we now have executed precisely what the EU has executed,” Switzerland’s Economic system Minister Man Parmelin instructed Swiss tv on Wednesday.

Parmelin added that Switzerland was additionally cautious that sanctioning EuroChem at a time when fertilizer costs have soared in most components of the world might have dire penalties on agriculture markets. EuroChem stated it produced greater than 19 million metric tons of fertilizer final yr – roughly equal to 10% of the world’s output, in keeping with U.N. knowledge.

The European Fee, the EU’s government arm, stated it had no details about the switch of Melnichenko’s belongings to his spouse. The fee has stated it’s keen to shut loopholes permitting people and firms to elude its sanctions. Earlier this week, it unveiled proposals geared toward criminalising strikes to bypass sanctions, together with by transferring belongings to relations, throughout the 27-nation bloc.

Beneath the belief construction, management over SUEK and EuroChem is exercised by impartial trustees whereas useful possession, which was within the palms of Melnichenko till March 8, has moved to his spouse.

A mathematician who as soon as dreamt of changing into a physicist, Melnichenko dropped out of college to dive into the chaotic – and typically lethal – world of post-Soviet enterprise.

He based MDM Financial institution however within the Nineties was nonetheless too minor to participate within the privatizations below President Boris Yeltsin that handed the choicest belongings of a former superpower to a gaggle of businessmen who would turn into generally known as the oligarchs because of their political and financial clout.

Melnichenko then started shopping for up typically distressed coal and fertilizer belongings, making him considered one of Europe’s richest males.

The EU stated, when it introduced its sanctions, that Melnichenko “belongs to probably the most influential circle of Russian enterprise folks with shut connections to the Russian authorities”.

Melnichenko was amongst dozens of enterprise leaders who met with Putin on the day Russia invaded Ukraine to debate the affect of sanctions, exhibiting his shut ties to the Kremlin, the EU stated in its March 9 sanction order.

On the time, a spokesman for Melnichenko denied that the businessman belonged to Putin’s interior circle and stated he would dispute the sanctions in courtroom. On Might 17, Melnichenko challenged the sanctions by lodging an enchantment with the EU’s Basic Courtroom, which handles complaints in opposition to European establishments, courtroom information present.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “particular operation” to disarm Ukraine and shield it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the warfare is an unprovoked act of aggression.

Italy seized Melnichenko’s superyacht – the 470-foot Crusing Yacht A, which has a price ticket of 530 million euros – on March 12, three days after he was positioned on an EU sanctions record.

SUEK and EuroChem stated on March 10, a day after the EU introduced sanctions in opposition to Melnichenko and 159 different people tied to Russia, that their founder had resigned from his board positions on the firms.

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