Russia investment fund hides names of Western advisers as US considers new rounds of sanctions

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WASHINGTON – A $10 billion investment fund backed by the Russian government that has avoided being targeted by U.S. economic sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine redesigned its website Tuesday and made it more difficult to find names of prominent U.S. and European executives on its international advisory board.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund had touted the names and biographical profiles of three prominent American businessmen and other executives on its website, which The Associated Press cited in a story last week about the fund and its operations. Web links to information about the fund’s advisers have since been removed.

Last week, the name of one fund adviser, Kurt Bjorkland, a leader of European investment firm Permira, was quietly removed from the RDIF website after he had left the board. Asked Tuesday if other advisers had left the board, fund spokeswoman Maria Medvedeva told the AP that had been no other changes.

The Russian fund was created under President Vladimir Putin to raise capital for investments aiding the country’s industries and other commercial projects. It has so far avoided growing U.S. financial sanctions tied to the Ukraine conflict, even though a sanctioned Russian bank funds it and a sanctioned Putin aide serves on its supervisory board.

The fund’s separate international advisory board includes Stephen Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group LP, Leon Black of Apollo Global Management LLC and David Bonderman of TPG Capital LP. Representatives of all three businessmen have declined to discuss their involvement with the fund.

Medvedeva said the international advisory board group meets once annually “to offer insight into the current market environment” and plays no part in the fund’s operational or strategic activities. Asked about the website redesign, she said, “We have not terminated the page.”

The Russian fund has also worked with U.S. firms BlackRock Inc. and General Electric Co., which partnered with the fund to build small power plants for industrial users across Russia. JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s One Equity Partners joined an Illinois tire company to buy a Russian manufacturer of agricultural and industrial tires.

Obama administration officials have declined to say whether the Russian fund might be a target in the next round of sanctions being considered in the wake of Russian troop movements in southeast Ukraine in recent days. U.S. Treasury Department lawyers and investigators have worked with intelligence, law enforcement and diplomatic officials in recent weeks to identify and compile lists of possible new sanctions targets.

Under presidential action, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has the authority to freeze a foreign target’s financial assets in the U.S. and block its transactions with Americans. The targets can be businesses or individuals and have included terrorists, criminals and state entities. Treasury can also limit the effect of its sanctions, and some of the targeted Russian banks are only restricted from accessing U.S. capital markets, not blocked entirely.

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