Andrey Melnichenko—the wealthiest man in Russia—is the target of a lawsuit from the government claiming “corrupt collusion” in a deal to buy an energy company, according to multiple reports, as authorities try to bring Russian wealth back to the country amid the ongoing war with Ukraine.
The Russian government is attempting to seize Sibeco, which has several thermal power plants in Siberia, and claims Melnichenko’s purchase of the company from former government minister Mikhail Abyzov was corrupt, according to Bloomberg and the Financial Times.
Abyzov was arrested months after the deal closed in 2018 and is in a Russian prison following accusations of embezzlement and defrauding shareholders of Sibeco and another company, the Financial Times reported.
Melnichenko bought SIBECO for 36 billion rubles, or just over $570 million at 2018’s exchange rates, according to the U.S. government-run RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty news service.
A spokesperson for Melnichenko told Bloomberg the lawsuit, filed in the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk earlier this month, has been received and a hearing is scheduled for September 7.
No other details on the government’s claims were available Sunday.
The suit against Melnichenko, who has moored his $300 million yacht in the United Arab Emirates and is now primarily based there, is the latest amid a push from the Russian government to bring wealth back to the country since the start of the war in Ukraine, the Financial Times reported. Billionaire Oleg Deripaska’s $1 billion hotel complex in Sochi was reportedly seized after he spoke against the Ukrainian invasion. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said wealthy Russians who keep their money abroad will remain “second-class strangers” until they return their assets and families to the country. Meanwhile, Putin has also aimed to take assets from western companies: The Kremlin in April took control of power plants in Russia owned by Finish electric company Fortum and German firm Uniper after Group of Seven nations called for tougher sanctions on Russia to limit its power in Ukraine, Reuters reported. He threatened further seizure of Western assets if moves against Russian companies continue. Wealthy businessmen who have been loyal to Russia amid the conflict have been rewarded financially and given the opportunity to purchase seized assets, per the Financial Times, including the local subsidiary of food group Danone and Baltika Brewery.
Melnichenko had a net worth of $24.4 billion as of Sunday, making him the world’s 63rd-richest person and the richest from Russia. Melnichenko founded MDM Bank, one of Russia’s most successful private banks, two years after the Soviet Union fell in 1991 and went on to found fertilizer producer EuroChem and coal energy company SUEK. His metals and mining empire employs more than 100,000 people. His net worth rose $11.1 billion between 2022 and 2023 because of soaring fertilizer prices amid the war in Ukraine.
Melnichenko and his wife were sanctioned by the United States government and the European Union after Russia’s attack on Ukraine, which he has called “tragic,” and he removed himself as the beneficiary of the trust that owns EuroChem and Suek. Italian officials also seized one of Melnichenko’s yachts last year. A spokesperson for the billionaire previously told Forbes the European Union sanctions were “absurd and nonsensical.”
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