Russian Forbes billionaires, including those who still own companies in Russia, are changing their biographies available in open sources, the independent Russian Internet TV Current Time reported. According to the interlocutor of this station, it is about improving the reputation after the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
“It is not known whether they (oligarchs – ed.) do it themselves or whether they hired PR agencies to do it. But whoever does it meticulously removes all references to ties to Moscow and Russia and it says they were born in Ukraine or in other countries of the former USSR and that they have citizenship of other countries, Current Time reported.
The journalists of the independent station gave numerous examples. Thus, the investment banker Ruben Vardanian, who has long headed the Troika Dialog holding company, now presents himself as a financier of “Armenian descent”.
Western-sanctioned Mikhail Fridman, co-owner and chairman of the consortium of Alfa Group, described himself as “a Russian-Israeli businessman born in Ukraine”, according to Current Time. In turn, the founder of the popular Russian search engine Yandex, Arkady Volozh, states that he was “born in Kazakhstan and is an Israeli IT entrepreneur.” “The name of the search engine he created is not mentioned at all on the personal page of Volozh,” the independent station reported.
The independent Russian-language portal The Moscow Times recalled that in September last year, Ruben Vardanian, whose fortune was estimated at one billion dollars before the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, renounced his Russian citizenship and moved to the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh (a region located within Azerbaijan and inhabited mainly by Armenians).
“Not only Fridman, Volozh or Vardanian rewrote their biographies, but also many others. The head of the Renova group, Viktor Vekselberg, who prefers to call himself an ‘engineer’ after the sale of the TNK-BP oil company, emphasizes that he was born in Ukraine and is a Cypriot citizen, Current Times reported.
According to Ilya Shumanov, head of the Russian branch of Transparency International, this phenomenon is an attempt to “whiten the reputation”.
– When we talk about trying to change the biographies of (…) Russian oligarchs or big businessmen, we are talking about whitewashing the reputation as part of the KYC (Know your customer) procedure – Shumanov told Current Time.
– Not only companies are checked, but also their owners or board members who are in fact Russians. An important part of the KYC procedure is the analysis of media publications. The first thing people do is check Wikipedia, as it usually comes up first in a Google search. That’s why Wikipedia is fighting to the death,” the analyst added.
“The entry on billionaire Yuri Milner on Wikipedia has been changed 44 times since February 24, 2022 (i.e. Russia’s armed invasion of Ukraine – ed.). Initially, Milner was called a Russian billionaire, then an ‘Israeli investor’, and then an ‘Israeli entrepreneur of Russian descent’ ‘ But ultimately the changes were not confirmed, and Milner remained a ‘Russian billionaire’, wrote The Moscow Times.
An entry about billionaire Piotr Awen, former CEO of Alfa-Bank and listed in the EU sanctions as “one of the closest oligarchs Vladimir Putin“, was changed in various sources 141 times. Now it appears as a Russian and Latvian entrepreneur, the journalists of The Moscow Times noted.
– Even in the requests to the US Treasury Department, which are submitted for removal from the sanctions list, they write that the person was “born in a Russian-Ukrainian family,” Shumanov recalled. “If there are no direct arguments, then of course there is a set of indirect arguments that the person is a philanthropist, that he is Ukrainian, that he belongs to another ethnic group, that he is not Russian,” he added.
A Current Time source explained that when businessmen face sanctions, even a single Wikipedia entry can influence a country’s decision to blacklist or not.
– I think that a significant part of Russian citizens can boast of the roots of certain ethnic groups in their families. And this may also influence the decisions of the authorities, especially those of countries that are not very familiar with our mixed-up post-Soviet pot, assessed Shumanov.
On Friday, the Russian daily “Kommersant” reported that the US included Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven on the sanctions list. After Russia’s armed invasion of Ukraine, both were subject to EU and UK sanctions.
Current Time, The Moscow Times, Kommersant
Main photo source: kremlin.ru