U.S. names Kremlin outliers in 'telephone directory' sanctions report

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A list of wealthy Russians close to the Kremlin published by the United States on Tuesday included some businessmen who have distanced themselves from the Kremlin or even fallen foul of Russia’s ruling elite.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with his confidants ahead of the upcoming presidential election in Moscow, Russia January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

The U.S. Treasury Department named 210 people, including 96 “oligarchs” with wealth of $1 billion or more, on a list of people deemed to be close to the Kremlin as part of a sanctions package signed into law in August last year.

Those included will not immediately be subject to sanctions but face potential sanctions risk. President Vladimir Putin called the list an “unfriendly act” that would further complicate relations between Moscow and Washington.

Some of those named, however, have publicly clashed with the Kremlin and moved their assets abroad, or been subject to prosecution and had their businesses come under attack from people close to Putin.

Senior Russian officials and business leaders, many of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, also noted that the U.S. report bore similarities to the Forbes Russian billionaires rankings and publicly available lists of government employees.

“The list compilers demonstrated a good knowledge of internet resources,” joked a person close to the Kremlin and influential business people. “They also found the Forbes lists ... Serious and thoughtful work.”

A U.S. Treasury spokesman confirmed that the list of oligarchs was drawn from public sources including Forbes. There is no regulatory definition of oligarch, he said, so Treasury Department set $1 billion as the threshold, which was also the same criteria used by Forbes.

One person whose inclusion on the list has surprised people in Moscow is Vladimir Yevtushenkov, a billionaire who was placed under house arrest in 2014 over alleged money laundering and has since clashed with powerful oil boss Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft ROSN.MM and a long-time Putin confidant.

Russian conglomerate Sistema AFKS.MM, which holds Yevtushenkov's assets, spent much of last year embroiled in a costly legal dispute with Rosneft over the privatization of a smaller oil firm. Sistema did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sistema agreed to pay Rosneft 100 billion roubles ($1.79 billion) in a settlement deal in late December and has lost 40 percent of its market value since the legal battle erupted in early May.

A senior person close to the Kremlin said the inclusion of Sergei Galitsky, CEO and majority owner of Russian food retailer Magnit MGNT.MM, and Dmitry Kamenshchik, the owner of Russia's second-biggest airport, was also "illogical".

A spokesman for Kamenshchik declined immediate comment. Magnit did not respond to a request for comment.

Galitsky is not viewed as being close to Putin and a 20 billion rouble ($350 million) football stadium he built in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar was passed over for the 2018 World Cup.

A Western banker in Moscow said he was surprised to see Galitsky on the list. “Why the hell is he there?” he said.

Kamenshchik spent more than four months under house arrest in 2016 on charges relating to security measures at the Moscow airport he owns at the time of a terrorist attack in 2011.

Asked for comment on Tuesday, one source at a company whose chief executive was named on the list compared the U.S. report to a “telephone directory”.

“What even is this?” the source said. “An obtusely complete list of the political leadership, plus the Forbes list. A Titanic work has been done.”

Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Katya Golubkova and Darya Korsunskaya in Moscow and by Joel Schectman in Washington; Writing by Jack Stubbs; Editing by Giles Elgood and James Dalgleish