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Who's an oligarch? Rich Russians fret over US sanctions label

Russia's billionaire class is in the throes of a kind of helpless anxiety


US is in the process of identifying “oligarchs” close to Vladimir Putin who can be slapped with visa bans

When lawyers held a seminar in to explain the impact of new US  sanctions legislation, they had to rent out a hall in a hotel to hold all the worried clients who signed up.

A big reason for the interest is a provision in the law that gives President Donald Trump’s executive branch until February to identify “oligarchs” close to who can be slapped with visa bans and asset freezes as further punishment for election meddling.

With the Treasury Department, which is leading the effort, giving little indication of how the list is being compiled, Russia’s billionaire class is in the throes of a kind of helpless anxiety. One of the country’s richest men said it would be stupid to try to lobby against inclusion in Washington because that would only put a bigger target on his back.

Being classified an oligarch by the US won’t automatically trigger the kind of penalties that have already been imposed on dozens of Russian insiders and state companies over both the election issue and Ukraine. But the threat alone is enough to damage the commercial prospects of an almost unlimited number of Russians, according to Alan Kartashkin, a Debevoise partner in

“It could be an endless list,’’ Kartashkin said. “If you’re a Russian oligarch, you don’t want to be on it,” he added. Several billionaires with varying degrees of political clout said they’re alarmed by the possibility of being singled out and are peppering their US lawyers and lobbyists with queries about what they can do if they are. The answer: nothing.

An executive at a major US law firm said that all of his major Russian clients are worried about the blacklist and that he fears he’ll be forced to stop representing any who are included. Even some non-billionaires who are no longer close to the say they’re feeling the squeeze. The US law, which Trump grudgingly signed on August  2 after it passed Congress with a veto-proof margin, instructs the Treasury, together with the State Department and intelligence agencies, to identify officials and oligarchs as determined by “their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth.” 

The report, due within 180 days of the law’s signing, must include “indices of corruption with respect to those individuals” and any foreign assets they may have.

First Published: Mon, December 04 2017. 23:09 IST