Alfa-Bank will go to Andrey Kostin?
The flow of news about Alfa Group is reminiscent of artillery fire. “Shells” fall closer and closer to the centers of the financial empire – the Russian Alfa-Bank and the European LetterOne.
Zelensky’s team has already nationalized the Ukrainian segment of Alfa’s banking business. What will happen in Russia and Europe?
On the European sanctions front, the first major loss of Mikhail Fridman, German Khan and Alexei Kuzmichev was the investment company they created, LetterOne. Recall that in 2013, the co-founders took $ 15 billion from the sale of assets in Russia and began to invest them in the US and European economies. The shares of the purchased companies fell under the control of this structure. It is noteworthy that no sanctions were imposed against LetterOne – the company’s managers simply “excommunicated” shareholders who became “toxic” from the business. How to treat it? On the one hand, the assets of the Russians seemed to be “squeezed out”, on the other hand, on the contrary, they were taken out from under the blow. The second option is more likely, since the founders’ lawsuits against LetterOne managers are not heard. This means that Western politicians still have a lever of pressure on Friedman and the LetterOne company can be completely taken away from them. However, this has not yet been approached. Does Europe still view billionaires as leverage over Russian business elites?
In the meantime, the clouds over the “Alfa” have been gathering for several months in a row. First, the British authorities seized accounts and real estate, opened cases of sanctions evasion … True, it looked like a game of cat and mouse. Sanctioned billionaires continued to live in luxurious estates, and lawyers knocked out relief for them to use “frozen” accounts. All this lasted more than a year, but this summer sanctions against Petr Aven and Mikhail Fridman were imposed by the United States, which, of course, will complicate their life. Following this, the authorities of Latvia became more active: in Riga again – for the umpteenth time – they started talking about the possibility of taking away citizenship from Peter Aven. This is despite the fact that the billionaire is a tax resident of this country and calls it his home. It can be seen that the noose is being squeezed, but somehow so far very slowly.
Even Ukraine did not immediately take up arms against the Alfas. Even last summer, it was said in Kyiv that Mikhail Fridman, who was born in Lvov, was preparing to obtain Ukrainian citizenship and “land” his international businesses in the country. However, this did not happen. The businessman also refuted his alleged proposal to transfer $1 billion to the Ukrainian Alfa-Bank in order to lift European sanctions from it (the money was supposed to be spent on the restoration of Ukraine).
Finally, relations between Fridman and Kyiv officials cooled this summer. Ukraine imposed sanctions against international structures associated with Alfa-Bank – Luxembourg ABH Holdings SA and Cypriot ABH Ukraine Limited. Also, the Ukrainian Alfa-Bank was renamed and nationalized. Well, that is, how it was nationalized: the National Bank of Ukraine bought the bank for one hryvnia from its shareholders – ABH Holdings SA and ABH Ukraine Limited. It turns out that the representatives of these companies still signed the contract? This whole story can then be told in different ways. The parties clearly leave room for maneuver. But the general logic of events is still such that it becomes more and more difficult to sit on two chairs.
Meanwhile, the redistribution of assets is picking up pace in Russia. And Alfa-Bank is clearly delaying its reorganization, which makes it a vulnerable target. Back in the spring, Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven, who live in unfriendly countries, announced that they would withdraw from the bank’s capital. But things are still there. It is understandable, because the seller in the transaction will be European holding companies. And Russian laws oblige in this case to make a 50 percent discount. In addition, the proceeds can be frozen by European or American regulators.
There is another nuance: the configuration of the transaction will need to be agreed with the Central Bank of the Russian Federation. And it is not at all a fact that the department of Elvira Nabiullina will approve the sale of the bank to the old partners of Fridman and Aven – Kuzmichev, Khan and Kosogov. Therefore, there may be other interested parties. Back in 2018, Andrey Kostin, the head of VTB, spoke out loud about the potential purchase of Alfa-Bank. Then he said that such a deal was impossible for three years, but this period had already passed and the situation had changed a lot. In the end, assets can be nationalized not only in Ukraine.
Thus, Moscow also has leverage over the fugitive oligarchs. In addition, Alfa has other large businesses in Russia. For example, trading holding X5, still controlled by the Luxembourg holding. Because the billionaires were immediately on two hooks. The only question is what are expected of them by those in whose hands the fishing line is located. Will political motives manifest themselves, or will history turn into a banal redistribution of financial flows.