Russian richest man sets up oligarchs’ bank

MOSCOW - Russia’s richest man Mikhail Prokhorov will pool funds with three other oligarchs that will chase distressed banks and firms, creating an unusual joint war chest for some of Russia’s most aggressive portfolio investors.

By (Reuters)

Published: Tue 22 Dec 2009, 5:44 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 3:48 AM

Prokhorov’s MFK bank said on Tuesday it would get three new shareholders. The combined wealth of the four tycoons was estimated at around $19 billion by the Russian edition of U.S. Forbes magazine and some of this money is real cash.

The shareholders will include investor Suleiman Kerimov, a co-owner of gold miner Polyus Gold, Alexander Abramov, a co-owner of steel maker Evraz Group, and Viktor Vekselberg, a shareholder in aluminium giant UC RUSAL and BP’s Russian oil venture TNK-BP.

“An active work on solving Russian firms’ debts and offering help to the state to restructure the national banking system have a special place in our new strategy,” MFK’s chief executive Alexander Popov said in a statement.

Prokhorov, also a stakeholder in the world’s largest aluminium firm US RUSAL, is worth $9.5 billion, down from $22.6 billion in 2008.

While many of his Russian peers sought state bailouts, Prokhorov, also a former banker, is flush with money after cashing out of assets in 2008 before the global crisis caused commodity prices to crash.

Kerimov was one of the top investors in state banking and energy majors such as Sberbank or Gazprom but later reduced its stakes to buy into Western banking majors just before the crisis wiped out most of their value.

Kerimov, ranked Russia’s 13th richest man with $3.1 billion, has also never asked for a direct state bailout like his peer Vekselberg, whose empire also includes large stakes in Swiss technology group Oerlikon and Swiss engineering group Sulzer. Vekselberg is worth $1.8 billion.

The only tycoon out of the four who has received direct state funding during the crisis is Abramov, whose Evraz has already repaid part of a $1.8 billion loan to the state. Forbes rated Abramov sixth in May with $4.4 billion.

New clients

Sources close to the bank told Reuters the tycoons plan to turn MFK into a top Russian private banking player.

“Should the deal materialise it will open the doors wide for a flood of new clients. New shareholders are also likely to partly move their financial operations to the bank,” said one source, speaking on condition of anonymity. MFK also said in a statement that Prokhorov had invited Sergei Chemezov, an influential head of state corporation Russian Technologies, which owns assets in the defence and car making sectors, to join the board of directors.

“We will invite people able to bring additional unique expertise in corporate management and work with distressed assets into the board,” the bank said.

Cash-rich Prokhorov launched the banking business last year, just before the country’s worst financial turmoil in a decade. He has said he aims to build a private-banking business with $10 billion under management within three years.

Analysts estimate the private banking market in Russia, currently dominated by international players, at between $15 billion and $30 billion. They said Russia’s rich are now more optimistic about pouring their money back into equity markets.

Russia’s stock market index has more than doubled this year but is still 43 percent below its 2008 peak.

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