Putin's hockey pal and Russia's richest man Vladimir Potanin has been 'snapping up banks for cheap' amid an exodus of Western owners

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) greets billionaire and businessman Vladimir Potanin (L) as billionaire Gennady Timchenko (R) looks on during a group photo at the gala match of the Night Hockey League at Bolshoi Ice Dome in Sochi, Russia, May,10, 2019.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) greets billionaire and businessman Vladimir Potanin (L) as billionaire Gennady Timchenko (R) looks on during a group photo at the gala match of the Night Hockey League at Bolshoi Ice Dome in Sochi, Russia, May,10, 2019.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin played hockey with Vladimir Potanin.Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

  • Putin ally Vladimir Potanin is reportedly snapping up Russian banks at a discount rate.

  • Western businesses fled the country en masse following Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

  • Per Forbes, Potanin is said to be Russia's richest man – worth just shy of $30 billion.

Russia's richest man has been snapping up domestic banks at a discount rate, after their Western owners ditched the country, reports say.

The Russian economy has been in freefall since the invasion of Ukraine, after Western powers issued sanctions against a number of President Vladimir Putin's closest allies, seizing and freezing their assets, and a host of leading businesses – from McDonald's to Goldman Sachs – shut down operations in the country altogether.

Metals tycoon Vladimir Potanin, a long-time Putin ally, has largely avoided Western sanctions, despite his close personal ties to the regime. Experts say Potanin, who has played ice hockey with Putin in the past, has largely remained off the West's radar due to his personal importance to global metals markets.

On Thursday, the Financial Times reported Potanin, who is said to be worth $30 billion, had been tapping into his estimated $30 billion fortune to obtain stakes in major Russian banks, which have seen their value dwindle after Western stakeholders abandoned the country.

The billionaire's Interros group is said to have acquired Rosbank after Société Générale (SocGen), a French bank that bought the business from Potanin in 2008, opted for a quick exit from Russia. Insider previously reported banks still operating in Russia were preparing to lose huge amounts of money for exiting.

Potanin reportedly obtained Oleg Tinkov's stake in TCS Group Holding, for which Tinkov, who said was forced to sell his stakes after he criticized the war, complained that Potanin paid only 3% of the actual stakes' worth, per the newspaper. Insider reached out to TCS and SocGen but did not immediately get a response.

Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of political analysis firm R.Politik told the FT: "The Kremlin had a geopolitically problematic asset [in Tinkoff] and Potanin had a solution."

Potanin's recent acquisitions make him a key individual in the banking sector. In February, Rosbank and Tinkoff, TCS's main assets, combined assets of almost $45 billion (RBS3 trillion).

Someone involved in the negotiations for SocGen told the FT: "We wanted to find a way to exit in the most orderly way while preserving our 12,000 staff."

They added: "Potanin… says he wants to preserve the bank and its culture," that's why they decided to accept his offer that was quick and he knows the bank, per the report.

Potanin founded Interros – a conglomerate with stakes in industries including mining, energy, and real estate – in 1990, and is the richest man in Russia, per Forbes. But he is mostly known for mastering the "loans-for-shares" programs, which many other oligarchs, including Roman Abramovich, have made their fortune through the programs.

Under the "loans-for-shares" programs, wealthy entrepreneurs and banks loaned money to the Russian government in the 1990s in exchange for equity in the country's natural resource companies. The government often could not repay these loans, leaving many of the natural resource companies in the hands of wealthy individuals.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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