Like the whole of Russia, Saint Petersburg has huge income inequality. But who are the super-rich of the City on the Neva? The Saint Petersburg based business newspaper Delovoy Peterburg maintains a dynamic list of the city’s richest people. It is headed by Gennady Timchenko.
Net worth: 840 billion rubles / 12.6 billion dollars
Birthdate and place: on 9 November 1952 in the city of Leninakan in Armenia (nowadays called Gyumri)
Citizenship: Russian and Finnish
Most important assets: Timchenko is co-founder of the Global Commodity trading company Gunvor (Wikipedia) but sold his stake to his co-founder the Swedish businessman Tornqvist, in 2007 Timchenko founded the Volga Group, which consolidates and manages Timchenko’s assets. According to Wikipedia, Volgagroup has 90,000 employees.
Relationship to Putin: He got acquainted with Putin in the 1980’s when both men were working in Saint Petersburg. In the press he is often described as a friend of Putin, but he himself denies maintaining close relationships with Putin.
Sanctions: Timchenko was almost immediately hit by Russian sanctions, in March 2014. The reason for him being targeted by US Sanctions is that he is a “member of the Russian leadership’s inner circle.” A day before the sanctions against him became public he sold his stake in Gunvor.
It is clear that Mr Timchenko has more money than the number 2 on the list. But he was neither born in Saint Petersburg nor is he currently residing in the city. So it is not entirely clear why he is on the list in the first place. Maybe he feels like a citizen from Saint Petersburg. I know many people who have lived in the city for a while feel like that.
Mister Timchenko studied in Saint Petersburg and graduated in 1976 from the Mechanical Institute of Saint Petersburg. After graduating he started to work for the Izhorskiye Zavody, a machine building plant.
Later, from 1982 until 1988 he worked as a senior engineer at the Ministry of Foreign Trade.
Mr. Timchenko is also the president and the head of the Board of Directors of the professional Saint Petersburg Ice Hockey team SKA, a member of the Board of Directors of Sibur, member of the guardian council of the Russian Geographical Society, he is also the head of the Russo-Chinese Business Council, which aims to promote economic cooperation between Russia and China.
Net worth: 266,2 billion rubles / 4,03 billion dollars
Birthdate and place: Arkady Romanovich Rotenberg was born in 1951 in Leningrad, as Saint Petersburg was then called.
Most important assets: He owns Stroygazmontazh (total revenue $6.2 billion in 2017), a firm that specializes in creating oil and gas transportation systems. Also together with his brother and some others he controlls the SMP Bank, Russia’s 26th bank by size.
From 2012 until 2015 he was the president of the professional ice hockey club Dynamo.
Relationship to Putin: Mr Rotenberg got acquainted with Vladimir Putin in 1964, they were in practising the Russian martial art sambo in the same group, later they also practised judo. In the early 1990’s, when Putin was head of the city of Saint Petersburg’s committee on external affairs, he again was his sparring partner in judo. In 2016 he even published a book about Judo, together with Vladimir Putin and the Russian judoist Alexey Livitsky. Many people think Mr Rotenberg owes a lot to his acquaintance with Vladimir Putin.
Sanctions: Like Mr Timchenko, Mr Rotenberg was also immediately, in March 2018, targeted by American sanctions. The EU followed suit in July 2014, as a result of which his assets in the, worth a total of 30 million euro, have been frozen. The Russian parliament, the Duma even voted on a law to compensate Mr Rotenberg for this tragedy (the so called Rotenberg law), but it wasn’t approved in the end. Mr Rotenberg handed over parts of his assets to his son, probably in order to avoid the effect of the sanctions.
Although born in Saint Petersburg, Arkady Rotenberg nowadays has his main residence in the Moscow Oblast.
Apart from his main assets Mr Rotenberg, like a true oligarch has business interests in many different sectors.
Net worth: 231,7 billion rubles / $3,5 billion dollars
Birthdate and place: 10 October 1984 Leningrad
Citizenship: Russian and Saint Kitts and Nevis (wikipedia)
Most important assets: Pavel Durov is also known as the ‘Russian Mark Zuckerberg’. Immediately after graduating in 2006, he founded the social network vkontakte, which was immensely popular in Russia. Pavel got the idea for creating vkontakte from a friend who had studied in the USA and told him about Facebook. In December 2013 Durov sold the 12% of shares of Vkontakte that he still owned at the time. The common opinion is that the sale wasn’t entirely voluntary. When the media reported about the deal Durov said that he would remain active as a director of vkontakte. But, in April 2014 he resigned from this position and completely left the company.
In 2011 there was a wave of anti government demonstrations (wikipedia) that swept across Russia and the Russian authorities were getting worried about the role that social media could play. So they decided to let a group of Special Operation Forces pay a visit to Mr Durov. He didn’t open the door to them, but saw them on his video monitoring system. When they finally left he wanted to call his brother Nikolay, but he immediately realised he had no safe way to contact him. That’s when the idea to create the encrypted messenger Telegram was born. In August 2013 the first version of this messenger was released, created by Pavel and his brother Nikolay. Nowadays telegram has about 200 million users a month. Durov claims he has received offers to sell Telegram to big players in Silicon Valley for 3 to 5 billion dollar, but that he will never sell it. He says he sees Telegram as a charity.
Relationship to Putin: Unlike the other people on this list, Mr Durov is certainly not a friend of Putin or close to the regime at all. According to Durov, the Russian FSB, on 13 December 2013 demanded that vkontakte handed over the personal information of the organizers of the Euromaidan, the waves of protests in Ukraine, which ousted the then president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich. Durov refused. According to him these Ukranian citizens didn’t fall under Russian jurisdiction and handing over their information would constitute a grosss infringement of their rights. It seems like there was a direct relationship Durov’s refusal to hand over the required information to the FSB and the sale of his stake in vkontakte.
In spite of this all, Durov doesn’t like to see himself as an oppositionist.
On 22 April 2014 news came out that Durov had left Russia for good, taking $300 million dollars and 2000 bitcoins with him.
Sanctions: Pavel Durov has not been targeted by western sanctions.
Net worth: 178.5 billion rubles / $2.73 billion US Dollars
Birthdate and place: 1 May 1960 in Kulashi, Georgia
Citizenship: Russian and Israeli
Main assets: According to Delovoy Peterburg, nowadays his main asset is Watergen, a company that extracts water from air. Mirashvili, together with his son has a 5,2% stake in ILDC Energy. He has a venture capital fund called Kitaim capital, which, according to Mirilashvili has invested in over 50 startups. All his Russian real estate in is held in his Petromir Holding, the Pik Mall on Sennaya Ploschad and Hotel Moskva are some of the main Saint Petersburg objects that belong to this holding.
Mirilashvili came to the city on the Neva in 1977 to study at the Saint Petersburg State Pediatric Medical University. In the late 1980’s he got into business.
In 2000 Mirilashvili’s father was kidnapped. According to one version of the story the kidnappers got scared when they found out who they had kidnapped and released the man. According to another, they were paid $5 million. Anyway, within a couple of days the kidnappers’ dead bodies were found. Mirilashvili was sent to jail. In 2009 the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg agreed with his lawyers that the proceedings against Mirilashvili had been unjust and he was released from prison, after having been an inmate for 8 years. Mirilashvili always claimed to be innocent, according to him the whole case was a setup organised by Boris Berezovsky and some Georgian thieves by law.
Together with his son he owned 40% of Vkontakte, the social network that was founded by Mr Durov, the number 3 of this list. They sold their stake in 2013 for $1.12 billion.
Until the Russian ban on gambling in 2009 (which does not apply to certain designated territories) Mirilashvili made a lot of money with the slot machines he owned.
Besides his business interests Mirilashvili is the president of the Saint Petersburg division of the Russian Jewish Congress and the president of the Eurasian Jewish Congress.
Relationship to Putin: The fact that he has actually been incarcerated for such a long time suggests that Mirilashvili does not enjoy the same privileges that people who are close to Putin supposedly do.
You, however, cannot say that Mirilashvili’s relationship to Putin is bad and he certainly is not part of the opposition. Mirilashvili says it is his dream to bring Israel and Russia closer together. It was to this end that he lobbied for the creation of of the Victory Monument in Netanya in Israel. This is a monument that commemorates the victory of the Red Army over Nazi Germany in World War II. The monument was opened in 2012 by Vladimir Putin and Binyamin Netanyahu.
Sanctions: Mr Mirilashvili has not been targeted by western sanctions against Russia.
Net worth: 116,7 billion rubles $ 1,76 billion dollars
Birthdate and place: Nikolay Terentyevich Shamalov was born on 24 January 1950 in Leningrad
Most important assets: Mr Shamalov owns 9,643% of the shares of bank and 10,338% of the shares with voting rights of the Rossiya bank.
From 1993-1995 he worked in for the city of Saint Petersburg, where Vladimir Putin was his boss. And 1992 until 2008 2 Mr Shamalov was a representative of the Siemens Medical Systems.Mr Shamalov became at Petromed, a company largely owned by the city of Saint Petersburg, responsible for purchasing medical equipment for the city. Former Putin ally Sergey Kolesnikov accuses him of buying the medical equipment at highly inflated prices and directing up to 33% of the money to offshore accounts. According to former Putin ally Sergey Kolesnikov, Shamalov eventually was fired from Siemens because of his refusal to answer questions about money laundering, corruption and bribery.
According to Sergey Kolesnikov , the assets that Shamalov later acquired were bought with money that was funneled away to offshore accounts and which was meant for the purchase of medical equipment. This concerns both Bank Rossiya and the stake he used to hold in Vyborg Shipyard ( or still holds, this is not clear).
Sanctions: In March 2014 US sanctions were slapped on one of Shamalov’s main assets, the Rossiya bank. In response to this Vladimir Putin, in a gesture of utmost symbolic politics immediately announced he would open a bank account at the bank. And, as a more meaningful gesture, Putin assured that bank Rossiya would get the right to process payment for the wholesale electricity market in Russia, which would supposedly make the bank around $112 million dollars a year in commissions alone.
Nikolay, Shamalov is not personally targeted by US sanctions, his son Kirill is though. Read more about Kirill below.
Relationship to Putin: close, very close. Nikolay Shamalov was a member of Dacha consumer cooperative “Ozero”. The most famous member of Ozero is Vladimir Putin himself. Shamalov is not the only member of Ozero who somehow became incredibly rich later in his career. Other members оf Ozero are: Vladimir Yakunin (former director of the (Russian Railways), Vladimir Smirnov, Andrei Fursenko (former Minister of Education and Science), Yuri Kovalchuk (number 18 in Delovoy Peterburg’s rating of the richest).
Shamalov’s son Kirill was or maybe still is married to Ekaterina Tikhonova, who many suspect to be Putin’s daughter. In January 2018 rumours appeared in the media about a divorce of the couple, but no one knew for sure. The involved persons themselves keep their lips sealed. After his marriage to Tikhonova, Kirill Shamalov was able to controll 21,3% of the shares of Sibur, supposedly by being able to receive $2 billion dollars cheap credit. After his divorce he supposedly sold his share in Sibur for the same price as for which he acquired it. This was called ‘the returning of his wedding gift’ by Russian journalists.
So what is the moral of the story? Being close to Vladimir Putin before he became president assured 3 from the top 5 richest people from Saint Petersburg to become as rich as they are.
On the other hand, the fact that Pavel Durov and Mikhael Mirilashvili could also become dollar billionaires without having such close ties to the Russian president at least shows that being close to Putin is not a requisite to become rich in Russia.