Meet the Russian oligarchs with investment ties to Western Canada not named in Ottawa’s sanctions


NATO governments have pledged to crack down on the dealings of Russian oligarchs and companies, but some controversial figures with significant investment ties to Western Canada have so far evaded sanctions from the Canadian government.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has said all Canadian financial institutions are prohibited from engaging in any transactions with the Russian Central Bank. And Canadian authorities have identified dozens of Russian individuals and entities for sanctions in recent days, freezing the assets of 58 targets and prohibiting all dealings with them.

But one of the most recognizable Russian elites to have been excluded from Canada’s sanction list is billionaire Roman Abramovich, best known outside his home country as the owner of Chelsea FC, one of the world’s most popular soccer teams.

Abramovich, who had come under intense political scrutiny in the U.K., said on March 2 that he will sell Chelsea and donate the proceeds to Ukraine, the Financial Times reported. The team is only his most visible asset in the West. Among other things, Abramovich is the largest shareholder in Evraz PLC, a steel manufacturing and mining business that has facilities in Regina, Calgary and Edmonton.

Evraz has provided the majority of the pipe to the Trans Mountain expansion (TMX) project, which will expand the movement of oil and refined products from the Edmonton area to a terminal on the Pacific Coast for export. Evraz’s agreement with original pipeline owner Kinder Morgan provided 250,000 metric tons of pipe to the project.

Alexander Abramov, Alexander Frolov, Evgeny Shvidler and Maxim Vorobyev — all wealthy Russians — are also among the top six shareholders in the U.K.-based company, according to Bloomberg. None of them appear on Canada’s sanctions list.

TMX was bought by the federal government in 2018, making Evraz’s exclusion from sanctions so far a sensitive issue for Trudeau’s government.

“The steel that was provided by Evraz for the TMX pipeline was fully delivered by the second quarter of 2021 when sanctions were not in place, and the war had not yet begun,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said this week at a press conference.

Abramovich isn’t the only billionaire with Canadian holdings to come under media scrutiny following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Oligarch Igor Makarov.
Oligarch Igor Makarov. Photo by Thomas Frey/picture alliance via Getty Images files

A lesser known figure with investments in Canada’s oilpatch is billionaire Igor Makarov. The Turkmenistan-born businessman and former Russian cyclist owns a 19.5 per cent stake in Spartan Delta Corp, making him the largest shareholder for the Calgary-based natural gas producer.

The company said this week in a statement that Makarov’s stake, through Switzerland-based Areti Energy S.A., does not carry any controls or veto rights. “Spartan does not have any other relationship with Areti beyond its equity ownership in Spartan nor is any such relationship contemplated now or in the future,” the company said.

An American PR firm for Areti vigorously denied to the Financial Post that Makarov has any ties to Putin.

Makarov made his fortune as a natural gas supplier to former Soviet states, eventually expanding into exploration and processing in Russia during the mid ’90s and 2000s as the founder of a company headquartered in Moscow known as Itera — a precursor to Areti, according to the company’s website. Itera was acquired by Russian state-controlled oil company Rosneft in 2013.

Makarov was identified on a U.S. Treasury list of Russian oligarchs in 2018 — a list which critics have lambasted for apparently copying names from a Forbes’ list of world billionaires.

Makarov is not on Canada’s list of Russian oligarchs targeted for sanctions.

The federal government has had sanctions in place since 2014 when Russian forces invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine — more than 440 individuals and entities have been singled out since then.

Trudeau’s government has hinted that more could be on the way.

“We are looking carefully at the holdings of all Russian oligarchs and Russian companies inside Canada,” Freeland said March 1. “We’re reviewing them, and everything is on the table.”

Freeland added: “If we are truly determined to stand with Ukraine, if the stakes int he fight are as high as I believe them to be, we have to be honest with ourselves, I have to be honest with Canadians, that there could be some collateral damage to Canada.”

— With files from Bloomberg News

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