Oleg Tinkov, the Russian tycoon who denounced the “mad war” in Ukraine

Outspoken Russian banking magnate Oleg Tinkov has managed to walk a fine line in the three decades it took to build his multi-billion dollar fortune, staying neither too close nor too far from the Kremlin.

But this week he became the most high-profile Russian entrepreneur to attack President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“I see NO beneficiary of this crazy war! Innocents and soldiers are dying,” he wrote in a series of Instagram posts. “How will the army be any good, if everything else in the country is crap and mired in [nepotism] and servility?

Meanwhile, Tinkoff Bank, the lender Tinkov founded 16 years ago, has emerged as an early winner of the Western sanctions regime that has dogged many of its rivals.

As one of Russia’s largest non-state-run banks that has so far avoided being directly targeted by sanctions and has remained on the Swift global banking messaging system, Tinkoff has profited from the suffering of its national competitors.

In the first weeks of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, customers flocked to open accounts at the bank, while many others who already had accounts transferred their savings from industry leaders Sberbank and VTB , which collectively control almost half of the Russian banking market.

Tinkoff Bank, founded 16 years ago, took advantage of sanctions from its domestic competitors © Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

Prior to this week’s outburst, Tinkov had taken a more considered approach to discussing Russian politics. In a 2015 interview with the Financial Times, he repeatedly spoke about his close relationship with Putin, although more recently he said he had never visited the Kremlin.

The 54-year-old son of a coal miner and seamstress balks at the ‘oligarch’ label, preferring to be seen as a self-made businessman who didn’t need to lean on Kremlin connections to win big contracts.

“He’s the quintessential self-made entrepreneur, as opposed to an oligarch,” said David Nangle, founder of VEF, an emerging markets fund management firm, who has known Tinkov for nearly two decades. “He should be held in high esteem.” VEF was at one time one of Tinkoff’s largest investors.

Yet Tinkov’s attempts to distance himself from Putin and the Kremlin have done him little favor this year. He was placed on Britain’s sanctions list last month, which saw him have his assets frozen, banned from doing business with British citizens and companies and banned from traveling to or from from the United Kingdom.

At the time, Tinkoff Bank insisted that this would ‘in no way affect’ the group, as Tinkov was no longer a majority or controlling shareholder and had no direct influence over how the business was run. was managed. Tinkov has sold his 35% stake in the company over the past two years.

The bank this week declined to comment on its founder’s social media posts, but said he no longer works for the lender, which is run by Oliver Hughes and Pavel Fedorov.

Tinkoff’s London-listed global certificates of deposit – certificates that allow investors to bet on Russian stocks on global markets – fell from $112 in October to $3.19 when they were suspended in March.

And Tinkov claimed that the collapse in prices – combined with the fall of the ruble – had caused him to lose his billionaire status. Forbes estimates that his fortune has fallen from $4.7 billion to less than $700 million since the start of the war.

Born in the Siberian coal town of Leninsk-Kuznetsky, Tinkov showed promise as a competitive cyclist during his teenage years. But after completing his military service, he pursued a career in business, initially marketing sought-after Western products across the Soviet Union.

He then launched and sold a series of highly successful consumer businesses tied to his personal brand, emulating his idol Richard Branson – from music stores and a record label to a frozen dumplings company which he sold to Roman Abramovich. , as well as a corporate beer that he sold to InBev.

Oleg Tinkov holds a Russian flag surrounded by Tour de France cyclists
Oleg Tinkov, center, surrounded by members of the Tinkoff-Saxo cycling team in 2015 © Luk Benies/AFP/Getty Images

Tinkov’s devotion to Branson even extended to staying in the Virgin Group founder’s personal suites at his properties around the world.

On one occasion, Tinkov booked himself and his wife into Branson’s bedroom at his private reserve in South Africa. “Rina and I slept in Richard Branson’s bed and I told him we had no choice but to have sex in honor of Richard, which we managed to do,” he says in his autobiography.

It was at another of Branson’s properties, the Caribbean island of Necker, that Tinkov unveiled his plans for Tinkoff Bank. What started as an online credit card company in 2006 has become Russia’s third-largest consumer lender, with more than 20 million customers.

The bank’s success catapulted Tinkov into the global billionaire club and made him one of the richest people in Russia. Early backing from investors including Goldman Sachs laid the foundation for the company, while the company’s listing in London in 2013 doubled Tinkov’s personal fortune.

Although he rejects oligarch status, Tinkov enjoys the trappings of a Russian tycoon’s lifestyle, including owning a string of lavish palaces, villas and ski lodges across Europe and the world. ‘North America.

He also owns the world’s first private icebreaker yacht – a 77-metre, six-deck vessel, with two helicopters, a submersible and two snowmobiles – designed to take guests to the polar regions for extreme ski trips.

While Tinkoff has previously sponsored the Tinkoff-Saxo Tour de France team, the bank still sponsors Russian Premier League football and tennis world number two Daniil Medvedev, who was banned this week from playing Wimbledon this summer.

Oleg Tinkov's Russian-flagged yacht La Datcha docked in the Mexican state of Baja California
La Datcha, Tinkov’s yacht, is 77 meters long and has six decks © Alejandro Zepeda/EPA-EFE

Tinkov is no stranger to run-ins with Western governments. In 2020 he was arrested in London after being accused of underreporting his assets to the US Internal Revenue Service by more than $1 billion after going public with Tinkoff Bank and days before giving up his his American citizenship.

He posted £20m bail and was initially ordered to surrender his passport and be electronically monitored, to stay in a flat near Holland Park in west London from 7pm to 7am morning, avoid travel hubs and stick to the M25.

Tinkov later settled the case, paying $507 million and avoiding extradition to the United States. But the day after his indictment was unsealed, he revealed he had been diagnosed with acute leukemia and had already undergone chemotherapy.

He has spent most of the last two years receiving treatment in London, although in early 2022 he appears to have moved to Mexico, according to his social media posts.

Already going further than other oligarchs who have called for peace in Ukraine, Tinkov concluded his volley of social media posts this week by saying: “Kremlin officials are shocked that neither they nor their children are going to Mediterranean this summer. The businessmen are trying to save the rest of their property.

In English, he added: “Dear ‘Collective West’, please give Mr. Putin a clear exit to save face and stop this massacre. Please be more rational and humanitarian.

About George Dailey

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