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Secret Planes, Russia, China and the United States oh My
Navigator Holdings Ltd., the shipping firm part-owned by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, doubled the number of contracts it had with Sibur Holding PJSC just months after the U.S. imposed sanctions on a major shareholder of the Russian petrochemical company in 2014.
Sibur itself wasn’t subject to the restrictions, which the U.S. imposed over the Ukraine crisis, but they led to a broad chill in business ties between the two countries. Sibur’s shareholders have particularly close ties to the Kremlin. Gennady Timchenko, a billionaire energy trader, was cited as a member of the “inner circle” by the U.S. Treasury when it imposed a visa ban and asset freeze on him in March 2014, held a stake of as much as 32 percent by September of that year. Kirill Shamalov, who is married to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s younger daughter isn’t subject to U.S. restrictions, raised his Sibur stake to 21 percent in late 2014. He later sold all but 3.9 percent. More here.
Mikhelson is the founder and chairman of natural gas producer Novatek. He is also chairman of gas processing and petrochemical company Sibur; Billionaire Gennady Timchenko is his partner in both; Putin’s reported son-in-law, Kirill Shamalov, is a partner in Sibur. Over 2015 and 2016, Mikhelson sold a 16% stake in Sibur to China’s state-owned Sinopec and China’s Silk Road Fund for $2.1 billion. An avid art collector, he has sponsored museum exhibits in Russia and the U.S. His father headed the largest pipeline construction trust in the Soviet Union, and Mikhelson began his career as foreman for a construction company building a gas pipeline in Russia’s Tyumen region.
China and Syria have already begun discussing post-war infrastructure investment with a ‘Matchmaking Fair for Syria Reconstruction’ held in Beijing
From Utah, Secretive Help for a Russian Oligarch and His Jet
Records leaked from an offshore law firm show how the wealthy elite sidestep prohibitions on foreigners registering private planes in the United States.
SALT LAKE CITY — Bank of Utah has that all-American feel. Founded in the 1950s by a veteran of both world wars, it offers affordable mortgages and savings accounts, sponsors children’s festivals and collects coats for the poor.
But in addition to its mom-and-pop customers, the bank has a lesser-known clientele that includes Russia’s richest oligarch, Leonid Mikhelson, an ally of the country’s president, Vladimir V. Putin. The bank served as a stand-in so Mr. Mikhelson could secretly register a private jet in the United States, which requires American citizenship or residency.
The work on behalf of Mr. Mikhelson, whose gas company is under United States sanctions, is part of a discreet niche business for Bank of Utah that allows wealthy foreigners to legally obtain American registrations for their aircraft while shielding their identities from public view. The bank does this through trust accounts, in its own name, that take the place of owners on plane registration records.
Bank of Utah manages more than 1,390 aircraft trust accounts, most of them for foreigners, generating millions of dollars in fees and making it the second-largest holder of such accounts in the country. A trove of records leaked from an offshore law firm, Appleby, shows that the services offered by Bank of Utah, Wells Fargo and other American companies were sought after by rich jet owners in Russia, Africa and the Middle East.
The files were obtained by a German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other news organizations, including The New York Times. Among other things, the records reveal how Appleby often packaged trust arrangements with a tax avoidance scheme on the Isle of Man, a British crown dependency that serves as a haven for aircraft owners to sidestep taxes in the European Union. Together, businesses like Bank of Utah and Appleby provide a suite of money-saving tricks for the wealthy elite around the world.
Members of Congress and federal auditors have grown increasingly concerned that the opaque aircraft trust arrangements, which are not closely tracked by the Federal Aviation Administration, could allow terrorists and criminals a back door for evading sanctions, intelligence officials or law enforcement. Some 10,000 private planes are registered in the United States to noncitizen trusts.
“There are serious national security risks when the F.A.A. approves an aircraft registration but does not have all the information, particularly if an aircraft is owned by a shell corporation or a foreign entity,” Representative Stephen F. Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, said when he introduced legislation in July that would require the F.A.A. to obtain and regularly update records on the ultimate owners behind aircraft trusts.
An inspector general report in 2013 found that more than half of noncitizen trusts registered with the F.A.A. “lacked important information such as the identity of the trusts’ owners and aircraft operators.” As a result, the report said, the agency “has been unable to provide information on these aircraft to foreign authorities upon request when U.S. registered aircraft are involved in accidents or incidents.”
Another inspector general report, in 2014, cited specific cases that it said demonstrated the potential for national-security or legal problems. Among them was an episode in which an unnamed American bank had to cancel an aircraft trust after learning that its beneficiary, a Lebanese politician, had ties to a terrorist group. Another involved a jet registered to Wells Fargo that made an unscheduled landing in Libya in 2011 just as a no-fly zone was imposed by the United Nations.