Frontline World

Moscow - Rich in Russia, October 2003

Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "Rich in Russia"

The Oligarchs

Money, Power and Politics

Examining the Young and the Restless

Government, Population, Economy

Life in Russia Today and the Transition to Capitalism




How to Make a Billion Dollars
Roman Abramovich Vagit Alekperov Boris Berezovsky Oleg Deripaska Mikhail Fridman Vladimir Gusinsky Mikhail Khodorkovsky Vladimir Potanin

Vladimir Potanin Vladimir Potanin - Kremlin Insider
Vladimir Potanin, 42, was born in 1961 into a high-ranking Communist family. He attended the Moscow Institute for International Relations, an elite school that groomed students for the KGB and offices of the Kremlin. He then went to work for the Soviet Department of Trade, where his father had also worked. In 1991, he created Interros, a foreign trade association that traded nonferrous metals, including aluminum, copper and lead. With the capital he accumulated from Interros, he started two banks, the Oneximbank and the MFK, to which many state enterprises transferred their accounts. Later, Potanin became one of the principal authors of the Loans for Shares program, in which the Russian government traded ownership in state industries for loans. The controversial program was administered through auctions, but only select bidders were invited to attend, usually at the discretion of President Boris Yeltsin's daughter. Potanin was among the invited bidders. During Russia's transition to a market economy, he acquired control of more than 20 formerly state-owned enterprises. Potanin's business empire was considerably dented by Russia's 1998 economic crisis, but he managed to set up numerous companies to shelter his personal assets. He also diverted considerable sums to his accounts outside of Russia and threw a party at the height of the crash for more than 100 of his closest friends in a nightclub at the French ski resort Courchevel.

Estimated Worth:
$1.8 billion

Current Position:
President, Interros Holding Company

Major Holdings:

Norilsk Nickel, the world's largest producer of platinum and palladium

Other Interests:
RUSIA Petroleum; Rosebank; agricultural industrial company Agros; power generation equipment company Power Machines; Soglasie Insurance Company; newsdailies Izvestia and Komsomolskaia Pravda; The Russian Telegraph Newspaper; the magazine Expert; radio stations Autoradio, PM-radio, Novosti on-line, and several regional television and radio companies

Political Connections:
Potanin's father was a senior official in Russia's Ministry of Foreign Trade. One of the Big Seven oligarchs who helped reelect President Boris Yeltsin, Potanin was then appointed by Yeltsin in 1996 to hold Russia's number-twoposition, first deputy prime minister.

New Plays:
In recent years, Potanin's Norilsk Nickel has purchased mines in Australia and Montana. The company also recently won a stake in Lenzoloto, an Irkutsk gold mine, and is pursuing a mining license for Sukhoi Log, Eurasia's largest gold mine. Potanin has made steps to improve his image in the West, becoming a leading donor to the Guggenheim Foundation. He gives more than $1 million annually and has a seat on the board of trustees of the Guggenheim Museum.

Potanin's house in Moscow was one of the capital's first experimental blocks of executive flats and included a restaurant, sauna, gym, billiards room, cafeteria, swimming pool, hair salon, winter garden, and guarded ski run next to the house. Potanin also has an out-of-town residence near the Istrinsky Reservoir, neighboring the country cottage of another Russian influential, Anatoly Chubais.

Potanin was the principal author of the Loans for Shares program, which put state assets in private hands and was harshly criticized by many academics. Potanin also has a poor track record with Western investors: George Soros, who in 1997 invested $980 million in Potanin's telecom enterprise Svyazinvest, said it was the worst investment he ever made. Other losers in Potanin's empire include BP/Amoco, which the same year invested $571 million in his oil company Sidanko, only to find the company forced into bankruptcy.

Next: Return to Introduction

Previous: Mikhail Khodorkovsky - Billionaire Industrialist

Photo Credits
Photo of Vagit Alekperov - Photographer/Getty Images
Photo of Vladimir Potanin - Photographer/Getty Images
Photo of Roman Abramovich - AP / Wide World Photos
Photo of Mihail Fridman - AP / Wide World Photos
Photo of Vladimir Gusinsky - AP / Wide World Photos

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