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

Roman Abramovich Roman Abramovich  - Stealth Oligarch
Roman Abramovich, 37, one of the youngest and most influential of Russia's oligarchs, remained largely unknown until recently. Few people even knew what Abramovich, once called the "stealth oligarch," looked like -- one newspaper offered a reward to the first person to photograph him. Born in 1966 on the Volga, Abramovich was orphaned at the age of 4 and spent most of his adolescence with his grandparents in a bleak western Siberia town 700 miles north of Moscow. After a brief stint in the Soviet army, he made plastic toys and started up an automobile parts cooperative. He attended the Gubkin Institute of Oil and Gas in Moscow, then traded commodities for Runicom, a Swiss trading company. Abramovich attributes much of his success to the patronage of oil magnate Boris Berezovsky, who introduced him to Yeltsin's inner circle. By 1996, Abramovich joined the board of directors for Sibneft, Berezovsky's most prized oil holding, and was later put in charge of the company's Moscow offices. After Berezovsky fell out of favor with the new Putin regime, Abramovich took over his patron's oil assets and the country's largest television network. In 2000, Abramovich expanded his empire to form the multibillion-dollar company Russian Aluminum while also branching out into politics. First winning a seat in the State Duma (the lower chamber of the Russian parliament), Abramovich then became governor of Chukotka, a position he has held for two years. The desolate Russian province has become a sort of personal project for Abramovich -- he has spent tens of millions of dollars of his own money building new homes, supermarkets, hotels and cinemas in Chukotka. Critics say his real motives are control over the region's natural resources and perhaps greater political aspirations. Abramovich's assets are managed offshore through his investment fund Millhouse Capital, located in Britain, which Abramovich seems to slowly be making his home.
Estimated Worth:
$5.7 billion

Current Position:
Governor of Chukotka; owner, Millhouse Capital

Major Holdings:
Abramovich is cashing in on billions of dollars of his Russian assets, selling his majority stake of oil company Sibneft; 25 percent of his shares in Russian Aluminum; his 26 percent stake in Russian airline Aeroflot; and reportedly all of his shares in leading sausage producer Omsk Bacon.

Other Interests:
Chelsea (U.K.) football club

Political Connections:
Exiled tycoon Berezovsky brought Abramovich into the Kremlin's inner circle. Once in, Abramovich first befriended Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana, then the former president himself. Yeltsin's former security chief, who wrote a behind-the-scenes account of the Kremlin, claimed Abramovich was considered "the cashier" of the Yeltsin circle. Tatyana and her husband were frequent guests at Abramovich's dacha. These days Abramovich is said to have close ties to President Vladimir Putin's chief of staff, Alexander Voloshin.

New Plays:
This year, Abramovich purchased Britain's leading football club, Chelsea, in a deal exceeding $300 million.

The billionaire recently added to his portfolio of property a six-story house in London's Eaton Square, part of the estate of the Duke of Westminster, said to be worth more than $46 million. He also owns homes in West Sussex, Moscow and St. Tropez on the French Riviera. Abramovich's custom-made 300-foot yacht, Le Grand Bleu, worth $90 million, features a helicopter and two hovercraft launches. The yacht's christening in Rio de Janeiro was attended by many of Abramovich's friends. Its home port is in Bermuda.

Sergei Stepashin, head of the Russian parliament's Accounting Chamber and a close ally of Putin, claimed in July 2003 interviews with Russian media that Abramovich used a tax loophole to enable his oil company, Sibneft, to avoid paying taxes in 2001, and used the money to buy the Chelsea football club.

In 2001, according to nonprofit East-West Institute, Russia's tax police opened an investigation against Sibneft concerning allegations that the company failed to pay about $450 million in taxes; the cased was closed without charges.


Next: Vagit Alekperov - Oil Magnate

Previous: Introduction

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

back to top