Russian tycoon dumps shares to beat US sanctions rap

Oil and gas tycoon Timchenko as Russia's sixth richest man, with a US$15.3 billion (S$19.5 biillion) fortune from Gunvor.

GENEVA - Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko sold his stake in Gunvor a day before being named in sanctions announced by the United States over the Ukraine crisis, the Swiss-based commodity trading company said Thursday.

Forbes has ranked oil and gas tycoon Timchenko as Russia's sixth richest man, with a US$15.3 billion (S$19.5 biillion) fortune from Gunvor.

Timchenko, reputedly a close confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, offloaded all his shares in the company he co-founded after "anticipating potential economic sanctions" a Gunvor statement said.

On Thursday, the US Treasury placed the 61-year-old tycoon on a sanctions blacklist established in retaliation for Russia's absorption of the Crimean Peninsula after it voted to break away from Ukraine.

The Treasury said Timchenko's business activities in the energy sector were "directly linked" to Putin.

Any US assets belonging to Timchenko were frozen as a result of the sanctions.

Gunvor said Timchenko had sold his holdings in order "to ensure with certainty the continued and uninterrupted operations of Gunvor Group Ltd's activities."

His stake had been sold to business partner Torbjorn Tornqvist, who now controls 87 per cent of the company.

A US Treasury spokesman said the share sale made it unlikely Gunvor could now be hit by sanctions because Timchenko no longer owned 50 per cent or more of the company.

"Under the 50 per cent rule, only entities in which a designated individual or entity owns a 50 per cent or greater interest are blocked by operation of law," the spokesman said.

"Our understanding is that Timchenko's ownership stake in Gunvor is less than the 50 per cent required to trigger an automatic blocking."

The Treasury had earlier said Putin held a financial interest in Gunvor, but the Swiss company denied the allegation in a comment on Twitter.

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