Russian Tycoon Sues Treasury Over Sanctions

WASHINGTON (CN) – Russian billionaire and metals magnate Oleg Deripaska sued the Treasury Department on Friday, claiming U.S. sanctions are crippling his businesses and were only enforced as a result of politically motivated reports about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian metals magnate Oleg Deripaska attends Independence Day celebrations at Spaso House, the residence of the American ambassador, in Moscow, Russia, on July 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

Filed in Washington, D.C., federal court, Deripaska describes himself in the 28-page complaint as the “latest victim of this country’s political infighting and ongoing reaction to Russia’s purported interference” in the 2016 election.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control – the body which administers sanctions after an executive order is issued – placed the aluminum billionaire producer on its “blocked persons list” last year.

The designation came alongside broader U.S. sanctions targeting the Kremlin for election meddling. In addition to Deripaska, the Treasury also sanctioned six more Russians it labeled oligarchs. 

But the decision to slap sanctions on Deripaska – and to describe him as an oligarch – was arbitrary, Deripaska’s Washington, D.C.-based attorney Erich Ferrari argued in Friday’s complaint.

The lawsuit says the enforcer of the sanctions, defendant Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin relied on capricious standards to determine whether Deripaska even met the definition of an oligarch.

Unclassified portions of the sanctions report submitted to Congress defined an oligarch as a person with a net worth of $1 billion or more but neither Secretary Mnuchin nor the department ever provided a reason as to why net worth was the “sole determinative factor” in its designation process, Deripaska claims.

“Comparisons of public reporting suggest that the U.S. Treasury Department sourced the list of Russian oligarchs .., from the Forbes 2017 list of the world’s billionaires, as the report even carries over a typo that was contained in the Forbes List,” the complaint states.

Deripaska says the sanctions caused “utter devastation” to his wealth and reputation around the world.

Treasury officials even “traveled abroad to threaten foreign businesses and banks not to engage in transactions with Deripaska or his companies, lest they be sanctioned themselves” according to the lawsuit.  

Since the sanctions, Deripaska’s investments have become toxic, he claims. As founder of aluminum manufacturing groups En+ Group and United Co. Rusal, mechanical engineering firm Russian Machines and auto conglomerate GAZ Group, Deripaska claims his net worth dropped $7.5 billion once the Treasury Department put him on its blocked persons list.

After his losses, Forbes now pegs Deripaska’s net worth at $3.9 billion.

Not only have his financial networks been upended, but even “basic and necessary” services are impossible to come by due to the sanctions, he claims.

“In a recent action before an English court, Deripaska was unable to retain legal counsel in time to prevent the imposition of a worldwide freezing order against him. This was because he was represented in that matter by lawyers working for a U.S. law firm,” the complaint states.

Most foreign lawyers also refused to represent him “out of fear of exposure,” Deripaska alleges.

Even after legal counsel was finally obtained, foreign banks refused to remit payments to his foreign counsel and Deripaska was again left without a lawyer.

The fallout from the sanctions has even been acknowledged by some in Congress, Deripaska noted, pointing to Republican Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho. 

During a January vote, Crapo, who also serves as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, voted to lift the sanctions on Deripaska, saying that the intended effect of the restrictions may fail over a longer arc because it would make the magnate “radioactive” to just about anyone.

“Senator Crapo is correct,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants have used the consequences of the sanctions designations as leverage to compel companies which Deripaska formerly owned or controlled to require him to divest from them and relinquish control over them.”

The sanctions have also had the unintended effect of benefitting Russia’s Communist Party, Deripaska alleges.

The party holds the second highest number of seats in the Russian Federal Assembly and its leader has publicly attacked Deripaska, organized rallies against him and called for a criminal investigation for “allegedly giving the companies to the Anglo Saxons to control,” according to the complaint.

Absent any criminal charges, Deripaska insists he must be removed from U.S. sanctions list.

The Treasury Department did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.

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