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Mikhail Maratovich Fridman (also transliterated Mikhail Friedman;[4][5][6][7] Russian: Михаи́л Мара́тович Фри́дман; born 21 April 1964) is a Russian business magnate, investor and philanthropist.[8] He also holds Israeli citizenship.[2][3] He co-founded Alfa-Group, a multinational Russian conglomerate. According to Forbes, he was the seventh richest Russian as of 2017.[1][9] In May 2017, he was also ranked as Russia's most important businessman by bne IntelliNews.[10]

Mikhail M. Fridman
Mikhail Maratovich Fridman at L1 in 2015.jpg
Fridman at LetterOne in 2015
Native name Михаи́л Мара́тович Фри́дман
Born (1964-04-21) 21 April 1964 (age 54)
Lviv, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union
Residence London, England[1]
Nationality Russian
Citizenship Russia[1]
Israel[2][3]
Alma mater Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys
Occupation Co-founder of LetterOne, Alfa Group, and Alfa Bank
Years active 1986–present
Net worth US$13 billion (August 2018)[1]
Children 4
Awards
Website Mikhail Fridman at LetterOne.com

In 1991 he co-founded Alfa-Bank, which is one of the largest private banks in Russia.[11] After serving as CEO of TNK-BP, the 50/50 TNK-BP joint venture, for nine years,[12] in 2013 he sold his stake in the company and co-founded the international investment company LetterOne (L1), headquartered in Luxembourg.[1] Fridman currently sits as chairman of the supervisory board of Alfa Group Consortium,[13] and he is also on the boards of Alfa-Bank[14] and ABH Holdings,[14] which is the Luxembourg-based holding company of Alfa Banking Group.[15][16]

He is also on the supervisory board of directors for VEON (formerly Vimpelcom)[17] and X5 Retail Group.[13] He is a member of the supervisory board of DEA Deutsche Erdoel AG, which is owned by LetterOne.[18][19] Fridman has been a member of numerous public facing bodies, including the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs,[20] the Public Chamber of Russia,[14][20] and the Council on Foreign Relations.[21] Also a philanthropist and active supporter of cultural initiatives, he co-founded the Russian Jewish Congress;[22] the Genesis Prize;[23][24] and the Genesis Philanthropy Group, which supports Russian-speaking Jews worldwide.[23][24][25]

Contents

Early life and educationEdit

Fridman was born in 1964 in Lviv, Ukraine, USSR, where he spent his youth.[20][26] He graduated from high school in Lviv in 1980.[12] He was denied entrance to Moscow’s top physics college because of his Jewish heritage,[27] and instead attended the Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys.[28] He worked various jobs while a college student in Moscow, including washing windows[29][20][30] and founding and co-owning a student discothèque named Strawberry Fields.[31][26][20][29] He also led a group of students who would queue for tickets at popular Moscow plays, and then use the tickets as hard currency to barter for rare goods and favours.[28][20][29] Having studied metallurgical engineering,[32] he graduated with distinction[22] from the Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys in 1986.[20]

CareerEdit

Early years and Alfa companies (1980s–1990s)Edit

After graduation Fridman worked as a metallurgical design engineer in Elektrostal Metallurgical Works, a state electrical machinery factory, from 1986 to 1988.[26][33][34][22][35] As Russian politician Mikhail Gorbachev began to open the economy in the late 1980s,[20] in 1988 Fridman established a window-washing business,[28] an apartment rental agency for foreigners,[26] a company that sold used computers,[26] and a company that imported cigarettes and perfumes,[32] with fellow friends from college,[12] employing students from various Moscow universities.[12]

In 1988, along with German Khan and Alexey Kuzmichev, Fridman co-founded Alfa-Photo (also transliterated as Alfa-Foto), which imported photography chemicals.[36][34][37][29][30] In 1989 the three partners founded Alfa-Eco (Alfa-Echo, Alfa-Eko, Alfa-Ekho), a commodities and eventually oil trading firm,[38][10][1][30][39][40] and Alfa Capital (Alfa Kapital), an investment firm.[30][41][42] Alfa-Eco and Alfa Capital developed into Alfa Group Consortium.[43][38][44] The company, which initially focused on computer trading and copy machine maintenance, expanded into imports and exports and commodities trading,[12] eventually becoming one of Russia’s largest privately owned financial-industrial conglomerates, with interests in industries such as telecommunications, banking, retail, and oil.[28][12]

Using $100,000 of his profit from his businesses to pay the required fee, in January 1991 Fridman co-founded Alfa-Bank.[32][30][45][20] The company grew to become one of the largest private banks in Russia.[11][20] Alfa Group's later divisions include Rosvodokanal, a private water utility; AlfaStrakhovanie, a diversified insurance company; A1 Group, an investment company; and X5 Retail Group, a large chain of food retailers.[46]

Alfa Group flourished considerably after Fridman recruited Petr Aven, the former Minister of Foreign Economic Relations for the Russian Federation; in 1994 Aven became President and Chairman of Alfa Bank.[47][48] By late 1996, thanks to the success of Alfa Bank and Alfa Group, Boris Berezovsky, in an interview by the Financial Times, named Fridman and Aven as among the seven businessman and bankers who controlled most of the economy and media in Russia,[49][50][47][51][52] and who had helped bankroll Boris Yeltsin’s 1996 re-election campaign.[53][54][51]

Fridman and Aven sold off most of their Russian government securities in early August 1998, prior to the ruble crisis of 17 August 1998, and emerged relatively unhurt from the 1998 Russian financial crisis.[55] During the crisis, Alfa Bank used its holdings related to TNK to avoid a debt default, and was one of the few Russian banks at the time to continue to allow customer withdrawals.[32]

Retail holdings and X5 Retail (1995 to present)Edit

Fridman's Alfa Group founded the Perekrestok (also transliterated Perekriostok) chain of supermarkets in Moscow in 1995.[56][57] Through a merger with the Pyatyorochka (also transliterated Pyaterochka) supermarket chain, which had been founded in St. Petersburg in 1999 by Alexander Girda and Andrey Rogachev,[56][57] Alfa Group founded the X5 Retail Group in 2006.[58][56][57] X5 acquired another grocer, Kopeyka, for $1.65 billion in December 2010.[59] X5 is Russia's largest food retailer in terms of sales.[60][61]

Alfa Telecom and Altimo (2001–2015)Edit

Alfa Group acquired a 44% stake in Golden Telecom, a large telecommunications and internet company in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, in 2001.[62][63][64] Also in 2001, Alfa purchased a strategic ownership interest in Vimpelcom, a large cellular operator in Russia, and Fridman joined Vimpelcom's board of directors.[65][66]

Alfa Group consolidated its telecom holdings as Alfa Telecom, and by 2005 renamed it Altimo.[62][67] Its holdings and acquisitions included MegaFon, Vimpelcom, Golden Telecom, and Kyivstar.[62] In December 2005 Altimo also acquired a 13.2% interest in Turkcell, the largest telecoms company in Turkey.[62][44]

Fridman's desire to merge Vimpelcom and Kyivstar was thwarted by his Vimpelcom partner, the Norwegian telecoms group Telenor,[68][66] which held stakes in both companies.[44] Fridman resorted to protracted and aggressive efforts to strong-arm Telenor beginning in 2005, and although the merger of Vimpelcom and Kyivstar was achieved in 2010,[69][70] conflicts with Telenor over control of Vimpelcom lasted a total of seven years.[44][71][72][73][31][74]

From 2003 through 2007 Fridman's Altimo was locked in a complex four-year battle, of claims and counter-claims of fraud, with the investment firm IPOC over ownership of a 25.1% stake in MegaFon.[75][76][77][78][44] Altimo's ownership of the stake was finally maintained in 2007.[79][80][81]

In 2012 Fridman sold his entire stake in MegaFon for $5 billion.[82][83][84]

TNK-BP (2003–2013)Edit

In 1997, Fridman had collaborated with Len Blavatnik and Viktor Vekselberg to purchase the state-owned TNK (Tyumen Oil Company), an oil company in Siberia, for $800 million.[53][39][26][54] In February 2003, the British multinational oil and gas company BP agreed to form the TNK-BP joint venture with the AAR (Alfa-Access-Renova) consortium, which included Alfa Group, Blavatnik's Access Industries, and Vekselberg's Renova.[85][32][86][87] After the merger, TNK-BP became the third largest oil producer in Russia, and one of the top ten largest private oil companies in the world.[87] Fridman served as TNK-BP chairman for nine years,[12] and CEO for three years.[88]

Prior to the TNK-BP joint venture, in 1999 Fridman had thwarted BP by seizing BP's stake in the Siberian oil company Sidanko, via bankruptcy maneuvers widely regarded as unfair practices.[89][90][53][91][44][92][93][94] And although TNK-BP was highly successful financially,[95] Fridman's relationship with BP during the TNK-BP years was contentious, and included blocking BP's 2011 planned partnership with Rosneft for Arctic oilfield exploration.[53][82][87][31][71]

He resigned as CEO of TNK-BP in May 2012.[86][96] In 2013, TNK-BP was sold to Russia’s state-owned energy group Rosneft for $56 billion,[97] with Fridman and his Russian partners receiving $28 billion for their 50% stake, at the height of crude oil prices.[28][95]

Founding LetterOne and L1 Energy (2013–2015)Edit

 
Fridman speaking at the L1 Energy launch on 14 September 2015 in New York.

Using the proceeds from the sale of their stakes in TNK-BP, Fridman and his Alfa Group partners Khan and Kuzmichev established the international investment company LetterOne (L1) in 2013,[98][99][100] and Fridman became the company's chairman.[101] LetterOne's additional co-founders were Petr Aven and Andrei Kosogov.[102][103] Headquartered in Luxembourg,[104] the company was created to invest in international projects in energy, telecoms, finance, technology, and other sectors.[105][101] As of 31 December 2013, LetterOne had $29 billion in assets under management.[104] In May 2015 Mervyn Davies (Lord Davies) was appointed deputy chairman of LetterOne,[104] and former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt was appointed as the board's advisor.[106]

In 2013 LetterOne also formed L1 Energy, an energy investment vehicle, initially focused particularly on undervalued international oil and gas assets during the slump in oil prices.[107][108] John Browne (Lord Browne) was appointed to its advisory board,[109][107] and in March 2015 became its chairman.[110][108]

L1 Energy's North Sea oil assets (2015)Edit

 
Fridman (center) with colleagues Petr Aven and Lord Browne (2015)

On 3 March 2015, L1 Energy acquired international oil and gas company DEA, from the German utility RWE, for $7 billion (€5.1 billion).[111][110] Headquartered in Hamburg, Germany[112] with extensive assets in the British North Sea,[111] RWE DEA had total natural gas production output of 2.6bn cubic metres in 2013.[113] The purchase was opposed by the UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey, who raised concerns that Fridman might one day face international Ukraine-related sanctions against Russian companies and individuals[114][115][116] which could force L1 Energy to shut down production in the North Sea, thus imperiling oil supplies and 5% of Britain's North Sea natural gas output.[117][115] On 4 March 2015, Davey gave Fridman a one-week deadline to convince the UK government not to force him to sell the North Sea oil and gas assets.[118] In April 2015, the government gave Fridman up to six months to sell.[119][115]

In October 2015 Fridman and the LetterOne Group sold L1 Energy's British North Sea assets to Ineos, a Switzerland-based petrochemical company owned by Jim Ratcliffe, for $750 million.[120][121][122] The British government assured LetterOne that the forced sale was "not a judgement on the suitability of LetterOne’s owners to control these or any other assets in the UK".[123]

In October 2015 LetterOne Group acquired German utility company E.ON’s equity interests in 43 Norwegian oil and gas licences, including interests in three producing Norwegian fields, all located in the North Sea, for $1.6 billion.[124][125]

LetterOne's telecom and other technology assets 2015 to presentEdit

In April 2015, LetterOne Technology (L1 Technology) was launched in London. Its focus was buying "struggling telecom or technology companies that require a fresh infusion of capital".[126] Various advisory board members were appointed including Brent Hoberman, Denis O'Brien, and Sir Julian Horn-Smith.[127][126]

The L1 Technology fund began acting as a holding company for the 48 percent stake in Vimpelcom owned by Fridman and his partners.[127][26][126] The fund also has a 13.2% share in the Turkish telecom company Turkcell,[127][126] which since 2005 has been hampered by a long-running feud between its three largest shareholders: Cukurova owned by Turkcell founder Mehmet Emin Karamehmet, Fridman's LetterOne via Alfa Telecom/Altimo, and Sweden’s Telia Company.[128][129][130][131][132][133]

In February 2016, Vimpelcom agreed to pay $800 million to settle U.S. and Dutch claims that it had bribed officials to win contracts in Uzbekistan between 2006 and 2012.[134][44][135] A year later the company rebranded itself VEON, and changed its focus to mobile internet services such as banking, taxis, and messaging.[136][137]

In February 2016, Fridman’s LetterOne fund invested $200 million in Uber.[100][117] In August 2016 LetterOne invested $50 million in telecommunications start-up FreedomPop, to help finance its international expansion.[138][139]

Additional activities 2012 to presentEdit

In 2012 Fridman partnered with American real-estate developer Jack Rosen in a joint venture to invest $1 billion in distressed real estate properties along the U.S. East Coast.[140][44]

In June 2016, LetterOne prepared to expand into healthcare by launching the $3 billion fund L1 Health in the United States, for investments in the global healthcare industry.[141]

In October 2016, Alfa Group acquired Ukrainian bank Ukrsotsbank, by offering its parent, the Italian financial conglomerate UniCredit Group, a minority stake of 9.9% in ABH Holdings.[142]

In December 2016, LetterOne launched L1 Retail, headquartered in London, to invest $3 billion in "the retail stars of tomorrow" in Europe and the UK.[143]

In 2016 Fridman coined the term "Indigo Era", for his theory of a global shift to an emerging era of economics based on creativity and digital skills rather than on natural resources.[144][145] In 2017 he funded a £100,000 Indigo Prize for new economic-measurement models based on the paradigm.[146][147]

In June 2017 LetterOne's L1 Retail division acquired Holland & Barrett, Europe’s largest health-food store chain, for £1.8 billion ($2.3 billion).[148] Also in 2017 Fridman, via LetterOne, invested $3 billion in Pamplona Capital Management,[102][149] a private-equity firm that was founded by Alexander Knaster, the former CEO of Alfa Bank, and which Fridman had invested in previously.[150][151][102]

In January 2018, due to concerns over possible sanctions stemming from the 2017 U.S. Congressional sanctions on Russia, Fridman announced that Alfa Bank was phasing out its holdings in Russia's defense industry.[152][153]

In May 2018 Fridman and Aven spoke to an off-the-record private dinner meeting at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.[154][155][156][157][158] The invitation and the privacy of the meeting drew criticism of the Atlantic Council from a group of 13 Russian and U.S. experts and activists,[154][155][156][158] who wrote that "In our view ... Aven, Fridman, and other key Alfa Bank oligarchs are ... close cronies and insiders of Putin’s regime, and do not operate independently of Putin’s demands."[159] The Atlantic Council responded that the private meeting was not "a sweetheart platform",[156][160] and the Kremlin responded that the two oligarchs represented the interests of their business, not Putin's interests.[161][162]

Current postsEdit

Fridman is chairman of the supervisory board of Alfa Group Consortium,[13] and he is also on the boards of directors of Alfa-Bank[14] and of ABH Holdings, which is the Luxembourgh-headquartered holding company of Alfa Banking Group.[163] He is on the board of directors of LetterOne.[164] He is also on the supervisory board of directors for VEON (formerly Vimpelcom)[17] and X5 Retail Group.[13] Since DEA Deutsche Erdoel AG was bought by L1 Energy in 2015, he has been a member of its supervisory board.[19][18]

Fridman is a member of numerous public facing bodies, including the National Council on Corporate Governance in Russia[13] and a boardmember of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.[20] In February 2001, he became a member of the Council for Entrepreneurship at the Government of the Russian Federation.[22] He was elected as a member of the Public Chamber of Russia in November 2005.[14][20] Since 2005, he has been a Russian representative on the international advisory board of the Council on Foreign Relations.[21]

Philanthropy and initiativesEdit

 
Fridman (second from right) at the commemoration of the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center at Babi Yar in Ukraine in 2016.[165]

In 1996 Fridman was one of the founders of the Russian Jewish Congress,[8] and he has been active in it since then,[166] including having been its vice president and head of its cultural committee.[22] He is a major donor to the European Jewish Fund, which promotes inter-religious dialogue.[8] In 2007,[167] Fridman along with Stan Polovets, Alexander Knaster, Petr Aven, and German Khan founded the Genesis Philanthropy Group, whose purpose is to develop and enhance Jewish identity among Russian-speaking Jews worldwide.[23][167][25] The Genesis Prize, which the group founded in 2012, is a million-dollar annual prize for Jewish contributions to humanity.[23][8] Fridman was also one of the major funders of the Holocaust memorial project at Babi Yar in Kiev, Ukraine, which was launched in 2016.[168][165]

In 2011 he founded the annual Alfa Jazz Fest, which is funded by Alfa Bank, in his hometown of Lviv, Ukraine,[169][170] and in 2014 launched the Alfa Future People Festival, an annual electronic-music festival held on the banks of the Volga River in the Nizhny Novgorod area.[171][172]

Honors and awardsEdit

In 2003, Fridman was honored with the Golden Plate Award from the Academy of Achievement in Washington, presented by former U.S. President Bill Clinton,[173][22][14] and he was named one of "The Stars of Europe: 25 Leaders at the forefront of change" by BusinessWeek.[174][175] In 2004 he was included in the Financial Times list of 25 business executives named "Leaders of the New Europe".[176] Forbes Russia named Fridman the Russian Businessman of the Year in 2012 and 2017.[177][102]

LegalEdit

In 2003, two "elite dachas" owned by the Russian government were sold below market value, one to Fridman and another to former Russian prime-minister Mikhail Kasyanov.[178][179] The sales caught the attention of the press in July 2005, with State Duma member and journalist Aleksandr Khinshtein stating that the sales were done without the mandatory media announcement of auction.[178][179] Khinshtein also alleged a preferential loan from Fridman to Kasyanov, which Fridman denied.[179] Fridman stated that the property's asking price was low because the building was dilapidated and sold without land.[179] Radio Free Europe reported that Khinshtein's investigation appeared to be an attempt to intimidate Kasyanov, who aspired to head anti-Putin forces.[180] In early 2006, the Moscow Court of Arbitration ruled that the two houses should be returned to the state, maintaining Fridman's right to a refund but arguing the proper procedures were not followed during the privatization.[181][182][183] On 1 March 2006, government officials responsible for the sale of the two properties were charged with misappropriation of entrusted property in an especially large amount by an organized group.[184]

In 2005, a United States district court in Washington, D.C. dismissed a 2000 libel suit by Fridman and Petr Aven against the Center for Public Integrity over an online article which included a suggestion that they had been involved in drug-running and organized crime; the federal judge ruled that there was no evidence of actual malice on the part of the publication and that Fridman and Aven were limited public figures regarding the public controversy involving corruption in post-Soviet Russia.[185][186][187][188][47]

In May 2017 Fridman, along with fellow Alfa Bank owners Petr Aven and German Khan, filed a defamation lawsuit against BuzzFeed for publishing the unverified Donald Trump–Russia dossier,[189][190][191] which alleges financial ties and collusion between Putin, Trump, and the three bank owners.[192][193] In October 2017 Fridman, Aven, and Khan also filed a libel suit against the private-investigation firm Fusion GPS and its founder Glenn Simpson, who had commissioned former MI6 agent Christopher Steele to compile the dossier, for circulating the dossier among journalists and allowing it to be published.[185] In April 2018 Fridman, Aven, and Khan filed a libel suit against Steele in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia,[194][195] but the suit was dismissed with prejudice the following August.[196]

Personal lifeEdit

Fridman was based for many years in Moscow, often spending time in European cities such as London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Hamburg.[32][197] In 2015 he moved to London,[166][1][198] and by 2016 had purchased Athlone House to be his primary residence.[199] He is divorced and has four children.[199][200][171][201] In 2016 he announced that in his will, his fortune will be left to charity.[199][200]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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