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The Kremlin's slush fund in Vienna: How Putin's pocket company Sibur operates in Europe, earning profits from exports

Over the first 17 months of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Russian petrochemicals giant Sibur exported products worth €3 billion through its European subsidiary, Sibur International GmbH, The Insider estimates based on customs data and other documents. Despite the ongoing conflict, the Russian conglomerate remains unaffected by sanctions and continues to reap profits from its global sales operations. Notably, individuals personally connected to Vladimir Putin are among the shareholders of Sibur.

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Content
  • Who owns Sibur?

  • What does Sibur sell?

  • Western top managers in Sibur's leadership

In December 2020, during his visit to the Tyumen region, Putin made a stop at the ZapSibNeftekhim plant in Tobolsk. This facility, part of the Sibur conglomerate, is Russia's largest petrochemical complex. It was as if Putin were surveying his own property — although Sibur is privately owned, it is closely intertwined with the president's inner circle. Yet even two years into the full-scale war, ZapSibNeftekhim, the plant Putin inspected, remains a significant producer for Western markets.

Who owns Sibur?

The major owners of Sibur are oligarchs Gennady Timchenko (17%) and Leonid Mikhelson (30.6%). Additionally, stakes in the company are held by Putin's former son-in-law Kirill Shamalov, GazpromNeft CEO Alexander Dyukov, Putin's close friend Yuri Kovalchuk, and Putin's nephew Mikhail Shelomov.

Timchenko's connection with Putin goes beyond personal friendship; he also serves as the president's “wallet.” For instance, it was Timchenko who organized the purchase of the yacht Shaherezada as a gift to Putin from a group of oligarchs. Mikhelson, for his part, has sponsored two orgnizations, the Federation of Acrobatic Rock'n'Roll and Innopraktika, which are run by Putin's daughter Katerina Tikhonova.

Kirill Shamalov is the son of Putin's long-time friend, Nikolai Shamalov. After marrying Katerina Tikhonova, he obtained a hefty stake in Sibur, most of which he lost after their divorce. Nevertheless, he retained a 3.3% share and, until 2022, was a member of the company's board of directors.

Kovalchuk and Shelomov became minority shareholders of Sibur in 2021 through the insurance company Sogaz. It was Mikhelson who ceded them a portion of his stake.

Sibur's net profit last year amounted to 168.5 billion rubles ($1.9 billion), with revenue exceeding one trillion rubles ($11 billion).

What does Sibur sell?

The European headquarters of Putin's associates is located just a few minutes' drive from the Austrian Parliament building in Vienna, at 8/10 Prinz-Eugen-Straße. It is the office of Sibur International, a company fully owned by the Russian giant Sibur.

Sibur's offices at Prinz-Eugen-Straße in Vienna, Austria
Sibur's offices at Prinz-Eugen-Straße in Vienna, Austria

Registered in Austria, Sibur's subsidiary serves as the export division of the Russian parent group. The Insider has found that from March 2022 to August 2023, products worth €3 billion were exported from Russia through Sibur International GmbH. These figures roughly correspond to the Austrian company's official financial statements: its turnover amounted to €3.08 billion in 2022.

Primarily, the firm in Vienna procures raw materials from Russia for products including synthetic rubber, solvents, polyethylene, propane-butane, rubber, bromobutyl rubber for use in the tire industry, and chlorobutyl rubber. The consignors include both the PAO Sibur Holding itself, along with its Russian subsidiaries: OOO NKhTK, Nizhnekamskneftekhim, Kazanorgsintez, Voronezhsintezkauchuk among them.

In particular, Sibur's products are used in the production of car tires, rubber products, cables, and footwear. The European Union has introduced quotas for rubber imports from Russia. Reportedly, it was Italy, with its leading tire manufacturer Pirelli, that advocated for the establishment of high quotas.

According to customs documents, Sibur also exports its products to China, Turkey, Poland (through Asl Logistyka Slawomir Lacisz), Italy (through Gicar S.P.A.), and other countries.

Following the publication of this piece, representatives of Gicar contacted The Insider and assured that their relationship with Sibur had been terminated at the end of 2022. According to their claims, the last shipment of Sibur products was delivered to Italy in November 2022. However, according to customs documents available to The Insider, deliveries to Gicar S.P.A. on behalf of JSC Sibur-Neftikhim continued into February 2023.

Western top managers in Sibur's leadership

In 2020, Peter O'Brien, a U.S. citizen, took on the role of Director of Economics and Finance at Sibur. Previously, he served as a member of the company's board of directors.

Currently, the composition of Sibur's management and the list of affiliated individuals are kept confidential. However, there have been no official announcements regarding the departure of the U.S. executive. In contrast, after February 2022, former French Prime Minister François Fillon definitively stepped down from the company's board of directors.

In 2020, Fillon faced legal consequences in France related to the fictitious employment of his spouse Penelope at a parliamentary office that paid her over €1 million in salary. In 2023, Fillon appeared before the French parliament's commission on foreign interference, stating that his involvement with Russian companies was a “personal matter.”

Depite its high-level European connections, the Austrian branch of Sibur is led by a Russian citizen. Marina Plotnikova, aged 40, heads this office. As The Insider has discovered, Plotnikova is linked to the family of Vasily Kazakov, a descendant of the Soviet-era Marshal of Artillery.

Sibur's operations in Europe remain unaffected by its contracts with Russian defense enterprises. As reported by the independent investigative outlet Proekt, Sibur has engaged in deals to supply styrene and diethylene glycol to the Kamensk Chemical Plant, which produces solid rocket fuel, solid fuel charges, and rocket engines utilized in rocket launcher systems such as Grad, Smerch, and Uragan. Similarly, the company provides styrene and butyl acrylate to the Perm Powder Plant, which manufactures charges for rocket systems, air defense complexes, rocket engine charges, launch and boost systems for guided missiles, and spherical powders for small arms.

The significance of Sibur to Putin personally cannot be overstated. In addition to the fact that the company's shareholders include his relatives and close friends, the Russian president is keenly aware of its activities. According to information available to The Insider, over the past two years, Putin has initiated discussions about Sibur's operations at least 20 times during official meetings. At the end of February, he personally inaugurated the construction of Sibur's research and technology scaling center in Kazan.

Despite its proximity to Putin, the company has managed to evade Western sanctions. Many of its top shareholders, including Leonid Mikhelson, Alexander Dyukov, and Mikhail Shelomov, have thus far avoided personal sanctions from the EU.

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