New Russian Owner Linked to Sanctioned Oligarch Viktor Vekselberg Emerges in Czech Safina Factory Ownership

Following the recent passing of its previous Russian owner, the Central Bohemian Safina factory has witnessed a change in ownership, with a new Russian owner emerging in the midst of growing concerns. Notably, this new owner has connections to the sanctioned billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, adding a layer of complexity to the situation.

Safina, a renowned Czech company specializing in the production of precious and non-ferrous metal products in Vestec near Prague, has long been a key player in the region. However, recent developments have brought about significant changes in its ownership structure.

Sources from Seznam Zpravy, a reputable news outlet, as well as information from Russia, have confirmed the passing of Alexander Okatov, the previous owner of Safina, which occurred during the early summer at the age of 55. Remarkably, shortly after Okatov’s demise, a completely new Russian owner, linked to the oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who has been under U.S. sanctions since 2018, surfaced within the Russian companies controlling Czech Safina.

Despite Okatov’s passing, the official information in the Czech register of beneficial owners has not yet been updated, and Alexander Okatov continues to be listed as the ultimate owner of Safina. The management of the Vestec-based company, led by Roman Popov, has chosen to remain silent in response to inquiries about this change in ownership.

However, Ivan Solomin, a prominent official from the Verkhnyaya Pyshma municipal district near Yekaterinburg, reported Alexander Okatov’s passing on July 6 through his official channel in Russia. It’s worth noting that Okatov had been managing the local non-ferrous metals processing plant EZOCM until recently.

Alexander Okatov had officially held a stake in Czech Safina since 2019 through Best Company and two other entities, as previously reported by Seznam Zpravy in July.

This change in ownership, coupled with Safina’s cautious response, has raised concerns related to anti-Russian sanctions. Alexander Okatov had ostensibly replaced the company on behalf of Viktor Vekselberg, a prominent Russian oligarch with connections to President Putin. This transition took place shortly after Vekselberg, once known as the richest Russian and sometimes referred to as the “aluminum baron,” was added to the U.S. sanctions list.

Suspicion looms that Okatov’s role in Safina might have been a cover for Vekselberg, who has since faced sanctions by Canada, the UK, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Ukraine. Safina’s Russian management had previously denied any association with the oligarch, despite historical connections between Okatov and Vekselberg, including the fact that the Yekaterinburg plant managed by Okatov was owned by Vekselberg’s Renova group before sanctions were imposed.

The rapid transfer of assets after Okatov’s passing in July has led to suspicions of potentially fictitious transfers. According to the Russian Commercial Register, just a week after news of Okatov’s passing appeared on Telegram, Brigita, a company based in Moscow reportedly backed by Sergei Demidov, replaced Okatov as the new owner of Best Company and, consequently, Czech Safina. Brigita also holds a quarter share in the chemical group Orgsintez, creating a direct link to Viktor Vekselberg and his Renova holding, further solidifying the connection between the new owner and the oligarch.

The case of Safina and its links to Viktor Vekselberg had previously been under scrutiny by the Czech Financial Analytical Office, but no assets had been blocked in the Czech Republic thus far. This is partly because Vekselberg has not been included in the EU sanctions list, unlike some other Russian oligarchs.

Vekselberg’s troubles with sanctions began in April 2018 when he was added to the U.S. Treasury Department’s sanctions list alongside other wealthy Russians, primarily due to Russian activities in eastern Ukraine and his efforts to influence U.S. policy.

Furthermore, Vekselberg’s case has shed light on his attempts to establish connections with former U.S. President Donald Trump. It was revealed that he had close contact with Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen and met with him in person in early 2017, just days before Trump’s inauguration, at New York’s Trump Tower. Additionally, Cohen received half a million dollars from Vekselberg for purported consulting services.

These U.S. sanctions have taken a significant toll on Vekselberg’s global business ventures, resulting in a substantial decrease in his fortune and a decline in his ranking among the world’s wealthiest individuals. The emergence of Vekselberg-linked ownership in Czech Safina adds another layer of intrigue to the ongoing saga surrounding Russian oligarchs and international sanctions.

Article by Prague Forum

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