LONDON (AFP) – Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman and banker Petr Aven, both the target of European Union (EU) sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine, are withdrawing from the LetterOne investment fund they co-founded, the company said on Wednesday.
Fridman, one of Russia’s richest men, had withdrawn on Tuesday from the European groups in which he is a shareholder, though both men deny having any “financial or political relationship” with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
LetterOne, with headquarters in Luxembourg and offices in London, owns net assets worth USD22.3 billion (2020 figures) invested in the energy, technology, health and retail sectors.
The Financial Times said the two men agreed to freeze their participation in the fund and to no longer be involved in the company.
They resigned from the board of directors whose current Non-Executive Chairman Mervyn Davies, a former labour minister, takes the reigns of the group.
LetterOne owns the Spanish supermarket chain Dia and holds shares in Wintershall Dea, one of the German groups involved the Nord Stream II pipeline, and in the main Turkish mobile phone operator Turkcell.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, Fridman and Aven insisted they had “no financial or political relationship” with Putin or the Kremlin.
The two said they “will contest the spurious and unfounded basis for the imposition of these sanctions – vigorously and through all means available to them – to reverse unwarranted and unnecessary damage to the livelihoods and prosperity” of their employees and business partners.
They did not say how they would go about contesting the EU sanctions.
Fridman resigned from the board of directors of Amsterdam-listed mobile network operator Veon, the company said on Tuesday, following his inclusion in the EU’s sanctions blacklist of Putin’s allies.
Veon operates mobile networks in Ukraine and Russia, as well as Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and Pakistan.
Fridman holds a 47.9-stake in the company through LetterOne.
In a statement late on Monday, Dia insisted it was not controlled by the Russian oligarch and would not be affected by his being blacklisted by the EU.
In a letter to his LetterOne employees, Fridman told staff that “war can never be the answer” and called for the “bloodshed” to end, the company told AFP last Sunday.