Russian businessman Vladimir Potanin, who has briefly occupied a high state position in the past, has spent years in the top league of Russian business with a fair result. And that is why the art of lobbyism for his own interests in various departments is well familiar to him.
The Ministry of Natural Resources has notified Unesco recently on its plans to exclude a section of the territory of the Kamchatka Volcanos, a world heritage site, from the internationally protected area for construction of a mountainous resort by Vladimir Potanin’s Interros Group. This move may set a precedent for Russia and entail a whole chain of upsetting events related to the destruction of nature conservation areas. The very fact a request for it has sprung up testifies to the seriousness of the billionaire’s intentions to affect the environmental agenda. And here it is the right moment to recall the state of things at the manufacturing facilities, which bring fortunes to Mr. Potanin. One may get an impression that Potanin’s brand secret is simple – use your connections, economize on safety and ecological friendliness. Each company he has touched lives by the principles of this great mastermind of the loans-for-shares auctions of mid-1990’s.
The smelting factory in the township of Nikel, the northern Murmansk region, literally suffocates the local citizens for years upon years. This suffocation intensified notably after the crisis of 2008. This was understandable – everyone had to become frugal and to start thinking about money. The difference was the local residents had to economize on bread while Potanin saved money on the residents’ health.
However, in June 2014 the factory reached the red line. The poisonous atmospheric discharges of sulfur made people in neighboring Norway cough, and Norwegians are not the ones who trample on federal laws. Sample probes showed that a cubic meter of air contained 1,980 micrograms of sulfur dioxide, exceeding the norm by a factor of six. Norwegians left high-flown politics aside and made the culprit – the factory in Nikel – outright. The international scandal embraced the omnipotent businessman Potanin who said he found the situation highly saddening. To calm the Norwegians’ concerns he came up with a populist promise to slash the discharges in Nikel and to spend 14 billion krones for this purpose, as the Norwegians found the stench from the factory highly unpleasant.
But the smelting shop at the Kola ore-dressing and smelting factory, which has been contaminating the environment for years, remains in operation even now, and this stench in the township is as strong as ever. Instead of investing 14 billion krones Potanin preferred slashing the Gordian knot and declared a forthcoming closure of the workshop.
This made the authorities nervous as 800 jobless workers would pose a really serious problem for the township. Given this situation the master of “nickel mounts” had to promise not to leave the township in oblivion, saying it would get an impetus for development of tourism.
It is clear as daylight the Norwegians will be especially happy to do sightseeing in Nikel. Let us give some advice for free: small business in the township can be repurposed for the production of gasmasks combined with Russian fur-hats.
In 2016 the residents of Norilsk complained about the chemical contamination of the Daldykan River that turned garish red all of a sudden. Potanin’s Norilsk Nikel Group admitted it was responsible for making the river so colorful. Still they said they had no guilt on their part, as the filtration plant had been inundated by abnormal rainfall which washed everything away into the river.
In 2018 the suburb of Norilsk came under a blood-red rain. It turned out that this highly original entertainment had once again originated at one of Potanin’s factories. It had just been cleared of sludge and rust of all sorts. However, wind blew all that rubbish away. Once again no one was responsible, don’t you think so?
There is no need to recall the hundreds of violations that supervision and control agencies have found at Potanin’s plants. In most cases they were caused by negligence of Russian legislation.
Potanin’s assets do not confine to Norilsk Nikel. Take for instance the gorgeously advertised resort Rosa Khutor (that Potanin controls through Belfund Investments Limited and WHITELEAVE HOLDINGS LIMITED). In spite of an enormous inflow of tourists (or at least the reports by local officials and mass media claim so) it is ending the forth year in the red in a row and it doesn’t pay taxes to Sochi’s municipal budget.
Local residents are highly displeased by that and they accuse Potanin of siphoning money to the Cyprus-based tax havens. And what would these havens be needed for otherwise? The company doesn’t betray its owner’s general guideline. In April 2019, when one Russian nature conservation watchdog Rosprirodnadzor came to Rosa Khutor for a scheduled inspection the executives there made helpless gestures: they had no documents to show. But Rosprirodnadzor proved to be kinder than a magical fairy-tail doctor. It accorded time until July for Potanin’s resort to submit all the information, and sources say the sides resolved the problem to mutual pleasure.
Russia’s Federal Service For Hydrometeorology also skimmed nice profits at the resort in April. It established that the Rosa Khutor company was not observing the norms and the regulations regarding active impact on climatic and other geophysical processes. Putting it simply the Alpine skiing resort sent snow avalanches down as part of mandatory practice. Notably, it used directed explosions for the purpose, making economy on the professionals and on observation of laws, which didn’t benefit either nature or people.
Incidentally, it was back in 2018 that the Russian Federal Agency For Technology Supervision, Rostechnadzor caught the famous resort in unauthorized slashing of the safety space that separates man and the explosion epicenter to 25 meters. This violation was entered in the blasting data sheet and the personnel didn’t have an idea of the passport’s contents.
Polus Zoloto Company is thriving too. When Rostechnadzor made an unscheduled inspection in the Erudo-Pitsky ad Novo-kolaminsky ranger districts in the Krasnoyarsk territory it turned out they were operating without commissioning permits. The inspectors found another nine violations there.
Olympiadinsky ore-dressing factory didn’t have the equipment for washing down sulfuric acid spillages and its concrete structural elements were made of concrete of an unknown composition. The South-Verkhoyansk mining company that has a license to develop the Nezhdaninsky deposit in Yakutiya was caught by Rosprirodnadzor in September 2019 during an unscheduled check as it distorted the information on the volumes of drilling.
Somewhat earlier, Rosprirodnadzor exposed dozens of violations by the company. Some of them related to the construction of a workshop in the water-intake protection area. Besides the project didn’t have the drainage for headwaters.
In August last year the company also managed to play tricks on the Fisheries Supervision Agency Rosrybolovstvo. It kept shirking for almost a year the correction of violations pointed out by the inspectors.
These facts usually come to the surface only if the scheduled inspection does take place. However, not a single inspection of the four initially scheduled took place at the Estate Service company on Moscow’s Bolshaya Spasskaya street. Potanin controls the company through Interros International Investment Limited. The ministry for Emergency Situations (EMERCOM) and Rosselkhoznadzor called off their inspections voluntarily in less than an hour after they had begun. As for a scheduled check in August, the ministry officials didn’t find anything deplorable in the course of it. All of this is just a sliver of the asserts controlled by Potanin who competed with the oligarch Boris Berezovsky back in the 1990s in terms of what they had acquired during privatization.
Potanin’s wife, whom he has decided to divorce, is currently busy searching for his money in tax heavens. She told reporters honestly it was in offshore companies, and not in Russia, that the bulk of Potanin’s business was hidden. Since Natalya Potanina has already got to the US, a lot of revelations on the empire of the former MGIMO diplomatic university graduate may be forthcoming.