The capricious billionaire Oleg Tinkov refused Russian citizenship

The founder of the Tinkoff online bank announced on Monday that he will renounce his Russian citizenship. This colorful billionaire, who openly opposes the war in Ukraine, is one of the few big Russian bosses who dares to tell his four truths to Vladimir Putin.

This is Oleg Tinkov’s latest coup: the capricious billionaire, who has been living abroad for several years, announced on October 31 that he renounced his Russian citizenship in protest against the occupation of Ukraine.

“I decided to renounce my Russian citizenship. I cannot and do not want to be associated with a fascist country that started a war with its peaceful neighbor and causes the death of innocent people every day,” he explained. In a message on Instagram accompanied by a photo of a certificate from the Russian consulate confirming the expiration of his citizenship.

“I hate Putin’s Russia, but I love all Russians who openly oppose this crazy war!” – wrote the Cypriot citizen.

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In April, the 54-year-old Russian billionaire already made headlines by condemning the “absurd” attack in Ukraine. Accustomed to destructive “punchlines” on social networks, he began: “The generals woke up in the evening and realized that they have a bad army,” then turned to the West: “Please leave Mr. Putin a clear way out. he can save face and put an end to this carnage.”

Fallen billionaire

At that time, never before had a Russian businessman dared to take such a strong position against the war in Ukraine. While some, such as Oleg Deripaska, the founder of Rusal, the world’s number two aluminum producer, or even Mikhail Friedman, the head of Alfa Bank, spoke out against the invasion that began on February 24, they were careful not to directly attack Vladimir Putin.

Oleg Tinkov crossed the red line and paid dearly. Following his criticism, he claims he was forced by the Kremlin to sell his stake in Tinkoff, an online bank that has become a huge success in Russia in recent years, becoming the third-largest retail banking entity behind the state-owned giants. Sberbank and VTB. Tinkoff claims to have around 20 million customers today.

“I couldn’t negotiate anything, I was like a hostage,” he told the New York Times in the spring, not revealing where he lives in Europe due to threats to his security. The “discounted sale” of 35% of its shares is in favor of Russian oligarch Vladimir Potani, the “nickel king”, who is known to be close to the Kremlin.

Another episode in the turbulent period of the fallen billionaire: in October 2021, he had to pay a fine of $500 million for tax evasion in the United States. A few months ago, he announced that he would be stepping away from the business world to devote himself to charity work due to his diagnosis of leukemia.

Beer, bikes and ravioli

The career of Oleg Tenkov, the son of a minor father from a family of landowners and a seamstress mother, has everything from the perfect American man. Very early on, he developed a penchant for entrepreneurship and started selling items at the market in his hometown. While a student in St. Petersburg, he began importing jeans and lipstick, which he bought from foreign students to sell at high prices.

After three years of university, he dropped out to devote himself to a very lucrative business importing household appliances from Poland. In the late 1990s, he launched Daria, named after his daughter, a frozen pelmeni firm, a meat-filled ravioli that was very popular in Russia. Then he created the Tinkoff brewery, which became one of the most important factories in the country. He studied marketing in Berkeley, California, returned to Russia in 2006 and founded Tinkoff Bank, the country’s first online bank.

Often compared to Virgin Group founder Richard Bronson for being above it all, this petite queen lover also became the head of the Tinkoff-Saxo cycling team in 2013. The general public is then introduced to this tall, eccentric blonde with clear blue eyes who doesn’t hesitate to overtake the Tour de France peloton on his bike before the start of each stage.

Tinkoff provides the show, while causing discord in the cycling world, antics and excesses abound: insulting the International Cycling Union (UCI), threatening to boycott the Tour de France for a better distribution of race revenue, even its former leader, the runner-up He mocked Alberto Contador in public: “He never wanted to drink champagne, he always watches what he eats. […]. It’s stupid, that’s why it keeps falling,” he said, adding in a 2016 interview: “I’ve never liked him as a person. I don’t like him.”

A free electron

This admirer of Donald Trump, who shares the taste of offensive expressions, has always nurtured this seditious image and free spirit of the business world. The man who started work during the collapse of the USSR also likes to remind us that he is not an “oligarch”, he did not build his wealth on Yeltsin-era privatizations.

Most oligarchs are just “temporary managers of assets they don’t actually own,” he told the Financial Times in an interview.

He also claims he doesn’t own a yacht and has never set foot in the Kremlin. “I have seen Putin once in my life. He went to one of my restaurants in St. Petersburg. We drank beer together. It dates back to when he was elected president in 2000. We have not met since then,” he swore. Talk show on Youtube in 2017. In that interview, he also called Alexei Navalny, the number one opponent in the Kremlin, a “populist”.

Presented as a mere act of resistance to the war in Ukraine, Oleg Tinkov’s renunciation of Russian citizenship may serve his financial interests by allowing him to avoid Western sanctions and allay the fears of potential commercial partners.

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The billionaire is not the first Russian to make such a decision. Nikolay Storonsky from the London-based startup “Revolut” announced in October that he would renounce his Russian citizenship, as did Yuri Milner, an entrepreneur living in the United States.

Oleg Tenkov now hopes that “other prominent Russian businessmen will follow [son] For example, to weaken (Vladimir) Putin’s regime.”

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