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U.S. Sanctions Spread Through Billionaires' Business Empires

Published: March 25, 2014 (Issue # 1802)



  • Visa and Mastercard suspended service for SMP Bank last week when its billionaire co-owners, Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, were blacklisted by the U.S.
    Photo: Maxim Stulov / Vedomosti

The latest U.S. sanctions against Russia have even hurt companies that Washington did not formally blacklist.

Although the sanctions officially target only Bank Rossia, a number of other banks also saw disruptions to their services by international payment systems Visa and MasterCard.

And there is a reason why: These lenders, such as SMP Bank, list among their co-owners the brothers Boris and Arkady Rotenberg — two of the individuals that the U.S. hit with fresh punitive measures Thursday.

Visa and MasterCard resumed services for the customers of SMP Bank and other banks that were initially suspended, saying they had received assurances from the U.S. government that they could carry on, Vedomosti reported Sunday. But the confusion throws into the spotlight the question of how U.S. businesses should interpret the sanctions in dealing with their Russian counterparts.

U.S. law prescribes that any businesses where sanctioned individuals own at least 50 percent come under the restrictions as well, a spokesperson for the the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The U.S. government also advises caution in dealing with companies in which sanctioned individuals own smaller stakes.

Yury Botiuk, an international trade lawyer at London-based Pinsent Masons, said that many U.S. and European Union companies and financial institutions would try to limit any exposure to counterparts affected by the sanctions.

"Whether this could lead to contractual breaches depends on individual circumstances," he said. "This is when the financial bite of the sanctions regime can start to get very real very fast."

The Rotenbergs own 38 percent each in SMP Bank.

Visa said in a statement Friday that it cut service to two more lenders, Sobinbank, a subsidiary of Bank Rossia; and Investkapitalbank, co-owned by the Rotenbergs.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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