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Men of russian oligarchy { November 9 2003 }

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November 9, 2003
Money, if Not Power

The drama in Russia over the arrest of the billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky turns a spotlight on the small group of relatively young men the so-called oligarchs who were allowed to grab enormous fortunes when Russia sold off Soviet state assets in the mid-1990's under President Boris Yeltsin. What they have not been allowed to do is use that wealth to mount any challenge to Mr. Putin, and their attempts to do so has sent some of them to prison, and others into exile. The rest mostly keep quiet. Here is a look at several oligarchs, and where they are now:

Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, 40, whose wealth is estimated at $8 billion, is Russia's richest man. During privatization he bid for control of Yukos oil company in an auction that his bank both arranged and then won. He later combined Yukos with Sibneft, another oil company, to create the world's fourth-largest producer. President Putin came to fear that Mr. Khodorkovsky was using his wealth to finance opposition to him, and the oil magnate was arrested on Oct. 25 on charges of fraud, embezzlement and tax evasion.

Boris A. Berezovsky, 57, helped Mr. Yeltsin win election and became a big shareholder in Aeroflot and ORT television. He fell out with Mr. Putin and reportedly sold his stake in the television station after being ordered to hand control over to the state. He moved to London in late 2000. After he was charged at home with corruption and murder, Britain granted him political asylum in September.

Vladimir A. Gusinsky, 51, financed a television station, NTV, that often criticized President Putin and the Chechnya war. He was arrested twice in 2000, and in 2001 Russia's state-owned natural gas monopoly Gazprom took over his media holdings. Mr. Gusinsky now lives in Israel. The Kremlin has tried unsuccessfully to extradite him, most recently from Greece, on fraud and embezzlement charges.

Roman A. Abramovich, 37, an orphan turned oil magnate with an estimated net value of more than $5 billion, has been divesting himself of some Russian interests (in Sibneft and Aeroflot) but retains others. He now lives mostly in Britain, where he has bought the Chelsea soccer club. Originally an oil trader, he joined with Mr. Berezovsky in acquiring Sibneft when it was privatized under Mr. Yeltsin.

Oleg V. Deripaska, 35, is laying low, having achieved prosperity by trading blocks of Russian aluminum companies and becoming C.E.O. of Rusal, the world's second-largest aluminum company. (He recently bought 25 percent of the company from Mr. Abramovich for an estimated $2 billion, giving him a 75 percent interest.) His empire also includes bus and car producers, and his public advocacy is notable chiefly for supporting protectionism. He is married to Mr. Yeltsin's step-granddaughter.

Vladimir O. Potanin, 42, also remains in Russia and prospers. His holdings include a stake in Norilsk Nickel, an enormous metals and mining concern. He came under criticism after a restructuring of Norilsk in 2000, but has polished his public image by becoming a patron of the arts.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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