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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Igor Sechin: the epitome of power in Putin’s Russia | Energy industry

Igor Sechin knows better than most that the course of true love never did run smooth. Amore Vero, a yacht linked to the head of the state oil company Rosneft, once bore the name St Princess Olga, apparently in honour of Olga Rozhkova, his second wife.

After the couple split, around 2017, according to independent Russian media, the boat was renamed.

Sechin, a close ally of Vladimir Putin who has been described as the second most important person in Russia, never publicly claimed ownership of the Amore Vero. However, a reporter at Moscow-based Novaya Gazeta traced a series of pictures on Rozhkova’s Instagram that matched the 86-metre vessel and its movements through the world’s most glamorous ports. The boat accommodates up to 14 guests in eight staterooms, plus a private owner’s deck and a swimming pool that turns into a helipad.

Sechin was sanctioned by the EU on Monday, but he has not been blacklisted by the UK. Now the French government has confirmed it thinks he is the main shareholder of the offshore company that owned the Amore Vero. It was seized this week by customs in a night-time raid on a dockyard near Marseille.

The Amore Vero was seized this week by French customs.
The Amore Vero was seized this week by French customs. Photograph: Albert Gea/Reuters

The $120m ($90m) Amore Vero and others like it have become symbols of a crackdown on the super-wealthy elite around Putin after the invasion of Ukraine prompted a wave of sanctions as the US, EU and UK try to isolate Russia’s economy.

As chief executive of Rosneft, Sechin commands a central place in that economy. The oil it supplies to the world is one of Putin’s key geopolitical tools, and taxes on the company brought in 1.8tn roubles for the Russian government in 2020 alone. That cash would have been enough to fund about 40% of the annual military budget.

A Rosneft refinery in the Samara region of Russia.
A Rosneft refinery in the Samara region of Russia. Photograph: Yegor Aleyev/TASS

Perhaps more than anyone else, Sechin is representative of the mixing of political and financial power that has characterised Russia since the chaotic collapse of the Soviet Union. He has prospered under a regime that has seen huge private fortunes built from publicly owned assets.

“He is one of Vladimir Putin’s most trusted and closest advisors, as well as his personal friend,” the EU sanctions notice alleges. “He has been in contact with the Russian president on a daily basis.”

Rosneft did not respond to requests for comment, but before the invasion a spokesperson said the company was “a commercial organisation” that had no “political agenda”. A yacht management company associated with the Amore Vero denied on Thursday that Sechin owned it. “I can absolutely say that Igor Sechin is not the owner,” a spokesperson for Imperial Yachts, which manages the vessel, told CNN.

Sechin, 61, has revealed relatively little about his early life, but he studied French and Portuguese at Leningrad University in what is now St Petersburg. He then served in the army in Angola and Mozambique as a translator, according to Russian media. However, he is widely seen as a key member of Russia’s “siloviki”, the former members of the Russian security services who are thought to wield significant power in the country.

He has ridden on Putin’s coattails to Russia’s upper echelons. In the 1990s he worked in Putin’s office when the latter was mayor of St Petersburg, and in 1999 became deputy head of Putin’s administration.

Igor Sechin, right, and Vladimir Putin visit the Konevsky monastery on Konevets Island on Lake Ladoga.
Igor Sechin, right, and Vladimir Putin visit the Konevsky monastery on Konevets Island on Lake Ladoga. Photograph: Alexei Nikolsky/TASS

Sechin was first appointed to the Rosneft board in 2004, shortly before it absorbed the assets previously controlled by the billionaire owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky – now an exile after serving 10 years in prison following the dismantling of his company, Yukos.

While Sechin served a four-year term as deputy prime minister from 2008, it was his arguably his appointment as Rosneft chief in 2012 that marked his key position in Putin’s regime. Under his eye the company struck deals with Italy’s Eni, Norway’s Statoil (now Equinor), China’s CNPC and America’s ExxonMobil – then led by Rex Tillerson, later hired as US secretary of state by Donald Trump.

The EU claimed Sechin has been “rewarded” by Putin with “great wealth” to outdo even his Rosneft pay, reported at as much as $11.8m in 2015. (Sechin’s pay was not disclosed in the latest annual report.)

Rosneft returns the favours. The EU said the oil company financed the vineyards of a palace complex used personally by Putin near the Black Sea resort town of Gelendzhik.

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