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Oligarchs Fall On Hard Times

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Around a week ago, billionaire Alexander Antonov was shot in Kaliningrad. By some miracle, 18 bullets didn’t kill him - he took five in the stomach, one in the chest and one blew off a finger.

It isn’t clear exactly whom he’d upset but a glance at his CV reveals that he was president of no less than five banks. Banksters aren’t flavour of the month anywhere. At the same time, in the UK, youths were busy vandalising the home of Sir Freddie Goodwin, disgraced former chief of RBS. Now in America, AIG employees are demanding extra security, noting some public ire about their obscene bonuses. Some claim to be living in fear.

When money goes walkabout, it can get nasty. During Russia’s rouble crash, banksters were the biggest target for hitmen with over 90 blown away in one year. The oligarchs aren’t too happy about this crash either. The 32 Russians on Forbes world richlist have lost a combined total of 250 billion since last year.

In contrast to Western governments throwing money at banksters, Russia isn’t buying the ‘too big to fail’ argument from a bunch of crooks. There was a 50 billion fund set aside with the State Development Bank, but with the plummeting oil price this has been mostly frozen. It could be needed to quell social unrest. Meanwhile. Medvedev has told the metal and mining barons they’ll have to reschedule their own debts, even if it means giving equity away to foreign investors.

The most knotty problems, however, are inter-oligarch disputes. For example, Mikhail Fridman’s Alfa Bank wants a billion right now from Oleg Deripaska’s RUSAL . . . but that happens to be 14bn short. Oleg can’t raise anything against his GAZ auto company because Vladimir Lisin of Novolipetsk Steel is owed so much by GAZ he’s forcing bankruptcy. Which in turn doesn’t go down a storm with the investment oligarchs who will lose a few billion staked in GAZ.

The debt-go-round has become so huge and interwoven that it seems to be taking all the oligarchs down together. Perhaps some minor disputes will still be ‘worked out’ in a doorway. For the most part though, it’s looking like the end of era - and a very short list of Russians on Forbes next year.

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