THE NEW RUSSIAN EMPIRE - 9
Britain has told Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman he was still welcome to invest in the country even after he was forced to divest gas assets there under pressure from the previous government.
The move will be viewed with big relief by wealthy Russians who have been watching Fridman's struggle to invest in Britain with great anxiety amid a standoff between Moscow and the West over the conflict in Ukraine.
Although the reassurances given to Fridman by Britain did not signal any significant improvement in relations with Moscow or indeed that any potential deal by Fridman would be necessarily cleared, they showed that Russian investments have not been entirely banned.
A LetterOne spokesman, when asked about the letter from the government said: "The new UK Government ... has stated to LetterOne that "the UK welcomes inward investment, and [the Secretary of State's] decision [to require the on-sale of DEA UK] is not a judgement on the suitability of LetterOne's owners to control these or any other assets in the UK."
Fridman, who together with partners raised as much as $12.5 billion from selling out of Russian oil firm TNK-BP several years ago has said he wants to turn LetterOne into a major international player and bought oil and gas explorer DEA from Germany's RWE.
But the previous British coalition government quickly opposed the deal this year telling L1 that it would divest DEA's UK North Sea gas fields. It cited fears of future sanctions against Russia which could put operations at the fields in danger and thus jeopardise Britain's energy security.
The United States and the European Union have imposed a series of sanctions on Russian companies, politicians and allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin in an attempt to persuade the Kremlin to change course in Ukraine.
However neither Fridman nor LetterOne were ever subject to sanctions and the billionaire is not seen as particularly close to the Kremlin.
L1 agreed to sell the UK fields this month to energy group Ineos, saying it would invest the funds into other core assets in Europe and North Africa.
However, the reassurances from Britain's department of energy are important for L1 which is looking to expand further in energy and telecoms.
Russian oligarchs from Roman Abramovich to Alisher Usmanov have brought in billions of dollars into Great Britain with most investments flowing into luxury properties or football clubs rather than industrial activities.
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