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US lifts sanctions on Rusal, other firms with links to Deripaska

Oleg Deripaska, Russian billionaire. (Michael Wuertenberg/World Economic Forum)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. Treasury Department says sanctions imposed on three companies linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska have been lifted.

The action, which was strongly opposed by the Democratic-controlled U.S. House, was announced on January 27 in a statement by the Treasury.

The Treasury said the removal of sanctions was based on the fact that aluminum giant Rusal, its parent company En+, and power firm EuroSibEnergo “have reduced Oleg Deripaska’s direct and indirect shareholding stake in these companies and severed his control.”

“This action ensures that the majority of directors on the En+ and Rusal boards will be independent directors — including U.S. and European persons — who have no business, professional, or family ties to Deripaska or any other [sanctioned individuals], and that independent U.S. persons vote a significant bloc of the shares of En+,” it added.

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On January 28 in Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the Treasury’s decision to lift the sanctions against the three Russian companies, but reiterated Russia’s view that the restrictions were “illegal from the angle of international law.”

The sanctions were initially imposed in April, but they roiled global metals markets, unnerving businesses in the United States and Europe; Rusal is one of the world’s largest aluminum producers.

The U.S. administration later reached a deal with the Russian firms to end Deripaska’s control in return for a lifting of sanctions.

On January 17, lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution to stop sanctions on the companies from being lifted.

The vote was mainly symbolic, given a similar measure failed to be approved by the Senate a day earlier. President Donald Trump’s administration had lobbied lawmakers hard not to pass the measure.

U.S. critics have accused the president of making too many concessions to Russia with nothing in return, while Trump has insisted he has been tougher on Moscow than previous presidents.

Many Democratic lawmakers, and even some Republicans, insist that it is inappropriate to ease the sanctions at a time while Special Counsel Robert Mueller is probing whether Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Moscow.

“We are dealing with the enemy. We are in an investigation,” Democrat Maxine Waters, chairwoman of the House Committee on Financial Services, said before the House vote, which passed 362-53 in favor.

Deripaska, who is widely believed to have close ties to the Kremlin, agreed to dispose of his controlling stakes in the companies. He himself remains subject to U.S. sanctions.

According to the Russian state-run TASS news agency, Deripaska has reduced his stake in En+ to 44.95 percent from about 70 percent previously.

In addition to his ties to the Kremlin, Deripaska also was a former business partner with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman.

Manafort was convicted in federal court in Virginia in August 2017 of bank fraud and tax evasion connected to his work with pro-Russia elements in Ukraine. He later pleaded guilty in a separate case to two counts of conspiracy to avoid a second trial in Washington, D.C.