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US Treasury removes Soviet-born scientist from Russian oligarch list

Valentin Gapontsev (Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/WikiCommons)
September 13, 2019

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

The U.S. Treasury Department has taken a Soviet-born scientist with U.S. citizenship off its so-called “Russian Oligarch” list following a 20-month lobbying effort and court fight in Washington.

Valentin Gapontsev, who has dual Russian and U.S. citizenship, is the first person to get his name taken off the 2018 list, which comprised 96 billionaires, including friends of President Vladimir Putin.

“The United States Department of Treasury is of the opinion that, if it had to create the unclassified report today, Dr. Valentin Gapontsev would not be listed among oligarchs in the Russian Federation,” Paul Ahern, acting principal deputy assistant secretary said in a letter posted on September 11 on the agency’s website.

The U.S. Treasury Department put Gapontsev, founder of the Oxford, Massachusetts-based IPG Photonics, on the list of Russian tycoons it submitted to Congress in January 2018. Gapontsev had relocated to the U.S. nearly two decades earlier to develop his fiber-laser business.

The U.S. Congress had required Treasury to compile a list of wealthy Russians it could potentially sanction as part of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act that was passed in 2017 in response to intelligence allegations that the Kremlin interfered in U.S. elections.

The Treasury’s list was identical to the 96 billionaires compiled by Forbes in its 2017 annual report of the wealthiest Russians. Gapontsev was 53rd on the list with a net worth estimated at $1.6 billion.

Gapontsev first lobbied and then filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury in December 2018 claiming he did not meet the definition of a Russian oligarch. That term usually refers to individuals — such as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s billionaire former judo instructor Arkady Rotenberg — who have used their proximity to the Kremlin to acquire enormous wealth.

The 80-year old Gapontsev argued that his net worth came from his own inventions. He claimed to have met Putin only once in 2011 upon receiving an award for scientific excellence.

Gapontsev also claimed to be the only person on the list to hold U.S. citizenship. He argued that his designation as a Russian oligarch was impacting his business, including greater oversight from banks.

Gapontsev still controls about one-third of IPG Photonics, a NASDAQ-listed company with a market value of $7.9 billion, implying his net worth may be as high as $2.5 billion.