Alexei Mordashov: Russia’s richest man is now an EU sanctions target

He is the Russian oligarch who stepped in to keep travel firm Tui afloat, pumping in cash as international tourism came to a standstill during the pandemic.

However, Alexei Mordashov – who owns a third of Europe’s biggest tour operator and is its largest single shareholder – may be becoming something of a liability for Tui, whose shares are listed in London, after the EU added him to its sanctions list on Monday night.

While Mordashov has not been sanctioned in the UK, his business interests in the region will now be severely curtailed.

The EU has outlined various concerns about Mordashov: it claims that Rossiya Bank, in which he has a financial interest, is the “personal bank” of senior Russian officials who have benefited from the annexation of Crimea. The bloc also said it believes media businesses he is invested in had helped destabilise Ukraine through pro-Russian television stations.

Russia’s richest man, 56-year-old Mordashov rose from humble origins as the son of mill workers in the city of Cherepovets, 300 miles north of Moscow, to become the chief executive of Russia’s largest steel and mining company, Severstal.

Mordashov talks to President Vladimir Putin during a visit to the industrial city of Cherepovets. Photograph: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

He just missed out on a place in the top 50 richest people in the world in 2021, according to Forbes magazine’s list of billionaires, with a ranking of 51.

At the time his personal net worth was estimated at an eye-watering $29.1bn, and Mordashov remains the majority shareholder of Severstal, Russia’s largest steel company.

Severstal has previously released bulletins detailing how some of its high-strength products are used in the manufacture of Russian defence equipment, including armoured vehicles. Mordashov chairs its parent company, Severgroup, a private investment company, and has interests ranging from telecoms to gold mining, media and engineering.

Alongside his wide-ranging business interests, Mordashov owns the kind of accessories no self-respecting billionaire would be without, including a private jet and at least one yacht.

Perhaps fittingly for a travel firm shareholder, he is currently reportedly enjoying a holiday far from conflict or the European winter. The billionaire’s Bombardier Global 6000 private jet was last week tracked by plane watchers as having travelled from Seychelles to Moscow, although it did not include data about who was on board. Last Thursday, President Vladimir Putin invited some of Russia’s most prominent business people to a meeting at the Kremlin.

Mordashov’s jet – which boasts a large cabin, able to carry 14 passengers, and has a range allowing it to travel from London to Beijing non-stop – did not spend long in Russia before flying back to Seychelles.

The Nord, owned by Mordashov. Photograph: Cati Cladera/EPA

Meanwhile, one of the billionaire’s yachts, the 142-metre Nord, which shares its name with Mordashov’s gold-mining company, is overwintering in the Indian Ocean.

Built by German shipyard Lürssen and delivered in 2021, the vessel cost an estimated $500m and boasts Italian interior design, as well as a helicopter landing pad. The shipbuilder’s breathless description on its website explains how the vessel was “designed with one idea in mind: she must cause strong emotions in every observer, not only through her sheer size, but with the design itself”.

At a time of strong emotions, the boss of Tui, Fritz Joussen, made a bid to reassure the travel firm’s staff, insisting that Mordashov’s involvement did not pose a problem.

“Mr Mordashov has been a Tui shareholder for around 15 years and has held about a third of our company since he propped it up during the corona crisis,” Joussen wrote in a staff memo.

“Our company is run by the executive board, like any German public limited company, and not by the shareholders or the supervisory board. We therefore assume that any restrictions or sanctions against Mr Mordashov will not have any lasting negative consequences for us as a company.”

Mordashov first began to invest in Tui in 2007, and has been a member of the company’s supervisory board since 2016. He repeatedly bought shares during 2021, regularly spending millions, and taking his family’s current holding to 34%.

In a statement, Mordashov said he did not understand how his inclusion on the EU sanctions list would help resolve the conflict in Ukraine, stating: “I have absolutely nothing to do with the emergence of the current geopolitical tension.”

Describing himself as being removed from politics, he called for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine which he called a “tragedy of two fraternal peoples”.

“It is terrible that Ukrainians and Russians are dying, people are suffering hardships, the economy is collapsing. We must do everything necessary so that a way out of this conflict is found in the very near future and the bloodshed stops,” he said.

‘Ukrainians are our friends’: the young Russian anti-war protesters defying Putin – video