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Russian billionaire Usmanov to sue opposition activist Navalny

Billionaire Alisher Usmanov says he is ready to sue Alexei Navalny in foreign courts, if necessary

MOSCOW, April 12. /TASS/. Billionaire Alisher Usmanov will file a slander lawsuit with a court of Russian jurisdiction against opposition activist Alexei Navalny but is also ready to sue him in foreign courts, if necessary, the businessman said on Wednesday.

In an interview with business newspaper Vedomosti, Usmanov, who is Russia’s fifth wealthiest man under the rankings of news agency Bloomberg with an estimated fortune of $14 billion, said he considered real estate operations mentioned in the opposition activist’s accusations as commercial deals and not as a bribe.

A video posted by Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund in early March claimed that SotsGosProyekt Foundation whose supervisory board is chaired by Ilya Yeliseyev, a former classmate of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, had received a land plot together with an estate in the village of Znamenskoye on the Rublyovskoye highway outside Moscow from Usmanov under a donation agreement. Navalny said that the property transfer to the SotsGosProyekt Foundation was a bribe as the real estate was subsequently used as the prime minister’s residence, according to the politician.

Usmanov rejected the bribe accusations, saying he was not afraid of Navalny’s statements on filing counter-claims in foreign courts.

According to the businessman, the deal was a commercial transaction. As the businessman said, his sister Gulbakhor earlier lived on that land site but she expressed her wish to live closer to him. At her request, Usmanov exchanged the plot of land together with a ready-made house in the village of Znamenskoye for another land site in the village of Uspenskoye close to the businessman’s house. The land site in the Uspenskoye village earlier belonged to the SotsGosProyekt Foundation.

"First of all, it’s me who has decided to turn to a court of law - to a Russian panel as it is normally done between Russian citizens. But he is using a statement about Western courts to turn the discussion to another side. However, there is law there as well. Judicial systems are imperfect everywhere but one must not use slander either in our country or abroad," Usmanov said.

Commercial deals

According to Usmanov, the donation agreement mentioned in Navalny’s accusations was part of a complex commercial deal to buy a land plot for his sister but the deal itself was carried out in a cashless form. As a result of the deal, the Foundation also gave up plans to build estates on a land site adjacent to Usmanov’s house and, therefore, the businessman considers the swap as equitable.

"They did me a favor, giving a possibility to expand the estate’s territory," Usmanov said, adding that he had built a house for his sister on a land plot close to his estate.

The businessman earlier said in an interview with TASS that Navalny had crossed the red line by accusing him of crimes. In a new interview, the businessman said that the lawsuits would also include Navalny’s other accusations.

"I’ll remind him of all the pronouncements addressed to me. Before that, he used to say that I had allegedly participated in privatization. Which privatization?" the businessman told Vedomosti, adding that he had purchased his core assets in the mining industry and the telecoms sector at market prices.

Usmanov is the biggest shareholder of USM Holding Company, which controls Metalloinvest metals giant, MegaFon cell phone operator and the Internet Company.

The businessman also owns large stakes in UTV Holding and CTC Media, and also the Kommersant publishing house and over 30% of shares of English FC Arsenal. Usmanov is also actively investing in foreign hi-tech assets, such as Xiaomi, Uber, JD and others.

Usmanov told Vedomosti that he personally knew Yeliseyev in the course of work in companies affiliated with Gazprom but he knew nothing about how the real estate received by the SotsGosProyekt Foundation as a result of the deal was subsequently used.

"I don’t know about this. Yeliseyev wanted to organize a representation house there. The house was unfit for use in the form it was transferred and I spent some time rebuilding it. This was part of our commercial agreements," Usmanov said.