July 28, 2021

Mikhail Fridman, oligarch: “We have to prove that a Russian can become an international businessman”


In London in front of Italian dishes, the combative oligarch talks about his battles with BP, the Moscow affairs of the 1990s and explains why Russian billionaires have a “moral duty” to become global players


As I sit down with Mikhail Fridman at Frescobaldi, an Italian restaurant in Mayfair, my gaze meets a quote from Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ on the white ceramic tiles behind us: “The devil is not as black as he is painted”.

For years, Mikhail Fridman has been described in the Western press as the symbol of everything that goes wrong in Russian companies. He was portrayed as a ruthless tycoon who exploited the corruption of the politicians and courts of his country, a billionaire tyrant who was unstoppable to defeat his competitors and even his partners.

As a journalist in Moscow in the 1990s, I witnessed his rise as he began to amass his fortune currently estimated by ‘Forbes’ at $ 14.6 billion. Back in London, I covered the ins and outs of his war with BP over the Russian-British oil joint venture TNK-BP, one of the most spectacular corporate battles of the past decade. The company had been the subject of government attacks over tax and labor law, and had been raided by police – unguided procedures, she said, by Mikhail Fridman and her partners in a stealth takeover . US TNK-BP boss Bob Dudley fled Russia in July 2008 after suffering a campaign he described as “sustained harassment”.

“He was portrayed as a ruthless tycoon who exploited the corruption of the politicians and courts of his country, a billionaire tyrant who could not stop to defeat his competitors and even his partners”

I had prepared to receive some threats: here is a man whose appetite for litigation is legendary and who, at a 2010 conference entitled ‘How I became an oligarch’ said that, of all human activities, “Entrepreneurship is in a way the closest to war”. But today he is jovial and his voice is soft. After moving his base […]

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