With the crisis in Ukraine escalating — Russia is laying siege to major cities, while more than a million Ukrainians have fled — the U.S. and its allies are applying more economic pressure on key allies of Vladimir Putin: Russian oligarchs. But as governments around the world attempt to seize or freeze these billionaires’ extensive and far-flung assets, they are finding that a comprehensive crackdown isn’t easy.
The U.S. Justice Department announced a new team, known as Task Force KleptoCapture, which Attorney General Merrick Garland says will pursue the assets of “those whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue this unjust war.”
France said it has seized a yacht belonging to Igor Sechin, the head of the Russian state oil giant Rosneft, while Germany has reportedly taken a yacht owned by Alisher Usmanov. (Maritime tracking now shows at least five oligarch-owned yachts around the Maldives, which doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S.)
Japan said today that it would freeze assets tied to oligarchs, matching Western actions.
Britain said it was exploring how to seize properties from oligarchs and would publish a list of people and groups tied to Putin, including those not under formal sanctions, with the aim of discouraging anyone from doing business with them.
Private groups are also applying pressure. Vladimir Potanin has stepped down as a trustee of the Guggenheim Museum, while some in the art world are calling for a boycott of the auction house Phillips, which is owned by Russia’s Mercury Group. The English soccer club Everton suspended sponsorship agreements with companies tied to Usmanov as well.
The sudden sale of Chelsea F.C. is a telling sign. The English professional soccer club’s owner, Roman Abramovich, confirmed yesterday that he is trying to sell the club he has owned since 2003, with a reported price tag of at least $2.5 billion, days after British lawmakers questioned whether he should face sanctions. (Abramovich, who made his fortune in the post-Communist privatizations of Russia’s oil and industrial sectors, has denied links to Putin. Israel’s Holocaust Museum is among those urging the U.S. not to impose sanctions on him.) Abramovich is also reportedly offloading properties in London.
What price Abramovich and other oligarchs will get for their assets is unclear. Property agents said that concerns about sanctions would make buyers of mansions and luxury apartments wary. One potential bidder for Chelsea, the Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss, said that $2.5 billion was “far too much.” Another possible buyer of the club, the L.A. investor Todd Boehly, reportedly offered $2.9 billion in 2019 — far higher than he would be likely to offer now. (Raine Group, the bank charged with selling Chelsea, has its work cut out.)
Abramovich said that the sale of Chelsea “will not be fast-tracked but will follow due process.” As investors shun all things Russian, they appear to be thinking twice about even the most deeply discounted assets.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Jay Powell says the Fed will stay the course on raising interest rates. The central bank’s chair told lawmakers that rates were likely to be raised a quarter point later this month, despite uncertainty around Ukraine. But Powell added that the Fed would remain “nimble” in its response to the economic effects of the war.
Eight states investigate TikTok over its impact on younger users. A bipartisan group is studying how the video app tried to boost engagement, and whether this harmed teenagers and young adults.
Ford will split itself in two. The automaker will now have one division focused on making gas-powered cars and maximum profit, and another devoted to electric vehicles and rapid growth. Ford’s move echoes a common demand of activist investors, but won’t formally break up the company.
Elon Musk invites a union vote at Tesla. The billionaire tweeted yesterday that the company wouldn’t stop an effort by the U.A.W. to organize its workers, years after the carmaker discouraged a previous campaign. Meanwhile, workers at an REI store in Manhattan voted to unionize, and the National Labor Relations Board approved a union election at a second Amazon warehouse on Staten Island.
Australia fully reopens its borders. After 697 days, the last of the country’s pandemic entry restrictions were lifted for fully vaccinated travelers. Separately, Google told employees at several of its U.S. locations to begin returning to the office in April.
The latest on the Russia-Ukraine war
A plan to keep business open during Covid
The Biden administration introduced its new coronavirus response strategy yesterday, a 96-page plan aimed at turning the corner on the public health crisis. Much of it would require extra funding from Congress, and Republicans seem wary. Not all the initiatives are new, but taken together they amount to a blueprint for dealing with the next phase of the pandemic, though the White House insists the fight against Covid is far from over.
The plan has big implications for business. Here are some of the proposals:
Give businesses tests to help them stay open, as the administration encourages a “test to treat” approach. (Many smaller businesses had trouble securing tests during Omicron’s peak.)
Develop a Clean Air Building Checklist, effectively serving as a rating system to help businesses manage air safety, which health experts have stressed is necessary to managing airborne diseases.
Ask Congress to revive tax credits for paid sick and family leave for Covid-related absences. Credits were offered early in the pandemic and unions have also urged Congress to reinstate them, particularly as companies reduce time off to reflect the C.D.C.’s changing isolation guidance.
Seen and heard
“Even if there’s no legal violation, the public wants to know if there is full transparency there.”
— Kedric Payne, the senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, on the questions surrounding the nomination of Sarah Bloom Raskin as the Fed’s head of bank oversight. Republicans citing concerns over her work on a fintech company’s board have frozen her nomination, which also prevents President Biden’s four other Fed nominees, including Jay Powell in his renomination as chair, from advancing.
The Russia-Ukraine War and the Global Economy
“The markets are behaving rationally. It’s Putin who is irrational.”
— Eugene Fama, the Nobel-winning economist known as the father of the efficient market theory, on making sense of the market’s swings since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We all love a great story. She does her research; she believes what she believes. Sometimes when the market moves against her, she digs in more.”
— Lisa Shalett, who oversaw Cathie Wood at AllianceBernstein, on the star fund manager’s strongly held convictions. The investment firm that Wood now runs, Ark Invest, rose to prominence by making big bets on “disruptive innovation,” which paid off in the tech stock boom earlier in the pandemic but have since turned sour.
Climbing the career ladder from outside the office
Functioning in a fully remote office for months or years during the pandemic has convinced many companies (and their employees) that working from home has advantages. But while remote work may be desirable, it lacks obvious substitutes for the ways in which young workers have developed career paths. As companies prepare for a “new normal” that involves remote work, some are thinking about how to provide these sorts of opportunities in the virtual world, Corinne Purtill reports for DealBook.
Here are three things companies are trying:
Manager training: Nationwide Insurance, which early in the pandemic moved most of its 25,000 workers permanently to hybrid or work-from-home arrangements, created templates for managers to use for pairing workers with mentors or company resources.
Data tracking: The software developer HubSpot has designated 95 percent of its jobs as “work from anywhere.” It plans to track it along with other diversity data to ensure that work location preference isn’t interfering with promotion chances.
Virtual water coolers: Last year, Harvard researchers ran an experiment in which they randomly assigned some interns at a global bank to take part in one-on-one video meetings with senior executives. Others met virtually with fellow interns, and some were assigned no extra meetings. Those who met senior employees had better performance reviews at the end of the summer and were more likely to receive job offers.
THE SPEED READ
The sports-merchandising company Fanatics has raised $1.5 billion in new capital at a $27 billion valuation. (WSJ)
Apollo Global Management is said to be considering combining Yahoo Sports with an online betting company. (CNBC)
Epic Games will buy Bandcamp, the independent music platform. (NYT)
The S.E.C. is reportedly scrutinizing NFTs. (Bloomberg)
The Biden administration is said to be preparing challenges to Beijing’s corporate subsidies. (WSJ)
“Biden admin to applicants: Maybe don’t invest in weed companies” (Politico)
Best of the rest
Melinda French Gates speaks about her divorce: “There just came a point in time where there was enough there that I realized it just wasn’t healthy, and I couldn’t trust what we had.” (CBS News)
Twitter is seeking to reinvent itself by embracing decentralization. (NYT)
Amazon is shutting down over 50 of its physical stores. (NYT)
“This Social Club Runs on Crypto Tokens and Vibes” (NYT)
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