Former ministers and City grandees who have spent the past decade earning large pay cheques on boards of Russian-backed companies are now racing to cut ties.
London has attracted scores of Russian companies over the past two decades. Many sought to employ former politicians, such as Greg Barker at metals group EN+, or City veterans like Xavier Rolet at fertiliser group PhosAgro.
This week, both men stood down from their posts, adding to the exodus of board members from Russian-backed companies in London.
“Having the right board members clearly helped Russian companies open doors and add credibility,” said Tom Keatinge, director for the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies at think-tank Rusi. “Executives have allowed their reputations to be co-opted by these companies for a fee.”
The board of Evraz, whose biggest shareholder is sanctioned oligarch Roman Abramovich, resigned en masse this week, including Sir Michael Peat, former principal private secretary to the Prince of Wales.
Six members of Polymetal’s board have also stood down, including its British chair, while Richard Brasher, a former Tesco executive, left the board of X5, a Russian supermarket, and Joan MacNaughton departed En+.
Russian internet services groups VK and TCS Group also announced the departure of non-executive directors.
Many will have made the decision to leave under growing pressure from politicians and business groups. The Institute of Directors has called on all British executives to end involvement in businesses linked to the Russian economy.
“These decisions have been forced on them,” said Keatinge. “They waited until the last possible moment when it became untenable. They should not be applauded.”
But while board members can cut ties and move on, shareholders have been left with heavier losses. According to an analysis by investment bank, Cowen, about $330bn was wiped from the value of Russian-linked companies that used London for their secondary listings between the start of the conflict and the point at which trading in most of these were suspended.
Here the Financial Times looks at five directors who helped manage Russian-backed businesses in the UK.
Xavier Rolet, PhosAgro
Former London Stock Exchange boss Xavier Rolet joined the board of Moscow-based fertiliser company PhosAgro in 2018 and became chair in 2019.
He announced his resignation on Thursday, a day after the company’s chief executive and biggest shareholder, Andrey Guryev, was sanctioned by the EU.
Days earlier Rolet, a veteran banker and dealmaker, said in a statement that “the logic of using the weight of sanctions, boycotts and public pressure to punish LSE-listed companies for failures of policy and negotiation frankly eludes me”.
Trading in PhosAgro’s shares was suspended in London on March 3.
Rolet, who could not be reached for comment, earned 11.9mn roubles in 2018, 21.3mn roubles in 2019, and 27.1mn roubles in 2020, according to PhosAgro’s most recent annual report. Using the average exchange rates in each of these years, that works out as £141,000 in 2018, £258,000 in 2019 and £292,000 in 2020. The financier was awarded the Order of Friendship of the Russian Federation in 2017.
Sir Michael Peat, Evraz
The accountant and former private secretary to Prince Charles was, until Friday’s board exodus at Evraz, the steel company’s most high-profile British non-executive. He joined the board in October 2011, shortly before Evraz’s main listing on the London Stock Exchange in December.
Peat had been due to step down formally at the end of this month but left on Friday, alongside two other British non-executives, former Ford executive Stephen Odell and Deborah Gudgeon, a former director at Deloitte.
He earned just over $2.5mn during his years at Evraz, according to the company’s annual accounts. His last role was as senior independent non-executive. Peat did not reply when asked for comment about his role at Evraz.
The son of an illustrious family — Sir William Peat, his great-grandfather, was one of the founding partners of what eventually became KPMG — Peat himself became a partner at KPMG in 1985.
He led a consultancy study into the management and finances of the Royal Household in 1986-87 and was subsequently asked to implement his recommendations. He joined the Royal Household in 1993, working in several positions there, including as the Queen’s keeper of the privy purse, before retiring in 2011.
Jim Rutherford, Evraz
Jim Rutherford, who stepped down from the board of Evraz a week ago — before the main exodus of directors — is a former analyst and City fund manager.
During a 16-year career at Capital Group he became one of the most powerful institutional investors in metals and mining companies.
After leaving Capital in 2013, Rutherford, who is from Belfast, joined the board of Anglo American, where he served as a non executive director for almost seven years.
In 2017, the Financial Times reported that Anglo American had blocked Rutherford from taking a position on the board of En+, the metals and energy group then controlled by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
Rutherford joined the board of Evraz in June last year and was paid $125,000, according to its 2021 annual report.
He is also chair of Centamin, an Egyptian focused gold company listed in London, and the senior independent director at Anglo Pacific, a mine finance company.
In a statement Rutherford said: “My decision to step down, which was notified to the company a couple of days beforehand, was a very personal choice. I condemn in the strongest possible terms the senseless Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
“At no point while I served as a non-executive director of Evraz, nor during my due diligence process before I joined the board, did I see anything that would in any way contradict the firm denials made by the company in response to the accusations by the UK Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation.”
Greg Barker (Lord Barker of Battle), EN+
Former MP Greg Barker became non-executive chair of EN+ in 2017 when the Russian metals group listed on the London stock exchange.
At the time EN+ was controlled by Oleg Deripaska. The Russian oligarch later surrendered majority ownership of the company when he was hit with US sanctions over his ties to the Kremlin.
Barker was appointed executive chair in 2019 after hammering out a deal with the US Department of Justice to free the company from sanctions.
He received a $5.9mn bonus for his role in the negotiations, which he described at the time as “relatively modest”, on top of a $1.9mn salary. He earned $4mn in 2020. His pay for 2021 has not been disclosed, while the 2017 and 2018 did not disclose his remuneration.
Before joining EN+, Barker was an MP for 14 years and served as climate change minister in David Cameron’s coalition government. He stepped down in 2015 and became a peer.
Before entering politics, he was head of international communications for Sibneft, the Russian oil company then owned by Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky. Barker declined to comment.
Bruce Buck, Chelsea Football Club
Bruce Buck had already been a Chelsea season ticket holder for more than a decade when Roman Abramovich asked the former lawyer to advise him on his acquisition of the football club for £140mn in 2003.
Buck once rejected the label of “Abramovich’s right-hand man” and instead called himself “the little-toe-on-the-left-foot man”.
The American, who has lived in London since the early 1980s, has been chair of Chelsea ever since the acquisition. Buck’s role at the club gave him status in English football: in 2019, he led the search for a new chief executive of the Premier League.
Buck’s relationship with Abramovich grew out of the lawyer’s time in London at US law firm Skadden Arps in the 1990s. Skadden prospered from establishing ties with newly-rich Russian businessmen who built fortunes by snapping up state assets in the 1990s, including Abramovich through his stake in oil group Sibneft.
Abramovich has counted on Skadden for legal advice beyond football matters, including during his successful legal battle against Boris Berezovsky, his one-time friend and mentor who fled Russia in 2000 after clashing with Vladimir Putin.
Skadden made at least £2.6mn in fees from Chelsea from 2004 until 2017, according to disclosures in the club’s accounts, a fraction of the reported £35mn the firm received in the Berezovsky case in 2012.
Skadden and Buck declined to comment.