Oligarch Oleg Tinkov fears for his life after criticising Putin

Rebel Russian oligarch who broke ranks to condemn Putin’s ‘crazy’ war says the Kremlin has forced him into a fire sale of his bank and has been told ‘he should fear for his life’

  • Oleg Tinkov, 54, made his billions as founder of high-tech Russian bank Tinkoff 
  • Last month he took to Instagram to criticise Putin’s war as Western sanctions hit
  • He is now in hiding with bodyguards after friends told him his life is in danger 
  • Tinkov says Kremlin forced him to sell his stake in Tinkoff for a pittance and ordered the bank to change its name after he spoke out 

A Russian oligarch who broke ranks with the Kremlin to denounce Putin’s war on Ukraine says he has been forced to sell his assets and now fears for his life.

Oleg Tinkov, 54 and formerly one of Russia’s richest men, says he was bullied into giving up his share of the bank he founded for pittance after penning an Instagram post last month calling the invasion of Ukraine ‘crazy’ and Putin’s army ‘shi**y’.  

Tinkov says he is now in hiding outside Russia and has hired bodyguards after being warned by friends with connections in the security service that ‘a decision regarding you has been made’, leaving him in fear of his life.

Never-the-less, he has since stood by his decision to speak out against the war – claiming that many other members of the Russian elite feel the same, but are ‘afraid’ of what will happen if they go public.

‘I don’t believe in Russia’s future,’ he said. ‘Most importantly, I am not prepared to associate my brand and my name with a country that attacks its neighbors without any reason at all.’

Oleg Tinkov, 54 and formerly one of Russia’s richest men (pictured in 2019), says he is in hiding and fearing for his life after speaking out against Putin’s war on Ukraine

Tinkov (left, with wife Rina, right, and their children) denounced Putin’s war as ‘crazy’ and Russia’s army as ‘sh*t’ in an Instagram post uploaded last month

Tinkov (pictured today) says the Kremlin bullied him into selling his assets for a pittance and forced the bank he founded to change its name after he spoke out

Before February 24 – the day Putin declared the start of his ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine – Mr Tinkov was worth some $9billion thanks to a 35 per cent stake he held in the high-tech bank he founded in 2006, Tinkoff.

But his fortunes withered as Western nations imposed sanctions in the wake of the invasion, prompting him to take his frustration out in an Instagram post on April 19.

Speaking to the New York Times last week from an undisclosed location in his first interview since the post, Mr Tinkov said retribution against him was swift.

Just a day later, he said executives at Tinkoff took a call from the Kremlin and were told: ‘We will nationalize your bank if he doesn’t sell it and the owner doesn’t change, and if you don’t change the name.’

Two days after the call, Tinkoff announced it was changing its name – a move the bank claims had been planned for a while.

The former billionaire says the rest of Russia’s elite support his views, but are ‘afraid’ to speak out for fear of repercussions

Tinkov says he was then forced to flogged his shares to a company owned by Vladimir Potanin, a billionaire who is close to Putin and runs a mining company.

‘I couldn’t discuss the price,’ Mr. Tinkov said. ‘It was like a hostage — you take what you are offered. I couldn’t negotiate.’ 

He refused to discuss the final price , but said it was only three per cent of what he believes the stake was worth.

Now unshackled from Russia – a country he departed in 2019 so he could receive treatment for leukemia abroad – Tinkov says it ‘has no future’ as long as Putin is in charge, which he predicted will be for a ‘long time’,

‘Russia, as a country, no longer exists,’ he said. ‘I believed that the Putin regime was bad. But of course, I had no idea that it would take on such catastrophic scale.’

Though he does appears on a UK list of sanctioned oligarchs, Tinkov maintains he was never a supporter of Putin and made his own money as an entrepreneur – unlike most Russian billionaires who enrich themselves babysitting former state assets.

Posting on Instagram again today, he wrote: ‘I was one of the few who managed, despite, and not thanks to the regime, to build 4 different businesses from nothing! 

‘I was proud… of the fact that in corrupt and archaic Russia, you can build an honest, free and American type of business.’

He added: ‘It is a pity that my country has finally slipped into archaism, paternalism and servility. There is no Russia, it has all gone.

‘The threats to me personally, a person who is struggling with the most severe blood cancer-leukemia, the desire to punish me just for opinion, my honest opinion, speaks of the final dehumanization of the regime.’

Branding the rest of Russia’s elite ‘cowards’, he added: ‘This is evil, and I’m on the side of good… Ukraine will win because good always wins over evil.’

A statement from Tinkoff said there had been ‘no threats of any kind against the bank’s leadership.’ 

‘Oleg has not been in Moscow for many years, did not participate in the life of the company and was not involved in any matters,’ Tinkoff said.

The son of a Siberian coal miner, Tinkov was selling beer and dumplings before he launched Tinkoff bank in 2006, but stepped down as chairman of the board after a 14-year run, announcing he had been diagnosed with acute leukemia.

Tinkoff shares fell more than 90% since the start of the war in Ukraine, losing Tinkov his billionaire status. Forbes estimates he is worth approximately $800million.

Tinkov has close connection with Putin, he admitted in an interview with the Financial Times. But after his diagnosis, he told Forbes he discovered how fragile life could be, prompting him to call for an end to the war.

The Russian banking billionaire owns the world’s first private ice-breaking super yacht and was banned from travelling outside the M25 ahead of an extradition hearing.

Tinkov is scheduled to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court next month off the back of an extradition request made by US authorities who wish to question him over an alleged multi million-pound tax fraud.

Tinkov, who relinquished his US citizenship in October 2013, was released on £20m bail while the extradition is decided.

Tinkov left Russia to get treatment for leukemia in 2019 (pictured), and has been based outside the country ever since

According to the US Department of Justice, Tinkov allegedly filed paperwork claiming he was worth $300,000.

They began their investigation after discovering he owned a 2018 Dassault 8X private jet registered in the Isle of Man.

US authorities said: ‘Oleg Tinkov was the indirect majority shareholder of a branchless online bank that provided its customers with financial and bank services.

‘The indictment alleges as a result of an initial public offering (IPO) on the London Stock Exchange in 2013, Tinkov beneficially owned more than $1 billion worth of the bank’s shares.

‘The indictment further alleges that three days after the IPO, Tinkov renounced his US citizenship – a taxable event requiring Tinkov to report to the IRS the constructive sale of his worldwide assets, report the gain on the constructive sale of those assets to the IRS, and pay tax on such gain to the IRS.’

Federal authorities alleged Tinkov routed more than $1bn through the British Virgin Islands to avoid US tax.

According to the indictment, Tinkov said his income was less than $206,000 in 2013 while his net worth was $300,000.

According to the Feds: ‘If convicted, Tinkov faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison on each count. He also faces a period of supervised release, restitution, and monetary penalties.’

As well as his superyacht, Tinkov owns a Dassault 8x jet worth around £50 million.

According to an investigation by The Times, Tinkov is on the US government’s ‘Putin list’.

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