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Rinat Akhmetov The New Ukrainian

The hundred richest Ukrainians have about as much money as the five richest Russians. But the richest Ukrainian, Rinat Akhmetov, might be the 24th richest man in the world (if one were to insert Korespondent’s data into Forbes’s rating) and the ninth richest European (according to the same logic).

Akhmetov is worth US $17.8 bn (according to Korespondent’s calculations) – US $2 billion more than the richest Russian, Vladimir Lisin, who also got his money from metallurgy plants but ‘only’ has US $15.8 billion (according to Forbes). However, according to Forbes, Akhmetov only has US $5.2 bn.

Estimates of Akhmetov’s wealth vary

wildly. But Ukrainian experts are more inclined to believe the rich lists compiled by Ukrainian companies, since those have a more realistic idea of what things might be worth. So here we will assume that Korespondent has it right, and Rinat Akhmetov is the richest Eastern European.

The richest Ukrainian is an ethnic Tatar

and a Russian speaker. Rinat Akhmetov likes to talk about football and rarely, if ever, agrees to be interviewed about anything else. He is an owner of Shakhtar-Donetsk football club and an active participant in preparations for the Euro 2012 football championship.

As with many Ukrainian oligarchs,

not that much is known about his early years or about his private life today. He is married and has two sons. His mother, apparently, still lives in their home village of

Oktyabrsky - a worker’s settlement named after the ‘Great October Revolution’ - in Donetsk region.

There is some information on his

childhood and teenage years, but its difficult to substantiate and venturing there is not without its risks. Akhmetov sued the Ukrainian-based website Obozrevatel, alleging that the website defamed him in a series of articles about his early years, and he won US $100,000 damages plus legal costs.

The articles describe Akhmetov’s village

as a very dangerous place in the 80s and 90s and a pretty gloomy corner of the world today. They are still online today and mention young Rinat’s love of football, boxing and cards. In one of his very few media interviews, the man himself told the Ukrainian ‘Mirror Weekly’ in 2000 that a popular game of ‘fool’ “stretches the brain”.

His early career is also shrouded in

mystery, and assumptions made appear to be based upon rumours, whispers and disputed facts. Even the Obozrevatel articles, which the London High Court of Justice say defamed Akhmetov, mostly tell about his reluctance to be interviewed or talk about those years.

According to his official biography,

Akhmetov graduated from the economy faculty of the Donetsk State University at the beginning of the 1990s. In Ukraine, especially in the East, those were the times of gangs, often ethnic, violent crime and shady privatisation. Rival gangsters or businessmen often died in gang disputes.

On the 15th of October 1995, a bomb in

the Shakhtar football stadium in Donetsk killed Akhmetov’s long-time friend, mentor and associate (according to himself and people who knew them both) Aleksandr Bragin, also known as Akhat’ Bragin, or Alek Grek. Akhmetov, as his second-in- command, replaced him at the helm of their Luks firm and as the president of Shakhtar-Donetsk football club. This was the first time Akhmetov’s name appeared in the mainstream media.

In his own words, “I earned my first

serious money after founding Dongorbank [Donetsk City Bank – UBI] in 1995.…I learned my most valuable lessons from all the intelligent people fate brought me together with,” (Mirror Weekly, 2000).

From Dongorbank and Shakhtar football club in the space of several years Rinat

October/November 2010 UkraineBusiness insight 25

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