Streetwise Professor

October 23, 2012

Switzerland is Too Hot, So Putin’s Buddy Gennady is Decamping to Russia

Filed under: Commodities,Energy,Regulation,Russia — The Professor @ 9:59 am

I doubt that he’s making the trip in a sealed train, but an important and shadowy Russian figure is leaving Geneva, Switzerland to return to Russia.  That would be Gennady Timchenko, co-owner of the trading firm Gunvor.  You know, the one that is frequently linked with the guy Timchenko claims to know only slightly, Vladimir Putin.

Now, this isn’t comparable to Lenin returning to Russia to foment a revolution, but why would anyone in their right mind want to leave Geneva for Moscow?  And no, starting a construction holding company is not a good reason.  At least he didn’t say he wants to spend more time with his family.

A major risk that commodity trading firms face is legal risk-particularly if they deal with unsavory regimes.  Gunvor’s activities in the Congo are one example that has apparently drawn the scrutiny of Swiss investigators. Gunvor was also the subject of an article in the Economist about oil price manipulation, specifically, manipulating the market for Urals crude.  That has apparently attracted scrutiny of the Justice Department here in the states.  Although some have said that this is likely to be a civil investigation, that’s not my read: CFTC handles civil manipulation cases under the CEA, but Justice handles criminal. (Ask BP.)

And I wonder if there is any connection between the questions about Gunvor’s manipulation of the Urals market and its recent failure to win any tenders in that market, which it once dominated:

Trading house Gunvor – dubbed by dealers the king of Kremlin oil – has been left with no Russian crude to sell. That was the surprise outcome of the latest big Russian crude oil sales tender, for long routinely won by Gunvor.

The result has sparked an intense debate in the industry about whether Gunvor’s co-owner Gennady Timchenko is out of favour with the Kremlin – or whether the firm is merely fine-tuning its strategy before embarking on yet another phase of spectacular growth.

Could be a coincidence, but an interesting one, no?

Given the legal heat, perhaps there’s good reason for Gennady to decamp to a far chillier, but more legally congenial, climate.  A place where he almost certainly has protection from the chief protector, and one that doesn’t extradite.

Very much worth watching.

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  1. Who cares? All the money ends up in the West anyway, so it’s still a colony.

    Comment by So? — October 23, 2012 @ 10:51 pm

  2. Good stuff, Prof.

    Ever consider this to be continued fallout of an energy-sector power struggle?

    Comment by markets.aurelius — October 26, 2012 @ 11:58 am

  3. Thanks, @markets. It could be . . . especially if Rosneft wants to integrate into marketing. Timchenko is more involved on the gas side domestically in Russia . . . Putin often plays him (and his company, Novatek) against Gazprom to keep the latter in line.

    Still, to me the thing that makes the most sense is that he’s in legal jeopardy outside of Russia.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 26, 2012 @ 12:40 pm

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