Mysterious Investor Buys Compromat.ru
Andrei Rutberg, a little-known private investor, has purchased the portal Compromat.ru, the Internet's largest source of compromising information and allegations about Russian politicians and businessmen.
The web site's founder and former owner, Sergei Gorshkov, told Vedomosti about the sale, which Rutberg confirmed. Gorshkov said the deal took place in the fall of 2009 but that under their agreement, the transaction could not be announced until now.
Gorshkov and Rutberg declined to disclose additional terms of the sale.
Two years ago, the Compromat.ru domain was reregistered from Gorshkov to the firm Neave Limited, which is now controlled by Rutberg, the businessmen said.
Gorshkov, who developed the notorious portal for more than a decade, said the time had come to work on "other projects," declining to elaborate. He said Rutberg purchased the site on behalf of a "third party," a claim Rutberg denied.
Rutberg said he did not live in Russia and was a professional investor working with several companies. He said he was opposed to letting Compromat.ru become associated with any industrial holdings or investment groups.
Gorshkov said he was no longer involved in Compromat.ru. When the deal was signed, it was informally agreed that the new investor would not get involved with the site's editorial policy, he said.
A political analyst, who asked that his name not be given, said he sought to place an article on Compromat.ru this winter but the editorial staff was unusually reluctant to post it. Since July, the web site has almost completely stopped posting regional news, said political analyst Mikhail Tulsky.
Rutberg said no changes had been made to the site's operations.
Compromat.ru, founded by Gorshkov in 1999, is among the most famous resources on the Russian-language Internet. The site has regularly been accused of posting incorrect information and has been attacked repeatedly, leaving it unavailable for long periods.
Gorshkov trademarked the site's name in Cyrillic and has won court cases against the owners of web sites with similar names, gaining control of Kompromat.ru and antiCompromat.ru, Tulsky said. The businessman sold his heavily promoted and nearly monopolist site at the peak of its popularity and value, he said.
According to the traffic counter Top.Mail.ru, Compromat.ru had more than 870,000 visitors in June.
The site has a fairly loyal and substantial following for a project that does not make money on advertising, said German Klimenko, founder of the statistics service LiveInternet.ru.
Such sites are typically worth $2 million to $2.5 million, said Vladislav Kochetkov, president of Finam. Compromat.ru's best asset is name recognition, while its downsides are image and financial risks for the owner, he said.
Officials at media and Internet companies surveyed by Vedomosti said they were certain that the purchase was linked to the 2012 presidential elections, noting that the famous and influential site could be used in the run-up to the vote.
But Tulsky said he thought that businessmen, rather than politicians, were most likely behind the purchase.
Russia's political life has already been eliminated, he said, but businessman could profit from control of the country's largest pool of compromising information, he said.