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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mikhail Chyorny Looks for Land to Call His Own

Correction

Due to an editing error, this article twice incorrectly quoted Mikhail Chyorny as saying that he and his brother Lev Chyorny jointly owned sizeable metals assets. Mikhail Chyorny actually said in the interview to Vedomosti newspaper that he and his brother no longer have any joint business interests.


Notorious Russian metals magnate Mikhail Chyorny, 49, is thinking about applying for a stateless persons passport.

Born in Uzbekistan but now an Israeli citizen, Chyorny has been banned from entering Britain, the United States, Switzerland, France and Bulgaria because of suspicions he has links to the criminal world. Bulgaria called Chyorny a threat to national security in August.

Now Israel is the latest country to consider expelling him, Chyorny said in a recent interview in Tel Aviv.

"They have already confiscated my blue civilian passport and given me a red one like a second-class member of society," he said. "They decided that this would make it easier for them to follow my movements.

"They stop me from getting visas," he said. "As soon as I try to get a visa somewhere they ask Israel about me and Israel writes back: Yes its true he has six passports, one of them is diplomatic, and hes a murderer, racketeer and all the rest."

Mikhail Chyorny and his brother Lev have made quite a name for themselves in Russia. Little is known about their wheeling and dealing other than the fact that whatever schemes they cooked up allowed them to acquire lucrative stakes in metals plants throughout the former Soviet Union. The Chyornys most infamous alliance was no doubt with brothers David and Simon Reuben, who together ran the British metals holding company TransWorld Group from the late 1980s. TransWorld Group controlled key parts of the aluminum industry throughout most of the 1990s.

The alliance with TransWorld Group has slowly unraveled.

"I was in partnership with Lev," Mikhail Chyorny said. "We had joint stakes in aluminum factories. I do not believe we had an argument, but we had differences. I suggested that he split with TransWorld, but I couldnt persuade him. At the end of 1996 to the beginning of 1997 they proposed that I leave the joint business, which I had run with him, and sell the shares. In 1997 I sold them the shares."

Chyorny said the deal netted him about $400 million.

The New York Times reported last year that TransWorld Group was selling about 2 million tons of aluminum ingots a year, about two-thirds of the former Soviet Unions annual production and 10 percent of global annual production.

Then earlier this year, TransWorld Group and the Chyornys sold off a number of prime stakes including stakes in the mammoth Bratsk and Krasnoyarsk aluminum plants to a group of shareholders in the Sibneft oil company. Those buyers are widely believed to include tycoons Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky.

The magnate has been denied entry into Britain, France and the United States.

Mikhail Chyorny said, however, that he and his brother continue to control sizeable metals assets through Russian Aluminum, a sprawling holding that produces about 75 percent of Russias aluminum.

Russian Aluminum was set up earlier this year to manage shares held by the Sibneft shareholders and the holding company Siberian Aluminum. Siberian Aluminum controls the Sayansk aluminum smelter and Ukraines Nikolayev Alumina Plant.

Chyorny said he and his brother hold shares in Siberian Aluminum, which holds a 50-percent stake in Russian Aluminum.

"A controlling stake can only be formed if I combine my shares with those of [Siberian Aluminum head] Oleg [Deripaska], and no other way," Chyorny said.

Shares in Siberian Aluminum are split equally between a block held by Deripaska and a group that includes Chyorny, he said.

Chyorny said his other investments in Russia were in the metallurgy and mining industries, and he also has investments in Israel, the United States, Bulgaria and some countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

He declined to name those foreign assets, saying that if people knew he was involved, it could harm the image of the companies.

"The thing is, I was given a pretty bad image at one time in Russia," Chyorny said. "Remember those NTV programs in 1996? They started it, others got in on it and it snowballed.

"It was a time when big stakes in various firms were being sold off [in auctions], and someone didnt want me involved," he said. "A campaign was started against me and my brother."

Chyornys difficulties grew in 1997, when then-Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov declared that Mikhail and Lev Chyorny had strong ties to Russian organized crime.

Mikhail Chyorny has not set foot in Russia since 1994.

Chyorny denies ever having connections with the Russian mafia.

"There are plenty of businessmen who didnt honor their contracts with us, who tricked us [and] theyre alive and well," he said.

"When I hear accusations here in Israel, I say You say Im mafia? Well fine, lock me up then," he said. "It doesnt happen. If there was anything there, they would have no trouble proving it."

Asked how the blackening of his name has affected his activities, Chyorny said that business had actually increased by 30 percent to 40 percent.

"At first everyone was afraid of us and fled, but then they came running back suggesting we do business together."

Chyorny said he has been reluctant to venture beyond the metals industry, even though he considered bidding in privatization auctions for Arctic metals giant Norilsk Nickel, Sibneft and telecoms holding Svyazinvest.

"I had a lot of money, I wanted to participate. But it had all been divvied up already, and they had decided to leave me out," he said.

He said he does not favor Siberian Aluminums merger with the Sibneft shareholders to form Russian Aluminum, but he has great confidence in Deripaska, who manages the Chyornys stake.

"The decision [on the creation of Russian Aluminum] was taken by Oleg [Deripaska]," Chyorny said. "He decided that it would be for the best. Well see."

He said that six months after Russian Aluminums formation, he is pleased with its work.

"The company is working well," he said. "There will always exist a certain internal lack of trust with any two recently merged structures that dont have experience of working together."

But in the meantime, Chyornys lingering worry is about his citizenship. He said that perhaps it is time for him to move from Israel to Africa or South America.

"Its nice and warm there [in Africa]," he said. "Theres always Brazil. Its a nice country.

"You can do business anywhere."

(Vedomosti, MT)