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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

SPI Vodka Magnate Moves Into Luzhkov's Territory

After scooping up a 25 percent stake in Moskva City, vodka tycoon Yury Shefler scored a second coup this week, getting his man installed at the helm of one of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov's pet real estate projects.

Shefler may not have set foot in Russia since federal prosecutors put him on their wanted list last year, but that did not prevent Sivest -- a company he founded -- from getting its general director, Anton Isupov, elected by the board to serve as president of Moskva City, the private company that holds exclusive rights to bring investors onboard the grandiose $12 billion construction project under way on Krasnopresnenskaya Naberezhnaya, not far from the White House.

"Isupov's appointment was part of our plans," said Andrei Skurikhin, a top manager for SPI Group, the umbrella company for Shefler's business interests, which include a $600 million per year vodka export arm.

City was created in 1992 to oversee construction of the Moskva City international business center.

In 1993, 15,000 private individuals and legal entities became shareholders in City after shares were issued.

Moscow's chief architect, Alexander Kuzmin, estimates that the investments required to build the planned 2.5 million square meters of office, hotel and retail space will total between $10 billion and $12 billion.

Sivest began buying up shares in January through the help of Moscow's Aton brokerage, and by early this month Shefler had amassed 250,000 shares -- a full quarter of the company.

A former shareholder, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said these shares were purchased at $10 each on average, which puts the price tag between $2.5 million and $3 million.

At an April 30 board meeting, new directors were elected, and four of the nine were named by Sivest.

On Monday, City president Irina Gaaze, who had held the post for two years, was replaced by Isupov.

The project is closely tied to City Hall, yet the Mayor's Office refused to comment on Isupov's appointment.

"The people who got rid of me should comment on the previous board and the company's future policy," Gaaze said after being pushed out.

SPI's Skurikhin said the new management team would "develop the Moskva City project according to City Hall's plans" and promised a full audit of the company.

SPI Group controls the international trademark rights to Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya vodka, and a host of others.

On Tuesday, SPI announced it had won a ruling from an Austrian court which will ban a former SPI Group manager from advising its state-owned vodka competitor, Soyuzplodoimport. Soyuzplodoimport wrested rights to use the trademarks domestically in Russia from SPI last year, and it is now trying to do the same in Europe, a significantly more lucrative market.

Shefler is wanted for questioning in Russia after allegedly threatening to kill former Deputy Agriculture Minister Vladimir Loginov, who now heads Soyuzplodoimport. Shefler has denied the charges.

(Vedomosti, MT)