It was the Russian oligarch who stepped in to keep the travel agency Tui afloat, pumping in cash as international tourism ground to a halt during the pandemic.
However, Alexei Mordashov – who owns a third of Europe’s biggest tour operator and is its largest single shareholder – could become a liability for Tui, whose shares are listed in London, after the EU added him to its list of sanctions on Monday evening. .
Although Mordashov has not been sanctioned in the UK, his business interests in the region will now be severely restricted.
The EU has expressed various concerns about Mordashov: it claims that Rossiya Bank, in which he has a financial interest, is the “personal bank” of senior Russian officials who have benefited from the annexation of Crimea. The bloc also said it believes the media companies it invests in have helped destabilize Ukraine through pro-Russian TV channels.
Russia’s richest man, Mordashov, 56, was born of humble origins as the son of factory workers in the town of Cherepovets, 300 miles north of Moscow, to become the managing director of Russia’s largest steel and mining company, Severstal.
He just missed out on a spot in the top 50 richest people in the world in 2021, according to Forbes magazine’s list of billionaires, with a ranking of 51.
At the time, his personal net worth was estimated at $29.1 billion, and Mordashov remains the majority shareholder of Severstal, Russia’s largest steel company.
Severstal has previously issued bulletins detailing how some of its high-strength products are used in the manufacture of Russian defense equipment, including armored vehicles. Mordashov chairs his parent company, Severgroup, a private investment company, and has interests ranging from telecommunications to gold mining, media and engineering.
Alongside his many business interests, Mordashov has the kind of paraphernalia no self-respecting billionaire would be without, including a private jet and at least a yacht.
Perhaps fittingly for a travel company shareholder, he would currently be vacationing away from conflict or the European winter. The billionaire’s Bombardier Global 6000 private jet was tracked by plane spotters last week as having traveled from the Seychelles to Moscow, although it did not include data on who was on board. Last Thursday, President Vladimir Putin invited some of Russia’s most prominent businessmen to a meeting at the Kremlin.
Mordashov’s jet – which has a large cabin, capable of carrying 14 passengers and a range allowing it to travel non-stop from London to Beijing – did not spend long in Russia before returning to Seychelles.
Meanwhile, one of the billionaire’s yachts, the 142-meter Nord, which shares its name with Mordashov’s gold mining company, is wintering in the Indian Ocean.
Built by German shipyard Lürssen and delivered in 2021, the vessel cost around $500 million and features Italian interior design, as well as a helicopter landing pad. The shipbuilder’s breathless description on its website explains how the ship was “designed with one idea in mind: it must evoke strong emotions in every observer, not only by its size, but by the design itself”.
In a time of high emotions, Tui boss Fritz Joussen tried to reassure travel agency staff, insisting that Mordashov’s involvement was not a problem.
“Mr. Mordashov has been a shareholder of Tui for about 15 years and owns about a third of our company since supporting it during the corona crisis,” Joussen wrote in a memo.
“Our company is run by the management board, like any German public limited company, and not by the shareholders or the supervisory board. We therefore assume that any restrictions or sanctions against Mr. Mordashov will not have lasting negative consequences for us as a company.
Mordashov started investing in Tui in 2007 and has been a member of the company’s supervisory board since 2016. He repeatedly bought shares in 2021, steadily spending millions and increasing his family’s current stake to 34%.
In a statement, Mordashov said he did not understand how his inclusion on the EU sanctions list would help resolve the conflict in Ukraine, saying: “I have absolutely nothing to do with the emergence of the current geopolitical tension”.
Describing himself as distant from politics, he called for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine which he called “a tragedy of two brotherly peoples”.
“It is terrible that Ukrainians and Russians are dying, that people are suffering, that the economy is collapsing. We must do everything necessary to ensure that a solution to this conflict is found in the very near future and let the bloodshed cease,” he said.