Billionaires: Alexey Mordashov shifts control of $1.1bn Nordgold stake to wife

In our fortnightly roundup, Bet365 boss Denise Coates takes home a $400m pay cheque and Japanese e-commerce tycoon Yusaku Maezawa plans to sell Basquiat painting for $70m

Russian billionaire Alexey Mordashov is facing EU sanctions. Reuters
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Alexey Mordashov

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Alexey Mordashov spent years meticulously mapping the handover of his multibillion-dollar empire to his children.

In the span of about a week, those plans have gone out the window.

Mr Mordashov – who made a fortune in steel in the early days of post-Soviet Russia and is the country's second-richest person with a net worth of $21.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index – was sanctioned last Monday by the European Union after Russia's military offensive against Ukraine.

Filings in the UK last week showed that he had shifted control of an estimated $1.1bn stake in mining company Nordgold to his wife, Marina Mordashova.

That was not all. He was also forced to step down as a Nordgold director and resigned from the board of TUI, the travel giant he rescued in 2020.

Mr Mordashov declined to comment.

Russia’s richest people are scrambling to shelter or divest assets in the face of sanctions as regulators around the world zero in on businesspeople perceived to be close to President Vladimir Putin.

Roman Abramovich announced that he is selling Chelsea Football Club, while sanctioned oligarchs Petr Aven and Mikhail Fridman have resigned from the board of their shared investment company LetterOne, which owns billions of dollars in energy, telecom and retail assets.

The billionaires’ assets in the Luxembourg-based business were “effectively frozen” and the pair will not receive any dividends, funds or communications, LetterOne said in a statement on Thursday.

The US Justice Department also increased the pressure on Wednesday with the creation of a “KleptoCapture” unit, which is responsible for enforcing sanctions and seizing luxury assets that belong to Russia’s wealthiest citizens.

Disassociating from companies or handing control of them to family members are not guaranteed ways to shelter assets, according to Justine Walker, global head of sanctions, compliance and risk at Acams, a trade organisation for specialists in detecting financial crimes.

“The concept of control is really important when looking at the accounts of wives, brothers, sisters and other close relatives,” she said. “Is that money really independent money?”

For the authorities, “it’s very much a judgment call”, she said.

It is not clear whether Mr Mordashov’s transfer to his wife was related to the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The shift in control would have been initiated before the billionaire was sanctioned.

It was the second major intra-family stake shuffling in recent months. Mr Mordashov’s sons, Nikita, 21, and Kirill, 22, ceded their control of Nordgold in December. That reversed his transfer of a combined 65 per cent stake to them in 2019, in what was the beginning of a lengthy succession plan.

Quote
The concept of control is really important when looking at the accounts of wives, brothers, sisters and other close relatives
Justine Walker, global head of sanctions, compliance and risk at Acams

The billionaire also took control of his sons’ TUI holdings in December, revoking another 2019 share transfer that aimed to give his children asset management and business experience.

Mr Mordashov had no real road map to follow when he began deliberating how to pass down his fortune. An economist by training, he made the bulk of his money buying shares in Severstal, one of Russia’s biggest steelmakers, in the early 1990s.

He became Severstal’s chief executive in 1996 at the age of 31. He later diversified to gold, power equipment and also acquired stakes in media, a mobile carrier, tourism companies and a supermarket chain.

The relative youthfulness of Russia’s oligarchs means there’s scant precedence in the modern era for transferring enormous fortunes. Nikita and Kirill Mordashov and their siblings stood to be the first generation to gain money and power through inheritance since the collapse of the communist regime.

Denise Coates, founder and co-chief executive of Bet365 Group, earned about $400 million last year. Shutterstock

Denise Coates

Even after a salary cut, Denise Coates’ pay cheque is hard to beat.

The 54-year-old founder and co-chief executive of Bet365 Group received about £300 million ($400m) in pay and dividends in the year to March 2021, according to a registry filing, taking her total pay from the online bookmaker’s past two financial years to more than $1bn.

Ms Coates’ salary of £249.6m alone makes her one of the world’s best-compensated bosses, even though it is down about 40 per cent from the previous period when she pocketed a total of £469m.

It also strengthens her status as the UK’s richest woman and comes after she boosted her majority stake in Bet365 after taking control of shares last year previously held by her father, Peter, filings show.

Ms Coates – who is poised to rejoin the world’s 500 biggest fortunes – has earned more than $1.8bn over the past decade, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Ms Coates is Bet365’s highest-paid director, a company representative said.

Founded about two decades ago, Bet365’s business has benefited from the growing popularity of online sports betting. The company, based in Stoke-on-Trent, England, posted revenue of £2.8bn for the financial year ended March 28, 2021, little changed from a year earlier as the pandemic continued to weigh on sports wagering because of postponed or cancelled events.

After graduating from Sheffield University with a degree in econometrics, Ms Coates trained to become an accountant and, on the side, took over a small chain of betting shops her father owned.

She became managing director of the business at age 22, according to a Staffordshire University release, and expanded the number of shops before deciding to shift the business online. Along with Bet365, Ms Coates and her family also own Stoke City Football Club.

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa shortly before flying to the International Space Station. The e-commerce tycoon is planning to put his 'Untitled' painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat up for auction. Reuters

Yusaku Maezawa

Six years after he bought a 4.8-metre-wide painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Japanese e-commerce billionaire Yusaku Maezawa​ is putting it up for auction at Phillips in New York in May. Estimates suggest it will sell for about $70m.

When Mr Maezawa, who spent 12 days visiting the International Space Station in December, bought the 1982 painting, Untitled, for $57.3m at Christie’s in New York in 2016, it was the most expensive work by Basquiat yet to sell at auction.

At the time, Mr Maezawa said he was acquiring it for a private museum in his home town, Chiba. In a statement after the purchase, he noted that “regardless of its condition or sales value, I was driven by the responsibility to acknowledge great art and the need to pass on not only the artwork itself, but also the knowledge of the artist’s culture and his way of life to future generations”.

Today, in large part because of the boom that Mr Maezawa helped to spark, Basquiat’s market is in a very different place. “It feels like a completely new era,” said Jean-Paul Engelen, Phillips’s president of the Americas. “Today, people who made a lot of their money in the last 10 years, Basquiat is their No1 artist.”

A year after purchasing the painting, Mr Maezawa topped his own record when he bought Basquiat’s 1982 painting of a skull set against a blue background for $110.5m.

That’s still the highest price paid for a work by the artist at auction, although several recent sales came close, most notably in May 2021, when another Basquiat painting of a skull sold for $93.1m at Christie’s in New York.

The next day, Sotheby’s New York sold yet another Basquiat for $50m. And last autumn, Christie’s sold Basquiat’s giant painting The Guilt of Gold Teeth, also made in 1982, for $40m.

Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest will build a $2.2 billion renewable energy project in Queensland. Pawan Singh / The National

Andrew Forrest

Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest’s investment arm will develop a $2.2bn wind, solar and battery facility in Australia that is billed as the largest renewable energy precinct in the southern hemisphere.

The Clarke Creek project in Queensland could generate enough power for more than 660,00 homes – equivalent to about 40 per cent of the state’s households – according to Squadron Energy, a unit of Mr Forrest’s Tattarang investment group.

Mr Forrest, the world's 75th richest person with a fortune of $20.6bn, is seeking to transform his iron ore producer Fortescue Metals Group into a global force in clean energy and has urged Australian policymakers to pursue a faster transition away from fossil fuels.

The country still gets about 60 per cent of its power from coal-fired plants, although a surge in cheap renewables has eroded their profitability and is accelerating plans to shut the facilities

Construction of the Clarke Creek project, about 150 kilometres north-west of Rockhampton, will start immediately, with a first phase scheduled to come online in 2024, Squadron said in a statement. The plant will supply energy to the grid via a power purchase agreement with Queensland’s state generation company, Stanwell Corporation.

Fortescue’s clean energy arm has also begun construction of a plant in Gladstone, Queensland, to produce electrolysers, which are needed to produce hydrogen using renewable energy. The facility is part of Fortescue Future Industries’ plan to be producing 15 million tonnes of green hydrogen by 2030.

Updated: March 07, 2022, 1:52 PM