As if being sanctioned by the United States and European Union wasn’t bad enough, Russian energy billionaire Andrey Melnichenko is now facing a lawsuit from prosecutors in Russia, his beleaguered home country. The lawsuit was filed against Melnichenko, his steam coal mining company Suek JSK, and two other companies. The exact terms of the suit are still under wraps, but the suit comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin is said to be applying increased pressure on oligarchs within the country to bring their financial assets back to Russia from overseas in order to aid the widely condemned invasion of Ukraine.
A few years ago Andrey Melnichenko was perhaps the richest person in Russia with a net worth that easily topped $20-30 billion. He earned his fortune as the founder of fertilizer producer EuroChem Group and coal producer SUEK.
Melnichenko was born in 1972 in Gomel, Belarus. He studied engineering at the Moscow State University of Railway Engineering, but dropped out in 1991 to start a chain of currency exchange booths. He later founded MDM Bank, one of Russia’s most successful private banks.
In 1999, Melnichenko acquired a controlling stake in EuroChem, a fertilizer producer. He then went on to acquire a controlling stake in SUEK, a coal energy company. These two companies are now the two largest in their respective industries in Russia.
He is known for his lavish lifestyle, which includes a $300 million superyacht and a private jet and a second yacht, a $600 million vessel called “Sailing Yacht A” which was seized in Italy in March 2022.
That war is the cause of economic sanctions against Melnichenko and many other Russian oligarchs that are putting a concerted economic strain on Russia itself. Speaking to in February of this year, he said:
“According to Putin, Russian businessmen who have moved their assets and families abroad must realize that they will remain ‘second-class strangers’ despite having acquired the titles of ‘earls, peers and mayors…”
The suit reportedly pertains to energy holdings belonging to companies founded by or otherwise linked to Melnichenko that were acquired in 2018 from former government minister Mikhail Abyzov, arrested on charges of embezzlement the following year.
Melnichenko was forced by economic sanctions from the US and EU to withdraw as a beneficiary of trust fund holdings including controlling stakes in the companies he founded (not to mention having his $600 million Sailing Yacht A), leaving them under the control of his wife, singer Sandra Nikolic of Serbia. But she later faced sanctions of her own and had to relinquish control of the trust fund as well.
Melnichenko has received notice of the suit according to his own official spokesperson, and is scheduled to appear in Russian court next month. He currently resides in the United Arab Emirates.