• April 21, 2024

Russian Tobacco Mogul Sanctioned

 Russian Tobacco Mogul Sanctioned
Photo: Natalia Merzlyakova

The United States has sanctioned Igor Kesaev, co-owner of the Mercury group, which manages Megapolis, a major Russian tobacco distributor, reports Interfax.

Listed by Forbes as Russia’s 35th-richest person last year, Kesaev’s holdings have included a major stake in the V.A. Degtyarev factory, which makes machine guns, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, some of which have been used in Ukraine, according to Metro.

Until April 2022, Kesaev was also chairman Megapolis.

Kesaev’s involvement in tobacco dates to the early 1990s. As the Soviet Union broke up into its constituent republics, he started an importing business that worked with international tobacco companies eager to get their products into the Russian market, according to a 2014 profile of the magnate published on Forbes’ Russian website.

Over time, Kesaev built the largest tobacco distributor in Russia through acquisitions of regional competitors, according to Forbes’ Russian website. By 2022, Megapolis delivers to 160,000 retailers across the country, according to the firm’s website.

Kesaev has also been involved with the tobacco business in Ukraine. Following the toppling of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, in 2014 and Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea, Ukrainian officials began scrutinizing the role of Russian companies in various sectors of its economy.

At the time, Trading Company Megapolis-Ukraine controlled 99 percent of Ukraine’s tobacco distribution market, according to research from the Anti-Monopoly Committee of Ukraine.

Kyiv sanctioned Kesaev in 2016 for unspecified actions that it said threatened Ukraine’s national security. A top Ukrainian prosecutor later accused Kesaev of supporting “terrorist organizations” by supplying arms to Russian-backed separatist groups that have been fighting for nearly a decade to carve out two independent states—Donetsk and Luhansk—in eastern Ukraine.

Kesaev has also been sanctioned by the EU and the U.K. for aiding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.