The names of a number of billionaires who donate large sums of money to universities and cultural centers in the United States and Western Europe are linked to the Russian government, according to a CNN investigation.
The network stated that the names of these wealthy people were “engraved in small print” along with the most influential people and with big companies in the United States, such as “Rockefeller”, “Wolgreen” and “Coca-Cola”.
The network says it is not surprising that this ruling elite (known as the oligarch) has been criticized for money laundering, but the war that the Kremlin launched against Ukraine on February 24 has shed more light on this category.
She notes that these donations and philanthropy coming from the oligarch have caused an extraordinary sensitivity, citing the example of the renaming of the “Russian Hall” located at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Even the name of Russia’s richest man, Vladimir Potanin, who is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hockey companion, was etched in the rock in honor of his “philanthropic leadership” when he donated $ 5 million to the Kennedy Center in 2011 , and his name appears next to it. “General” companies Motors, Boeing and Capital One.
CNN says that Potanin, who has so far evaded sanctions imposed on the Russian ruling elite due to the war against Ukraine, made his fortune by using a financial system in which Russian entrepreneurs lent money to the government in Moscow, in in light of the lack of liquidity during presidency, Boris Yeltsin, in the 1990s.
And when the Russian government was unable to pay its debts, businessmen demanded access to basic state assets at a cheap price, and the network indicates that Potanin and his partners managed to get 38 percent of the “Norilsk” mining and mining company for sale for $ 170.1 million 15 years ago, a share Today it is estimated at about $ 20 billion.
Potanin said when he donated money to the Kennedy Center that he hoped he could present an image of contemporary Russia to the American public and break the clichés that surround our country.
But these donations appear to serve a different purpose, and Jordan Jans-Moores, a professor specializing in post-Soviet corruption at Northwestern University, told CNN it’s a classic example of trying to buy better reputation … to divert attention from the fact that you really are. follow an authoritarian regime.
It is noteworthy that in 2018, US Treasury Potanin ranked among the 100 most influential businessmen with close ties to the Kremlin.
old american trick
The network says the methods used by Potanin and other Russian businessmen are not the first of their kind, and that American history is full of examples in which the rich tried to wash away their reputations.
Including the name of Andrew Carnegie, now known by the names of “Carnegie Hall of Art” or “Carnegie Mellon University”, but many do not associate the name with the greatest bloody confrontation in the history of American labor, which ‘ was a witness of a factory that belonged to him in 1892.
Another example of years of ammunition was the Sackler family, which oversees Purdue Pharma, which donates tens of millions of dollars after the “deadly reputation” of its well-known drug, OxyContin, and after the opioid crisis, donations from the family to the Metropolitan Museum flooded in. Art in New York and the Louvre in Paris. The National Portrait Museum in London rejected a $ 1.3 million donation from the Sackler family in 2019 and asked that future donations not be accepted.
CNN quotes experts as saying that Putin’s collaborators, most of whom are from the elite who obtained their wealth through corruption and illegal methods, are turning to charity in the West “to wash their reputation and get a chance” to the high-end societies of the United States and Europe. ”
Brooke Harrington, a professor of sociology at Dartmouth University, points out to CNN that the oligarchs target three categories of institutions and centers in their charitable work: cultural, political, and educational.
While most universities are required by federal law to disclose gifts and contracts with more than $ 250,000 worth of foreign actors annually, a 2020 report from the U.S. Department of Education revealed that it is not widely complied with not.
The report states that Yale University “did not report its $ 375 million foreign gifts and contracts”. The report suggested that Harvard University “appears to have inadequate institutional control over its foreign donations and contracts.”
Yale acknowledged the problem at the time, saying he failed to report between 2014 and 2017, but has since corrected it. Harvard said it had identified a “wider range of contracts” and updated its reports accordingly.
The US network, in collaboration with the Anti-Corruption Data Collective Center, has revealed that seven rich Russians have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to US universities, charities, museums and institutions since 2009.
The network says that ten years ago, Putin wanted to develop the Russian technology sector in a center for leadership in the capital, Moscow, a $ 3 billion project under the supervision of one of Putin’s most prominent confidants, Viktor Vekselberg, in partnership with the institute in 2011, and they contribute to the construction of the Skolfko Science and Technology Center, or “Skoltech”.
It is noteworthy that Vekselberg, like other Russian oligarchs, accumulated his wealth during the period of privatization of natural resources, especially oil and minerals, in the period after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Skolkovo Foundation donated $ 300 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, half of which went to the development of the Skoltech curriculum, according to the local Boston WGBH website.
But after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, the FBI issued an unusual warning, saying in a statement: “The (Skolkovo) Foundation could be a way for the Russian government to target our country’s sensitive or secret research development sector. enter and use Dual Technologies of military and commercial applications.
The dean of Skoltech condemned the allegations, and the MIT Institute ruled out any fears about it, even renewing Vekselberg’s appointment to his trust board in 2015, but that ended his dealings with him in 2018, when US sanctions included him because he benefited from dealing with Putin’s regime However, this did not stop the US Institute from trading with other Russian parties, and announced a new system to verify the financial background of donors, according to “CNN”.
But MIT ended all transactions with Russian money holders two months ago, that is, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the institute said in a statement that the decision to end the handling of Skoltech comes with “deep sadness, but the “The government has made our choice clear … It is not We are less proud of the work we have done to develop Skoltech and the first-class research that has emerged from the relationship.”
“It’s crazy that the biggest oligarchs from Russia can get a seat on the right board of the most prestigious university in the USA,” says Casey Michel, an expert on kleptocracy and illegal funding.
Prof. those who now pretend to be an enemy of the state? ”
For her part, Michel urges universities, especially prestigious ones such as MIT, to establish internal systems to verify the sources of donor funds.
She adds: “She needs to think for herself, as the owner of these resources, to explore and understand the implications of the donations and those open doors.”