Billionaires massively rewrite biographies, removing mentions of Russia

Russian billionaires, including those on the Forbes list, are massively rewriting their biographies, getting rid of references to ties with Russia, which became “toxic” after the start of the invasion of Ukraine.

As Real Time notes, the changes are taking place on the personal websites of the richest Russians, including those who continue to own assets in the country, who are trying to “launder their reputations” and avoid falling under Western sanctions.

Earlier this week, it became known that Arkadii Volozh, the founder of Yandex, removed almost all references to ties with Russia and the USSR from his website. Volozh, who left Russia after the start of the war and decided to get rid of Russian business, now calls himself an Israeli entrepreneur born in Kazakhstan.

Investment banker Ruben Vardanian, who headed Troika Dialog for a long time, is now presenting himself as a financier of “Armenian origin”. Last September, Vardanian, whose fortune before the war was estimated at $1 billion, renounced his Russian citizenship and moved to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Mikhail Fridman, co-owner and chairman of the supervisory board of the Alfa Group consortium, who has fallen under Western sanctions, calls himself a “Ukrainian-born Russian-Israeli businessman”.

Renova head Viktor Vekselberg, who has been on the US sanctions lists since 2018, emphasizes that he was born in Ukraine and is a citizen of Cyprus.

There is a direct explanation for the need or attempts by Russian oligarchs to correct their Wikipedia pages, says Ilya Shumanov, Director of Transparency International – Russia: it is about reputation laundering as part of KYC (know your customer) procedures conducted by banks, government agencies and partner-investors of Russian businessmen.

“An important component of the KYC procedure involves analyzing media publications. <…> Therefore, the fight in Wikipedia is not for life, but for death”, says Shumanov.

For example, the article about billionaire Yuri Milner in Wikipedia has been edited 44 times since February 24, 2022, and almost 30 edits are awaiting confirmation, RTVI writes. Milner was initially referred to as a Russian billionaire, then “Israeli investor,” then “Israeli entrepreneur of Russian origin.” But in the end, the edits were not confirmed, and Milner remained a “Russian billionaire”.

The article about billionaire former Alfa Bank chairman Pyotr Aven has been edited 141 times since February 24. He is now listed as a Russian and Latvian billionaire.

Sometimes there is a clash: Wikipedia editors speak on one front, and against them are some commissioned editors who come for money to edit articles, says Shumanov: “On the market (there is) such a service as editing articles on Wikipedia and other resources. Really PR-agencies often provide it: it is editing articles, removing negative publications. And this is related to the institution of reputation and the attempt to clean up one’s reputation from all sorts of dirty stains”.

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