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Friday, April 12, 2024

British Telecom Company’s Controversial Connections and Russian State Contracts

A British telecoms provider, RETN Capital, faces scrutiny for securing Russian state contracts linked to sanctioned figures, while its supporters spread anti-Ukrainian content, amidst questions about ownership and compliance with international sanctions.

A British telecommunications provider has secured contracts from Russian state agencies controlled by sanctioned individuals, including an ally of Vladimir Putin, while its supporter who donates to the Conservative Party shares anti-Ukrainian messages on social media. RETN Capital, a company offering services across Europe, claims to have reduced its involvement with Russia since the Ukraine invasion and followed sanctions, yet its earnings from the country have surged since the conflict began.

This increase is partly due to contracts from sanctioned state entities, as per a report in the Daily Telegraph. The newspaper’s investigation also revealed that one of RETN’s main institutional investors, Njord Partners, had a co-owner who was sharing content on social media platforms attacking Ukraine and President Zelensky. One repost read: “Ukraine has always been a very shady place, controlled by allies of globalists like Hunter Biden, where extremely suspicious activities occur.”

Additionally, there were reposts claiming: “Why is nobody acknowledging the obvious? Zelensky holds damaging information on Biden and other Western leaders who have exploited Ukraine for their corrupt practices for decades.” This individual, Trolle, formerly an executive at Oaktree Capital who contributed £20,000 to Conservative MP Priti Patel during her tenure as UK Home Secretary, also shared conspiracy theories on their social media account, according to the Telegraph. Trolle’s colleague at Njord Partners, Jakob Kjellberg, currently serves as the Chairman of RETN.

A repost of anti-Ukrainian propaganda (left,centre) by Arvid Trolle (far right) on X in November 2022.

According to Interfax-Spark, a repository of official contracts, RETN’s fully owned subsidiary in Russia was awarded contracts from state entities that have faced sanctions since the conflict in Ukraine.

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In December 2022, RETN’s Russian branch secured a contract with the Kurchatov Institute, a Russian aviation research agency under state control, which has been sanctioned by both the UK and the US. The institute’s director general, Mikhail Kovalchuk, and his brother Yury, a trusted associate of President Putin, are targeted by sanctions imposed by the UK, Canada, and Ukraine.

Yuri Kovalchuk, Putin ally

Two months later, RETN secured a contract with the Russian State Enterprise Fuel and Energy Complex of St. Petersburg, known as GUP TEK. Both GUP TEK and its director general, Ivan Boltenkov, are sanctioned by Ukraine. The newspaper reported that RETN’s connections with the Russian state and sanctioned entities are evident in the company’s 2022 financial statements. PJSC Rostelecom, which is partially state-owned, is highlighted as one of the primary customers of RETN’s Russian subsidiary.

Additionally, the Russian subsidiary is a client of Rosbank, a Russian bank. Both Rosbank and Rostelecom face sanctions from the West and Ukraine. There are uncertainties regarding the current ownership of RETN Partners, following significant changes in its major shareholdings after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Until January 2021, Polina Maltseva, daughter of Anatoly Danilitsky, a former Russian diplomat and executive director of the Russian National Reserve Corporation, held the largest individual beneficial share in RETN Capital. Danilitsky had previously served as the chairman of RETN’s Russian subsidiary.

Maltseva’s status as a proxy for her father’s financial interests was acknowledged by the UK High Court. She acquired her stake in RETN in 2016, shortly after her father resigned as chairman of its subsidiary. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Maltseva’s stake in RETN was transferred to Anna Tindl, a German lawyer based in Vienna, Austria. Tindl is also currently a director of RETN, although unlike Kjellberg, her name does not appear on its website.

The slick public face of RETN (left) and the Russian oligarch whose daughter acted as a proxy (right)

Tindl has been involved in partnerships with various entities associated with Russian and Kremlin interests. This includes Viennese radio station Radio Ru, which rebranded as Alpha Radio in 2023.

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Founded by Yuri Aleksandrovich Zaitsev, a former Russian diplomat, the FBI suspected him of espionage and operating as a Kremlin recruiter during his time in Washington in 2013. Following the Ukraine invasion, Zaitsev transferred his stake in Radio Ru to a German company, Iallo GmbH, with Tindl as its director.

Tindl has also been a shareholder of Radio Ru since its founding in 2019 by Zaitsev. Former shareholders of Radio Ru included Andrei Zolotov, head of the Vienna bureau of the Putin-aligned RIA Novosti. A spokesperson for RETN stated: “RETN Capital Ltd is fully compliant with all relevant international sanctions. Our group policies mandate independent local operating subsidiaries to adhere to these sanctions, and we provide training and software tools to identify any potential sanctioned transactions.

RETN has consistently aimed to build a dependable international network platform that promotes global connectivity and supports the development of the global internet. Consequently, our products focus on internet access and communication services, which are generally exempt from international sanctions due to their fundamental importance for democracy, progress, and freedom of expression. We will address the alleged transactions brought to our attention with the management of RETNNet, our Russian subsidiary, and request confirmation of full compliance with our group sanctions policies.” Njord Partners were contacted for comment but did not respond.