Oil Trader Gunvor Claims Business as Usual After U.S. Sanctions

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When President Obama announced the second round of sanctions Thursday on 13 Russian individuals, the list included Gennady Timchenko, co-founder of Gunvor, the world’s fourth-largest oil trading firm. To say the announcement sent jitters through the commodities trading world is more than a slight understatement.

But Gunvor appears to have dodged a bullet. Shortly after the sanctions were announced, Gunvor’s CEO, Torbjorn Tornqvist, said that Timchenko had sold him the Russian’s 43% stake in Gunvor for an undisclosed sum. Tornqvist now holds an 87% stake in the trading company.

The Financial Times reported that Tornqvist said the sale “was done on commercial terms and the shares had not been gifted to him.” Tornqvist told the newspaper that gifting “ would be impossible under Swiss law.” Timchenko’s stake was likely worth about $1.5 billion based on valuations of rival companies, according to the FT.

Tornqvist’s announcement helped steady the oil market when it was announced. But the sale does not mean that everything is the same as it was before the sanctions were announced. Banks and financial institutions are unlikely simply to accept Tornqvist’s assurances at face value.

Tornqvist told the FT that the company is not a target of the sanctions (true). If the firm is targeted, it will affect the company’s investments in the United States and the European Union. Gunvor paid $400 million in 2011 for a stake in the Signal Peak coal mine in eastern Montana.

When the U.S. put Timchenko on its list of sanctioned individuals, the Treasury Department claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin “has investments in Gunvor and may have access to Gunvor funds.” Gunvor has categorically denied that Putin is or ever was a stakeholder in the company or that he benefits in any way from its business.