The reader will therefore understand why I didn't bother to try to reach Gasimov to explain Heydar's other high-profile but low-recognition investment. Now
15, the Aliyev son and likely heir to Azerbaijan's political dynasty has also got himself a sideline in commercial banking, judging from corporate filings
I've obtained. These documents show that he controls a parent company that owns, through an offshore subsidiary, almost half of Russian mega-bank VTB's
Nothing wrong with that, you say. It's a fine idea to give a pubescent a solid education in the credit industry, what with all global shenanigans that have
taken place in the last five years.
There are only two problems.
The first is that VTB, which is the second-largest bank in Russia and is 75 percent-owned by the Russian government, is also one of the fastest-growing
financial institutions on the planet, with retail, commercial and investment arms in 19 countries, including the United States. It has been, and continues
to be, dogged by civil lawsuits filed in multiple jurisdictions because of its issuance of loans that have led High Court justices to wonder "what, if any, due diligence" was carried out beforehand. VTB has been accused to being little more than a vehicle for the enrichment of its executives and for the Kremlin's "economic
diplomacy" in luring foreign direct investment to Russia--a Putinist Lehman Brothers. In 2011, it took in about $712 million in German and French pensioner
deposits, and earlier this year, it featured prominently and unflatteringly in the
Cyprus credit implosion,given the $13.8 billion in assets it had tied up in the Mediterranean country long rumored to be a money-laundering haven.
Embattled Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny is particularly fond of exposing VTB's dodgy history; in September 2012, his Foundation for Fighting
Corruption published a
comprehensive report examining some of the highlights (full disclosure: I edited it).
The second problem is that in May of this year, Azerbaijan's sovereign wealth fund invested $500 million in VTB's secondary public offering (SPO). It was
joined by Qatar's and Norway's sovereign wealth funds and, collectively, all three gobbled up 55 percent of the SPO. According to Herbert Moos, VTB's chief financial officer, "We have been working with the [Azerbaijani
sovereign wealth fund] on a real estate investment in Moscow, their first investment, and they have a 20 percent allocation to Russia so they made a
strategic decision to invest in us and become a business partner."
Good thing Heydar has ample real estate experience, otherwise his father's regime might have balked at the prospect of throwing a cool half a billion into
a bank heavily owned by the baby of the Aliyev family.
Here's what we can prove from open-source financial filings and Panama's surprisingly helpful corporate registry. On November 9, 2009, Ataholding, an open
joint-stock company that manages AtaBank, one of the biggest commercial banks in Azerbaijan, purchased
48.99 percent of VTB's Azerbaijani subsidiary. The remaining 51 percent is owned by VTB and thus mostly owned by the Russian government. As of December 31,
2009, AtaBank's investment was valued at 10,887,310 Azerbaijani manats, which at today's exchange rate is around $13.8 million.