Fletcher in the News

Trump Envoy Erik Prince Met with CEO of Russian Direct Investment Fund in Seychelles: Prof. Schena Weighs In

Shortly before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater and head of Frontier Services Group, traveled to the Seychelles, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, and met with a Russian official close to President Vladimir Putin. According to the Washington Post, the meeting between the Russian and Prince, who presented himself as an unofficial envoy of Trump, took place “around January 11” and was brokered by Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, to establish a backchannel between the president-elect and Putin.

The identity of the Russian individual was not disclosed, but on January 11, a Turkish-owned Bombardier Global 5000 charter plane flew Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, to the Seychelles, flight records obtained by The Intercept show. Dmitriev’s plane was an unscheduled charter flight and flew to the island with two other Russian individuals, both women. The RDIF is a $10 billion sovereign wealth fund created by the Russian government in 2011...

...While it is legal to do business with RDIF in certain circumstances, there are several nuanced restrictions that if ignored or overlooked can easily lead to a violation. The resulting uncertainty has created opportunities for companies and individuals to find loopholes to bypass sanctions.

Analysts say RDIF attempted to do this in 2016 when the fund distanced itself from its parent company, the Russian bank Vnesheconombank, or VEB, which is also subject to U.S. sanctions. Legislation signed by Putin in June 2016 enabled RDIF to transfer its management company, known as the RDIF Management Company LLC, to the Russian Federal Agency for State Property Management.

“Why would you separate the management company?” asked Patrick Schena, an expert on sovereign wealth funds who teaches at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. “One of the reasons is to give the appearance of a degree of separation to show independence in decision-making.” In other words, he said, RDIF wanted to move away from a highly controversial sanctioned entity to appease potential business partners.

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