Fund With Ties to Kremlin to Focus on Profit

The New York Times, 08.06.2011


As part of its drive to show foreign investors that Russia is a safe and profitable place to put their money, a government-owned bank has established a private equity fund with a former Goldman Sachs banker in charge and Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin as its promoter.

Last month, Mr. Putin met in Moscow with prominent international investors including Stephen A. Schwarzman, chief executive of the Blackstone Group, and Lou Jiwei, chief executive of the China Investment Corporation, to try to generate interest in Russia’s direct investment fund. President Dmitri A. Medvedev plans to announce the fund formally later this month at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Over dinner on Wednesday in Vienna with a small group of business people and investors, Kirill Dmitriev, an alumnus of Goldman Sachs and McKinsey & Company who is chief executive of the fund, gave details of how it would be structured.

The point of the fund, Mr. Dmitriev emphasized, will be to make money. That is not always obvious in Russia, where foreign investors have been concerned about corruption, lack of an impartial court system and the authoritarian tendencies of the government.

“We want to make some returns,” said Mr. Dmitriev, who graduated from Stanford University and the Harvard Business School. Before Mr. Putin named him to run the fund, Mr. Dmitriev was president of Icon Private Equity, a fund focused on Russia and the former Soviet Union.

Profitability, rather than government policy goals, will drive the investments, Mr. Dmitriev promised. While the overall aim is to promote growth and create jobs, investments will be judged according to the potential return over the typical private equity cycle of five to seven years, he said.

Russia plans to commit $10 billion to the fund, in installments of $2 billion a year for five years, via the government development bank Vnesheconombank. But the bank’s stake in investments will never exceed 50 percent, meaning that foreign investors will retain control, said Petr Fradkov, deputy chairman of the bank.

At the same time, Mr. Putin’s personal involvement in the fund is intended to reassure investors that they will not be abused by arbitrary or corrupt lower-ranking officials. “The investor has implicit comfort,” Mr. Fradkov said.

Mr. Putin met for an hour and a half on May 18 with the foreign investors, a group of about 20 people that also included representatives of the Kuwait Investment Authority, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and private equity fund Permira, Mr. Fradkov and Mr. Dmitriev said.

Investors are not being asked to write blank checks to the fund, but rather to invest in individual deals, another effort to reassure them that they will have control over how their money is spent. Mr. Fradkov said that there were projects in the works and that the first deals should be announced within nine months.

Mr. Fradkov would not give specifics about potential deals, but Mr. Dmitriev said one goal of the fund would be to invest in companies that could profit from Russia’s rapidly growing middle class.

Investors may still need to be convinced. The questions put to Mr. Dmitriev and Mr. Fradkov at the dinner made it clear that many still regarded Russia as risky and unpredictable. When politicians are involved — and not just in Russia — there is always a risk that money will be steered to pet projects.

As Mr. Dmitriev points out, the best way to deal with such concerns will be to generate some big returns in the years to come.