French chess star Joël Lautier on US sanctions list

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French chess star and businessman Jöel Lautier was added to the list of those targeted by US sanctions for the war in Ukraine last March, the French business daily Les Echos reported on Wednesday, the only non-Russian to be targeted by US authorities.

On a list of affluent Russians, one name stands out. Of more than 340 people sanctioned by the United States on March 24 for the war in Ukraine, only one is not Russian: Frenchman Joël Lautier, the former international chess champion turned mergers and acquisitions consultant.

The inclusion of Lautier on America’s growing blacklist went completely unnoticed until the French business daily Les Echos mentioned it in an article published on Wednesday, April 20.

Lautier, head of a mergers and acquisitions consulting firm, is indeed twice on the list of American sanctions: once under his French name (Joël Raymond Lautier) and once under the “Russified” version of his surname, Zhoel Raimon Lote.

Why Lautier?

It even gets a special mention from the US Treasury because it is quoted separately in a press release on Washington’s efforts to target “the elite close to Russian President Vladimir Putin”. The 48-year-old Frenchman is nominated alongside 15 other wealthy Russians, including Gennady Timchenko, a businessman and longtime friend of Putin.

However, unlike the oligarchs targeted by US and European authorities, Lautier is not targeted by US sanctions for making his fortune through his ties to Putin.

Instead, he owes his inclusion on the list to the fact that in 2020 he became a non-executive director and a member of the supervisory board of Russian bank Sovcombank.

One of Russia’s “systemically important” banks, Sovcombank is suspected of helping Russia’s elite enrich themselves illegally. She was one of the first targets of American sanctions, from the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24.

A month later, Washington decided to increase the pressure on Sovcombank by individually targeting all its executives, including the members of the board of directors.

For Les Echos, it is “weird” that Joël Lautier comes under fire from critics from Washington. First, the daily recalls, he resigned from his post at Sovcombank on February 25, the day after the bank was placed on the sanctions list. This decision is effective only after “a General Assembly [of shareholders]“says Les Echos. Since the announcement of US sanctions, all references to board members have disappeared from the bank’s website.

Plus, there seems to be a double standard at play in Washington. Lautier was officially sanctioned because he was on the supervisory board of Sovcombank. But German national Regina von Flemming became non-executive director of the Russian bank in 2020, a position she held just before the start of the war …and yet she is not on the US sanctions list. Contacted by FRANCE 24, the US Treasury did not comment on this “oversight”.

From chess champion to businessman in Russia

Contacted by Les Echos, Lautier made no comment on his inclusion on the US sanctions list.

His registration means that any assets he has in the US or in a US bank can be seized and he cannot do business with Americans.

Ironically, Lautier was put on the US sanctions list the same day as Anatoly Karpov, the former world chess champion who became a Russian deputy and who voted for the war in Ukraine. These two have faced each other many times in the past… on the chessboard.

Lautier’s feelings for Russia, a superpower in the chess world, seem to stem in part from his chess career.

Until 2006, Lautier was the biggest chess star in France. He was Junior World Champion in 1988, participated in the 2005 Chess World Cup and is one of the few players to have beaten living chess legend Garry Kasparov twice, in 1994 and 1995.

His love of board games has brought him to Russia many times. He familiarized himself with Russian by devouring the chess books of Russian grandmasters.

When he retired from chess in 2006 to turn to finance, “Russia offered me the best bridge from chess to business”, he told French business daily Les Echos in 2016. He also took advantage of the interview to publicly denounce, two years after the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the “demonization of Russia in Europe” and called for more business relations with Moscow.

In 2006, he founded his own mergers and acquisitions advisory firm RGG (Russia Go Global) specializing in the purchase and sale of assets in Russia. At the same time, he trained at Skolkovo, the first management school in Moscow.

Since then, he has advised several large Russian groups in sectors as diverse as oil, electricity and pharmaceuticals. In addition to his role at Sovcombank, Lautier was also a non-executive director of Evropeyskaya Elektrotekhnica, a Russian electronics company.

Perhaps it was one too many roles for the US Treasury and the former chess champion pushed his pawns too far in Russia, forgetting one of the golden rules of the game: pawns are the only pieces in the game. failures that cannot be reversed.

This article has been translated from the original in French.

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