Lawmakers Target Steven Mnuchin Over "Conflict of Interest" in Ties to Hollywood Investor Len Blavatnik

Steven Mnuchin_Len Blavatnik_Inset - Getty - H 2019
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After the Treasury Secretary lifted sanctions on companies linked to an oligarch, Democrats are seeking information about Mnuchin's sale of a stake in RatPac-Dune and Blavatnik's purchase of a share in a related film-finance company.

Several key members of the new Democrat-led House of Representatives are demanding that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin answer questions regarding his Hollywood ties to Ukraine-born billionaire and entertainment investor Len Blavatnik.

The move follows Mnuchin’s decision to lift sanctions on aluminum giant Rusal and other companies linked to oligarch Oleg Deripaska, which was seen as a boon to Russian president Vladimir Putin. Blavatnik, whose Access Industries owns Warner Music Group, has links to Rusal and has been in business with Deripaska as well as Viktor Vekselberg — both oligarchs considered close to Putin.

In a Jan. 23 letter, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-California) chided Mnuchin for his involvement in the decisions on the Rusal sanctions. “The fact that you did not recuse yourself from the proposed termination of sanctions is deeply troubling and a conflict of interest,” Speier wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. (The letter was first reported by BuzzFeed News). 

House Committee on Oversight and Reform chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) and ranking Senate Finance Committee member Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) sent another letter Tuesday, seeking answers to several questions about Mnuchin’s relationship with Blavatnik, in part citing reports in THR.

They ask whether Blavatnik was an initial investor in RatPac Entertainment, the film finance-production company founded in 2013 by director Brett Ratner and Australian billionaire James Packer. They also ask for detailed information regarding Blavatnik’s acquisition of Packer’s stake in RatPac, which was announced in April 2017. 

Cummings and Wyden also have questions regarding RatPac-Dune, the film-investment vehicle formed in 2013 when Mnuchin’s Dune investment vehicle partnered with RatPac. Through RatPac, Mnuchin had invested in such Warner Bros. films as Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One, It and Annabelle: Creation.

In their letter, Cummings and Wyden ask Mnuchin to identify the buyer of his interest in RatPac-Dune, which he sold in June 2017 following his appointment as secretary of the Treasury. They also seek information on any role Blavatnik might have played in that deal as well as any benefit that may have accrued to him. In 2017, sources told THR that Mnuchin had sold his stake to Blavatnik, but Blavatnik claimed that neither he nor any of his companies had purchased the Mnuchin interests.

The New York Times reports that Tony Sayegh, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for public affairs, said Mnuchin had “no business relationship” with Blavatnik, though they knew each other socially, and that any implication of a conflict of interest or ethical problem was “absurd.” He further said neither Mnuchin nor his wife, Louise Linton, were aware of Blavatnik’s purchase of the RatPac-Dune stake until it was publicly announced, rendering it unnecessary for Mnuchin to seek ethics guidance or to recuse himself on the sanctions issue.

Separately, Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Ca.), Adam Schiff (D-Ca.) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) have demanded that Mnuchin turn over all documents pertaining to the lifting of sanctions. Waters is chair of the Financial Services Committee, Schiff chairs the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Engel chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Blavatnik, 61, is one of several U.S. citizens with deep foreign ties who have attracted the attention of special counsel Robert Mueller by donating millions to GOP causes in the past few years. (Foreigners are not permitted to make such donations, but American citizens like Blavatnik can.) Among the checks that Blavatnik has written through Access is a $1 million contribution to Donald Trump's inauguration committee.

Born in Ukraine in 1957, Blavatnik emigrated to the U.S. when he was 21. A key asset that he brought to his partnerships was his American citizenship: He had Western connections and conveyed a sense of legitimacy lacking in some of his Russian allies.

Married with four children, Blavatnik has owned Warner Music since 2011. He also owns or has investments in an assortment of industries around the world: natural resources and chemicals, venture capital and real estate. He owns or has stakes in upscale hotels including the Sunset Tower in West Hollywood, the Faena Hotel Miami Beach and the Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat on the Cote d'Azur.