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A Russia-born billionaire and founder of a host of Russian technology startups was instrumental in helping two Kremlin-connected companies make major investments in Facebook and Twitter, leaked documents show, according to the New York Times and other newspapers.
Yuri Milner, a self-made billionaire who founded mail.ru, one of Russia’s top five Internet platforms that is often referred to as “the Google of Russia,” lives in Silicon Valley and channeled a $191 million investment from Russian state bank VTB into Twitter and, via an offshore company, purchased $1 billion in Facebook shares for Gazprom Investholding, according to the Paradise Papers.
The Paradise Papers, a trove of 13.4 million secret documents revealing the complex web of offshore tax dodges used by the rich and famous, from the British queen to pop stars such as Bono, Madonna and Keira Knightley, also detail the connections Milner has with Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, through the stake he holds in a company co-owned by Kushner.
The leaks, released late Sunday via the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists by the New York Times, The Guardian, German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and others, also revealed that Wilbur Ross, Trump’s secretary of commerce had retained an investment in Sibur, a Russian gas- and oil-shipping firm co-owned by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law.
Although there is no suggestion that the business activities of either Milner or Ross are illegal, the revelations are likely to stir further concerns over Russian influence in U.S. politics and social media at a time when U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigations into White House links with Russia is heating up.
The New York Times quoted Milner as saying the story was “nothing more than business,” adding: “We are getting money, and we are putting them in Facebook and Twitter. We are making money for our limited partners, and we are giving money back to them. For me, it’s a commercial arrangement.”
It also linked to a long statement by Milner’s investment company DST Global explaining that the investments into Facebook and Twitter were “nothing unusual.”
Milner, worth $3.5 billion according to Forbes magazine, has long been feted by America’s business community as a tech investor and was named by Forbes last September as one of the world’s greatest 100 living business minds. But his connections to both the Kremlin and the White House have not previously been made public.
Milner, a self-made billionaire who studied at the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia in the early 1990s before spending several years as a Russian banking specialist at the World Bank in New York, was an early personal investor in Facebook, buying $200 million in shares in Facebook in May 2009 via his investment company DST Global after meeting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. He was also an early investor in Twitter, though he has since sold his stakes in both social media platforms.
Milner’s investments in social media companies, both in Russia, where he founded Internet platform mail.ru, and in the U.S. via stakes in Spotify and Airbnb, have made him a darling of Silicon Valley.
Moscow-born Milner, who was once CEO of investment bank Alliance Menatap, at a time when it was owned by Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky before his arrest and imprisonment for theft and money laundering, is also the founder of Breakthrough Listen, a $100 million project to search for alien life.
He is married to former fashion model and artist Julia Milner (nee Bochkova) and lives with her and their three daughters in Silicon Valley, although he also owns a property in the Los Alto hills in California, purchased for $100 million in 2011.
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