US lifts sanctions on Russian firms linked to Putin's ally Oleg Deripaska

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – United States President Donald Trump’s administration on Sunday (Jan 27) lifted sanctions on aluminium giant Rusal and other Russian firms linked to oligarch Oleg Deripaska, despite a Democratic-led push in the US Congress to maintain the restrictions.

Earlier this month, 11 of Mr Trump’s fellow Republicans in the US Senate joined Democrats in a failed effort to keep the sanctions on Rusal, its parent, En+ Group, and power firm JSC EuroSibEnergo. But that was not enough to overcome opposition from Mr Trump and most of his fellow Republicans.

Advocates for keeping the sanctions had argued that Mr Deripaska, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, retained too much control over the companies to lift sanctions imposed in April to punish Russia for actions including its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, efforts to interfere in US elections and support for Syria’s government in its civil war.

Some lawmakers from both parties also said it was inappropriate to ease the sanctions while Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigates whether Mr Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Moscow.

But in its statement on Sunday, the US Treasury Department said the three companies had reduced Mr Deripaska’s direct and indirect shareholding stake and severed his control.

That action, it said, ensured that most directors on the En+ and Rusal boards would be independent directors, including Americans and Europeans, who had no business, professional or family ties to Mr Deripaska or any other person designated for sanctions by the Treasury Department.

“The companies have also agreed to unprecedented transparency for Treasury into their operations by undertaking extensive, ongoing auditing, certification, and reporting requirements,” the department’s statement said.

Mr Deripaska himself remains subject to US sanctions.

Trump administration officials, and many Republicans who opposed the effort to keep the sanctions in place, said they worried about the impact on the global aluminium industry. They also said Mr Deripaska’s decision to lower his stakes in the companies so that he no longer controlled them showed that the sanctions had worked.

Rusal is the world’s largest aluminium producer outside China. The sanctions on the company spurred demand for Chinese metal. China’s aluminium exports jumped to a record high in 2018.

Mr Trump denies collusion, and Moscow has denied seeking to influence the US election on Mr Trump’s behalf, despite US intelligence agencies’ finding that it did so.

Mr Deripaska had ties with Paul Manafort, Mr Trump’s former campaign manager. Manafort pleaded guilty in September to attempted witness tampering and conspiring against the US.

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