The striking similarity between a newly released Treasury Department report of Russian oligarchs and a 2017 list of wealthy Russians published in Forbes magazine is no coincidence.
On Tuesday, a Treasury Department spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the unclassified annex of the report was derived from Forbes’ ranking of the “200 richest businessmen in Russia 2017.”
The revelation is likely to invite criticisms of the thoroughness of the Treasury Department’s report and reinforce the notion that the list is primarily a who’s who of the Russian elite rather than an official accounting of Kremlin-linked political corruption as some US lawmakers intended.
Congress mandated the report in a law President Trump grudgingly signed in August. At the time, the president called the legislation “seriously flawed.”
Almost all of the 96 oligarchs listed in the government-issued report, who each have a net worth of $1 billion or more, appear in the Forbes ranking. When asked if there is “any truth to the criticisms that the Treasury list was inspired or derived in some way from the Forbes list,” a Treasury spokesperson said “yes.”
“The names of and net worth of oligarchs in the unclassified version of the report were selected based on objective criteria drawn from publicly available sources,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Portions of the Treasury report remain classified and reportedly include additional names of Russian multimillionaires.
Former Treasury officials said Congress is likely to react angrily if the classified report isn’t significantly more substantive, given the catch-all nature of the unclassified list, which includes friends of Vladimir Putin but also foes, such as billionaire brothers Aleksey and Dimitriy Ananyev, who’ve had their businesses seized in recent years.
“The fact that the public oligarch list mirrors the Forbes list is ‘too cute’ for Congress, and riles up angry legislators,” said Liz Rosenberg, a former Treasury official. “The administration might have preserved more credibility on Russia policy with some of these outraged legislators had it gone with a narrower list based on additional criteria.”
Democrats reacted angrily to Treasury's admission of the list's primary sources on Tuesday. "We expected the administration to take this issue seriously," said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill.
News of the list’s upcoming release had sent shockwaves through the Russian elite, and Washington insiders such as former State Department official Daniel Fried received lucrative offers to try to get Russian clients off the list.
But many Russians breathed a sigh of relief following Treasury’s release of the report Monday night, which included statements from the Trump administration that it was not a sanctions list and the US was not applying new sanctions mandated by legislation at this time.
Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Federation Council’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, said it appeared that the US administration “simply copied the Kremlin’s phonebook.” Putin, meanwhile, called the list an “unfriendly act,” but downplayed any need to retaliate.
“Russia should be guided by the old rule: ‘The dog barks, but the caravan rolls on,’” Putin was quoted as saying.
Alina Polyakova, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that because the list includes all the individuals who meet the net worth threshold of $1 billion rather than anyone suspected of corrupt acts, its usefulness is "limited and ambiguous."
"As a who’s who in Russia, I’m sure there are a few Russian ‘minigarchs’ who right now feel slighted for not being on the list," she said.
Tom Frank contributed to this report.
John Hudson is a foreign affairs reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact John Hudson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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