Target Global, the London-based venture capital firm, facilitated a discreet investment of $63 million from Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich into several European startups, as revealed in documents disclosed by Forbes. From 2015 to 2021, Abramovich was a co-investor and limited partner in the venture capital fund, which raised more than $3.2 billion and backed at least 15 European tech stars, such as the fintech company Revolut and the car auction Cazoo. Later, in March 2022, because Russia invaded Ukraine, the U.K. put sanctions on the billionaire.
Leaked documents originating from Meritservus, an offshore service provider based in Cyprus
The investments, undisclosed until now, have surfaced in leaked documents originating from Meritservus, an offshore service provider based in Cyprus. These documents were anonymously shared with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and its collaborators, including Forbes. Within these documents, the intricate dynamics of Abramovich’s association with Target Global unfold, a firm co-founded by the son of another oligarch, Aleksandr Frolov, who is currently under sanctions.The records reveal that Abramovich contributed more than $63 million, either as a limited partner or via particular firms that Target Global presented for investments from 2015 to 2021.
Roman Abramovich made a significant investment of $25 million in 2018 as an “anchor” limited partner in one of Target’s initial funds, Target Global Mobility 2.0, as per a fund subscription document. This investment represented approximately one-fifth of the total assets of the $132 million fund, as stated by the investment database Preqin.
Roman Abramovich‘s money was used by Target Global to invest in the European scooter company Circ in 2019 (which was later bought by the American startup Bird, which just went bankrupt) and the German used car giant Auto1 in 2015. The papers also show that Ervington, another Abramovich fake company, owned shares in Auto1 and gave Target Global permission to vote on routine business matters like new leaders’ pay deals. Auto1 confirmed Target and Ervington’s investments and noted they occurred years before the first sanctions.
Target Global and AUTO1 Group went public on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange for $2.2 billion?
In February 2021, Auto1 went public on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange for $2.2 billion. This made it one of Germany’s most famous startup success stories in recent years. But Abramovich’s ownership in the company through Target and Ervington wasn’t listed in the January 2021 public listing prospectus. This is because German law doesn’t require partners with less than a 3% stake to be listed in an IPO prospectus, Auto1 said.
One of the oligarch’s financial vehicles, Ervington, was named as a partner in a January 2021 Auto1 investor document that was among the files that were leaked. There was a private sale in September 2021 where Abramovich gave a Target special purpose vehicle some of his Auto1 shares. This was recorded in Ervington’s company minutes.
Leaked papers show that Abramovich and his holding companies also gave Target special purpose companies loans worth tens of millions of dollars so they could buy shares in new businesses. For example, contracts between Target and Norma show that Abramovich gave Target Global a number of loans worth $23.5 million between 2020 and 2021 so that Target Global could invest in Flo, a London-based period tracking app with over 300 million users.
In May 2017, he borrowed $10 million from Target’s special-purpose vehicle Helium to buy a piece of Berlin-based service Hero, a food service startup that is now worth $7.1 billion on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. During its 2017 initial public offering (IPO), Delivery Hero said that no penalties were in place against any owners. We asked Flo and Bird for a response, but they did not answer. In addition, the oligarch’s family office wrote an unwritten agreement for the now-London-based fund to handle his personal investment in the British chip business Compound Photonics.
A December 2021 advice deal between Abramovich and Target Global’s parent company Hyde Park Special Opportunities said that Target Global would get 4% of the money from the sale of these direct investments. Valler, who used to work with Target Global, became a member of Compound Photonics, a company that has since gone out of business.
Abramovich did not provide a response to a comment request.
According to Target Global, Abramovich’s investments make up a mere 2% of its assets under management. These investments are restricted to one fund and a select few co-investments that he has been introduced to.
“These investments were made years before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when Mr. Abramovich was a prominent investor in various sectors, including tech, private equity, real estate, and sports throughout Europe and the U.K.,” stated Target Global spokesperson Seda Ambartsumian. Target offers a wide selection of over 200 LPs and operates under regulations in various jurisdictions worldwide. Our legal and compliance team has put in place comprehensive sanctions systems and controls to guarantee adherence to the relevant laws in all the jurisdictions we operate in.
There are other VC funds that also have connections to Abramovich, not just the London firm. In addition to supporting the Russian firm Impulse VC and the San Francisco-based fund Altair Capital, the oligarch has made notable investments. No response was received from Impulse VC regarding a request for comment. According to Altair, Abramovich’s status as of March 2022 does not involve any investment or shareholding.
Several American investors have steered clear of funds associated with Russian oligarchs, especially following the inclusion of nearly 100 of them, including Abramovich, in the August 2018 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. This act aimed to penalize Russia for its interference in the 2016 election. Abramovich, on the other hand, frequently directed his investments towards startups, hedge and private equity funds using shell companies managed by his Cypriot business partners. This information comes from the FinCEN files, a collection of bank files submitted to U.S. authorities that were leaked to journalists in 2020. (Abramovich chose not to provide a comment at that time.)
In December 2023, Roman Abramovich attempt to challenge EU sanctions was dismissed
Target Global executives were informed of the identity of its billionaire partner through a letter from offshore services provider Meritservus in 2018. The letter was sent to ensure compliance with money laundering regulations. Various sources have revealed that the staff at Target Global were not aware of Abramovich’s involvement as a limited partner in one of their funds. Additionally, it was discovered that Target Global had facilitated his investments in startups and even co-invested with him through special purpose vehicles.
In March 2022, Abramovich faced sanctions from the British government and the European Union due to his alleged support and connections to Russian president Vladimir Putin following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Following the war, Western companies and investors swiftly severed their connections with Russia and its affluent elite, who amassed vast fortunes through the privatization of the country’s natural resources, often with alleged ties to the Kremlin. Abramovich has taken legal action to challenge the European Union’s sanctions, asserting that he lacks any significant connections to Russian president Vladimir Putin or the Kremlin. In December 2023, his attempt to challenge EU sanctions was dismissed. He has refrained from contesting the U.K. sanctions.
While Abramovich’s $63 million investments with Target Global were a small fraction of the oligarch’s $21 billion fortune in 2021, his wealth has since dropped to $9 billion in part due to international sanctions and Russia’s slowing economy.
Target Global also has additional connections to Russian oligarchs
Target Global also has additional connections to Russian oligarchs. Alex Frolov, the cofounder and former CEO, happens to be the son of Aleksandr Frolov, an oligarch who amassed a substantial fortune of $2.6 billion as the head of Evraz, Russia’s largest steel producer. However, it is worth noting that Aleksandr Frolov faced sanctions following the outbreak of the war in November 2022. Abramovich also held a 29% stake in Russian steelmaker Evraz, where Frolov Sr. served as CEO, from 2007 to 2021, as per Evraz’s corporate filings.
Target Ventures was founded in Moscow in 2012 by Frolov Jr. and Russian fund manager Mike Lobanov. The two had previously collaborated at Russia’s state-owned nuclear power company, Rosatom.
In 2015, they expanded their reach globally by partnering with Israeli investors Yaron Valler and Shmuel Chafets, who joined as cofounders of Target Global. Despite its initial location in Berlin, Target Global continued to maintain connections with Russian oligarchs.
Target Global email obtained by Forbes?
“The funds invested in the business by my family demonstrate my commitment and instill confidence in our investors,” Frolov Jr. stated in a 2018 interview with Russian business newspaper Vedomosti.
Lobanov, who had prior experience at Russian fund manager Alfa Capital, informed the Wall Street Journal in 2015 that the fund’s capital of $300 million originated from affluent Russian families. However, he refuted any connections between Target’s supporters and Putin. “None of our LPs have any affiliation with government policy,” Lobanov stated.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, it seems that Target Global has taken steps to separate itself from the situation. The company announced the closure of its Moscow office shortly after the invasion.
In March 2022, a transaction took place where cofounder Valler acquired the shares of Frolov Jr. and Lobanov in the firm, as mentioned in a Target Global email obtained by Forbes. The document does not reveal the amount paid for the pair’s stake. The email, signed by Pedros Barros, Target’s head of fundraising and investor relations, states that the only other owner is Chafet’s wife, who holds shares for tax planning purposes.
Having a personal stake in the success of these investments instills confidence in our investors, as it demonstrates my commitment to the business and its financial growth.
In a 2018 interview, Alex Frolov, co-founder of Target Global, shared his insights.
According to the email, Target acquired the investment made by Frolov’s wealthy father in Target Global’s funds during the period of April to June 2022. In November 2022, Frolov Sr. faced sanctions from the British government due to his connections to the Kremlin and his involvement in supporting Putin’s war-time economy through his ownership in the steel company Evraz (he has not publicly contested the sanctions).
The sanction imposed a freeze on assets that would have affected the international holdings of Frolov Sr. In May 2022, Frolov Jr. decided to distance himself from the fund and eventually resigned when his father faced sanctions from the British government. No response was received from Frolov Jr. regarding a request for comment.
In a legal affidavit submitted during a German dispute in March 2022, Barros made it clear that Target Global had no connections with the Russian government. “Vladimir Putin’s influence on the capital of Target Global has been minimal,” Barros pointed out.
Despite Target Global’s attempts to downplay its connections to Russia, a series of court cases and deals indicate additional ties beyond the Frolov family. During an October 2023 legal dispute involving a Target Global portfolio company, which was eventually dismissed, the fund acknowledged that Alexander Abramov, a sanctioned oligarch and a former investor in its funds, had ties to business partners Frolov Sr. and Abramovich. Target Global announced that Abramov has been successfully divested of his ownership in the fund.
Abramov and Abramovich are also investors in the U.K.-based telecoms group Truphone, specializing in selling SIM cards for overseas calls. Following Abramovich’s sanctions in March 2022, a senior Truphone director stepped down, while Target Global partner Valler remained on the company’s board until December 2022.
Truphone was facing significant financial challenges when Hakan Koc, a seasoned entrepreneur with experience in successful companies like Target and Abramovich portfolio company Auto1, proposed to acquire its assets for a nominal amount of $1.26 (£1). The acquisition attempt by Koc faced an initial setback due to a review conducted under the U.K.’s new National Security and Investment Act. The concerns raised were related to the potential exploitation of the company’s data or the possibility of its technology being utilized to disrupt the U.K.’s mobile network. It received approval in January 2023.
“I am pleased that we were able to rescue this exceptional tech company [TruPhone] and transform it into a prominent U.K. employer and contributor to taxes,” Koc stated when contacted for a comment.
Now, only Valler and Chafets remain as co-founders of Target Global. Following Frolov Jr.’s resignation in November 2022, his former business partner, Mike Lobanov, also decided to step back. Now he holds the position of CEO at The Alternative, a fund manager that originated from one of Target’s Cyprus companies.