MIT removed Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg from Corporation in April 2018
Decision followed Treasury Department adding Vekselberg to ‘specially designated nationals list’
Recent reports revealed that MIT removed Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg from the MIT Corporation shortly after the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated him as one of the entities responsible for advancing Russia’s “malign activities” globally.
Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty first reported Vekselberg’s removal Tuesday.
“In April 2018, to comply with restrictions as a result of [the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control] adding Mr. Vekselberg to its specially designated nationals list, MIT suspended Mr. Vekselberg’s Corporation membership,” according to a statement sent by Kimberly Allen, MIT’s director of media relations, to The Tech.
Vekselberg joined the Corporation, MIT’s board of trustees, in 2010 and was re-elected in 2015.
He is president of the Skolkovo Foundation, which was tasked by the Russian government in 2010 with developing a new science and technology area in Skolkovo, a suburb of Moscow. A year later, MIT entered a $300 million collaboration with Skolkovo to create the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech), a research and entrepreneurship university.
“As Skoltech has matured, MIT’s engagement with it has decreased in intensity, but continues, principally in the form of collaborative research projects between MIT faculty and Skoltech faculty,” Allen’s statement said.
MIT’s current agreement with Skolkovo went into effect in February 2016 and expires in February 2019. Allen did not answer whether Vekselberg’s status would affect a decision to renew the collaboration, instead noting that any updates would likely be published to the MIT Skoltech program website.
Vekselberg is also chairman of the Renova Group, an investment conglomerate, and in 2017 his charity of the same name announced a program to provide scholarships for Russian students to study at MIT.
No students at MIT are currently supported by Renova’s scholarship funding, Allen’s statement said. “[B]ut because the funds were donated to MIT prior to Renova being sanctioned, they remain available to provide financial support to undergraduate students from Russia.”
A total of seven Russian oligarchs, including Vekselberg, and 12 companies they own or control, including Renova, were designated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, according to their press release April 6, 2018.
“The Russian government engages in a range of malign activity around the globe,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the release. “Russian oligarchs and elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities.”
Vekselberg specifically was designated “for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy.” Russian prosecutors raided Renova’s offices in 2016 and arrested two associates for bribing officials, the release said.
Federal agents working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller also stopped Vekselberg in a New York-area airport in early 2018, searched his devices, and questioned him, according to coverage by The New York Times.