War in Ukraine: Joël Lautier, a French chess star on the American blacklist

Published on: 04/21/2022 – 18:33 The United States added a Frenchman, Joël Lautier, to the list of people targeted by sanctions against Russia in March, Les Échos reported on Wednesday. A decision which may seem surprising and which affects an ex-tricolor chess star. It’s a name that stands out. Of the more than 340 individuals sanctioned by the United States on March 24 in connection with the war in Ukraine, only one is not Russian, but French: Joël Lautier, a former international chess champion turned M&A adviser .His inclusion on this ever-growing American blacklist went completely unnoticed until the daily Les Échos mentioned it in an article published on Wednesday 20 April. This leader of a mergers and acquisitions consulting firm actually appears twice on the US sanctions list: once under his French name (Joël Raymond Lautier) and once under the “Russified” version of his surname, Zhoel Raimon Lote. Why Joël Lautier? He is even entitled to a special mention from the US Treasury since he is quoted separately in a press release reporting on Washington’s efforts to target “the elite close to Vladimir Putin”. This 48-year-old Frenchman is put in almost the same bag as fifteen rich Russians, including Gennady Timchenko, a businessman and friend of Vladimir Putin since the early 1980s. >> To read also: War in Ukraine: targeting the Russian oligarchs, a strategy condemned to pschitt? Almost – because Joël Lautier is not targeted by the sanctions specifically for having enriched himself thanks to his proximity to the master of the Kremlin, unlike the oligarchs who find themselves in the target of the American and European authorities. He owes this questionable privilege to the fact that he became, in 2020, non-executive director on the board of directors and member of the supervisory committee of the Russian bank Sovcombank. This financial institution, one of the banks of importance “ systemic” in Russia, is suspected of having helped the Russian elite to enrich themselves illegally. It was one of the first targets of American sanctions, from the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24. A month later, Washington therefore decided to increase the pressure on Sovcombank by individually targeting all its leaders, including the members of the board of directors. According to Les Echos, it is “odd” that Joël Lautier suffers the wrath of Washington in this way. First, underlines the daily, because he had resigned from his post at Sovcombank on February 25, the day after the inclusion of this bank on the sanctions list. So of course, this decision is only effective after “a general meeting [des actionnaires]”, emphasizes Les Echos. Since the American sanctions, any reference to the members of the board of directors has disappeared from the bank’s website. Moreover, there seems to have been a double standard in Washington. Joel Lautier was officially sanctioned because he was a member of the board of directors of Sovcombank. But the German Regina von Flemming became non-executive director of the Russian bank in 2020, still held this position just before the start of the war … and yet does not appear on the list of American sanctions. Contacted by France 24, the US Treasury did not comment on this “omission”. From chess champion to businessman in Russia Joël Lautier, contacted by Les Échos, did not wish to react to his inclusion on the sanctions list. It means that any assets he has in the United States or in an American bank can be seized, and that he cannot do business with Americans. Ironically, Joël Lautier was put on the American sanctions list on same day as Anatoli Karpov, the former world chess champion who, having become a Russian deputy, voted in favor of war in Ukraine. These two have faced each other several times in the past… on the chessboard. The Russian tropism of the Frenchman comes in part from his chess career. Until 2006, Joël Lautier was, in fact, the biggest French star in chess. He was a junior world champion, repeatedly took part in the tournament of candidates for the title of world champion. Joël Lautier is also one of the very few players to have a positive score (2 wins, 1 loss, 7 draws) against living chess legend Garry Kasparov. in Russia, which remains the historically most important country for chess. He also learned the language by devouring the chess books of Russian grandmasters. And finally, when he retired from chess in 2006 to turn to finance, “Russia gave me the best gateway to failures in business!”, he declared in 2016 to Echoes. He also took advantage of this media platform to denounce, two years after the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the “demonization of Russia in Europe” and called for more commercial ties with Moscow. In 2006, he founded his firm mergers and acquisitions consultancy RGG (Russia goes global – Russia opens up to the world) which specializes in the purchase and sale of assets in Russia. At the same time, he trained at Skolkovo, Moscow’s main management school. Since then, he has advised several large Russian groups in sectors as diverse as oil, electricity and even the pharmaceutical field. In addition to his role at Sovcombank, Joël Lautier was also a non-executive director for Evropeyskaya Elektrotekhnica, a Russian electronics company. It is, perhaps, this accumulation that ended up attracting the attention of the US Treasury. The former chess champion pushed his pawns too far in Russia, forgetting one of the golden rules of this game: pawns are the only pieces that cannot go back.