It has emerged that INEOS-owned OGC Nice completed a transfer deal with Russian Federation-owned Lokomotiv Moscow, in the summer transfer window of 2022.
The Athletic claims that the French side, owned by prospective Manchester United part owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe, paid €14m to Lokomotiv Moscow, who are owned by Russian Railways (RDZ).
What is the story?
This is a contentious issue because the rail company is currently sanctioned by the United Kingdom government due to its role in the Ukraine war.
The United States government has also placed financial measures against the railway firm claiming, the company is “owned or controlled by” Russian President, Vladimir Putin’s government.
Additionally, Maria Engqvist, deputy head of the Russia and Eurasia Studies Programme at the Swedish Defence Research Agency, a government body, has asserted that “Russian Railways plays an integrated role in Russia’s war against Ukraine for historical and geographical reasons”.
There also seems little doubt that Lokomotiv’s owners have concrete ties to Putin’s regime. The Athletic explains that the most recent set of Lokomotiv Moscow accounts clearly stated “the company’s ultimate controlling shareholder as of December 31, 2022, 2021 and 2020 is Russian Railways. What’s more, “the sole shareholder of JSCo ‘Russian Railways’ as of December 31, 2022, 2021 and 2020 is the Russian Federation.” Therefore, Russia’s connection to the deal made by Ratcliffe’s Nice is inescapable. Did Ratcliffe break any rules though?
Is it a problem?
Nice as a French company are not subject to UK or US sanctions, so in essence, no.
Whilst it is true the Russian Railways company was sanctioned by the European Union in April 2022, the measures were “less stringent than those implemented by the UK and the US” according to the American publication.
When The Athletic asked INEOS for a response the British chemical company affirmed, “OGC Nice followed the standard Ligue 1 protocols when signing the defensive midfielder Alexis Beka Beka during the 2022-2023 summer transfer window and complied with all applicable sanctions in doing so”.
The company owned by Ratcliffe also rapidly pointed out that the deal was cleared by both Ligue 1 and FIFA before it was ratified.
INEOS also went on to claim that they have rarely done any business with Russia and like most companies, whatever business they did have was “cancelled following the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, in support of the position of the international community and international sanctions”.
All in all, it does not seem like INEOS did anything wrong from a legal perspective but it does seem a tad tone-deaf and ethically questionable to do business with a Russian club only a matter of months after the invasion of Ukraine.
United fans will be hoping the new part owners will be savvier when taking over the Old Trafford side. However the recent The Peoples Person article about Ratcliffe criticising his likely future club captain in his latest book, is not a great start.