WASHINGTON — A Treasury Department official said that Secretary Steven Mnuchin sold his stake in RatPac-Dune Entertainment to a “third party unconnected” to Leonard Blavatnik, the Ukrainian-born billionaire and entertainment investor linked to a Russian company that was recently removed from the U.S. sanctions list.
The statement came in response to a letter sent by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who is questioning whether Mnuchin had a conflict of interest because of his involvement in the decision to lift the sanctions.
She is unsatisfied with Mnuchin’s response to her initial query, and has fired off a new letter in which she suggests that he disclose who bought his stake in RatPac-Dune.
Speier and other lawmakers, who have tried to block the lifting of sanctions on Russian companies, have focused on Blavatnik and his ties to Russian oligarchs.
In Speier’s initial letter, dated Jan. 23, she noted that Blavatnik is a former board member of Rusal, which was one of the companies linked to billionaire Oleg Deripaska and recently taken off the sanctions list. She also noted that Blavatnik and Viktor Vekselberg, another Russian billionaire who also was sanctioned, are partners in a company, Sual, that is a major shareholder in Rusal. Speier wrote that Sual’s “stake will be increased as a direct result of the sanctions relief package.”
In her letter, she asked about Mnuchin’s sale of his stake in RatPac-Dune, which was disclosed in 2017 as part of the confirmation process, and a report that it was sold to Blavatnik.
In a response to her letter, a Treasury Department official, Jennifer Bang, wrote that in mid-April of 2017, one of Blavatnik’s companies, Access Industries, acquired an interest in RatPac Entertainment, which in turn owned a minority stake in RatPac-Dune.
But Mnuchin “was not a party to that transaction and in fact has never held any interest in RatPac Entertainment,” Bang wrote. She pointed to reports that Blavatnik’s company bought the stake from James Packer, the Australian investor.
“Moreover, this reported investment in RatPac Entertainment was announced after the March 31 effective date of the Secretary’s divestiture of his stake in” RatPac-Dune, “shortly before that transaction closed,” Bang wrote.
“In short, the transaction you describe never happened,” she added. “Therefore, there is no ‘conflict of interest’ and no basis to even consider recusal.” She also said that there was no contact by Blavatnik, his agent or any “sanctioned individual” in connection with the delisting of Rusal.
The response letter also defends Blavatnik, noting that he is “by all accounts a U.S. citizen” who is not subject to any sanctions. Bang noted that he came to the United States from Ukraine more than 40 years ago, was educated at Columbia and Harvard and was knighted by the Queen of England in 2017.
In her new letter that was obtained by Variety, Speier noted that Mnuchin sold his interest in RatPac-Dune “at approximately the same time Leonid Blavatnik’s company acquired an interest in a related entity, RatPac Entertainment.”
“Mr. Blavatnik’s statements on this matter have denied engaging in ‘direct’ transactions with you, but not those between entities you control,” Speier wrote, adding that Mnuchin could “appropriately address this matter simply by disclosing who purchased your stake.”
She also is calling on Mnuchin to answer a number of questions she had in her initial letter, including details of the sale of RatPac, the names of “any LLCs involved in these transactions” and their owners, and if the purchaser had any affiliation with sanctioned individuals. She also asked whether he sought any opinion from ethics officials on his involvement in sanctions issues.
Mnuchin has defended the decision to delist Rusal and other companies. He said that the companies getting sanctions relief “are undergoing significant restructuring and governance changes that sever Deripaska’s control and significantly diminish his ownership.”