The profile of businessman Denis O'Brien was temporarily removed from the website of LetterOne, the UK-based investment group founded by Russian oligarch, Mikhail Fridman, who has been targeted by sanctions by the European Union over his alleged links to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Mr O'Brien joined the advisory board of the technology arm of Mr Fridman's investment group in 2015. Their common links include former Vodafone co-founder Julian Horn-Smith, a long-serving director of Mr O'Brien's Digicel group who is also an adviser to Mr Fridman, one of the richest men in Russia.
The website link to Mr O’Brien’s LetterOne adviser profile temporarily led to a “404” error message on Tuesday. It has now been reinstated. A snapshot of the website taken by internet archive service Wayback Machine shows the Irish businessman’s profile was working normally on the evening of last Friday, February 25th, the day after Mr Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine that has led to sanctions against Russia.
Mr O’Brien’s profile on LetterOne refers at length to his Digicel career and his philanthropic activities. LetterOne says the members of its advisory boards are appointed as part of its corporate governance structure to “challenge the investment team’s recommendations and to challenge our assumptions”. Advisers such as Mr O’Brien effectively counsel Mr Fridman’s company on whether to go ahead with deals.
Mr O’Brien’s spokesman made no response to a request for comment on his links to Mr Fridman and whether he intends to maintain his position on the advisory board at LetterOne in light of the sanctions that have targeted its Russian founders.
LetterOne was set up by Mr Fridman and his business partner Petr Aven in 2013, after their Russian company, Alfa Group, made $13 billion on the sale of a stake in oil company TNK-BP to Russian giant Rosneft. LetterOne's investments include a stake in Turkisk mobile phone company Turkcell, as well as the Holland & Barrett retail chain, where the executive chairman is Irish-born former Goldman Sachs investment banker Michael Casey.
Mr Casey is also a senior partner at LetterOne. According to his most recent Linkedin entries, Mr Casey has indicated his opposition to the war in Ukraine by publicly liking a number of anti-war posts, including some posts that are directly critical of Mr Putin.
Mr Fridman on Tuesday gave a news conference in London, where he is based. He suggested that being critical of the Kremlin could result in reprisals against his company and its staff. He denied that he has any capacity to influence Mr Putin and he rejected the sanctions against him, and said he would fight them.
Mr Fridman and Mr Avens were both targeted by sanctions on Monday. The EU alleged that Mr Fridman is an “enabler of Putin’s inner circle”. He has rejected the premise for sanctions as “spurious”.
Mr Fridman, who was born in Ukraine, described the ongoing war as a “tragedy”. He is said by Forbes to have a net worth of almost $13 billion.