Donohoe to meet US officials over impact of sanctions on Aughinish Alumina

Minister to meet US treasury secretary amid concerns over impact on Limerick plant of US sanctions against Russian individuals

The Aughinish Alumina refinery on the Shannon Estuary near Foynes, Co Limerick.

The Aughinish Alumina refinery on the Shannon Estuary near Foynes, Co Limerick.

 

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will meet US treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin in Washington on Tuesday amid growing concern over continuing US sanctions on Russian individuals which are impacting on Aughinish Alumina in Limerick.

The US treasury on Tuesday announced it was extending the expiration of licenses connected to Russian energy giant Rusal until January 21st. The announcement is the latest delay to a process that Irish and European officials had hoped would be resolved by the end of the year.

In April the US government announced it was imposing sanctions on several Russians, including oligarch Oleg Deripaska, the majority shareholder in EN+ Group which owns 48 per cent of Rusal, Aughinish’s owner.

The US authorities initially gave the company until the end of October to come up with a solution to address Mr Deripaska’s interest in the company, but a compromise on the complex ownership structure of the group of companies has still not been reached.

In particular, the White House is running into resistance from Congress, with senior members of the US Senate and House of Representatives reluctant to lift sanctions on Deripaska.

Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to Mr Mnuchin last week urging the treasury department not to waive or remove sanctions. He said that Rusal and EN+ must remained sanctioned as long as Mr Deripaska exercises meaningful control over them. Any attempt to lift sanctions “would likely meet strong opposition in Congress”.

He noted that the treasury department’s own analysis of Mr Deripaska laid out “a litany of alleged crimes, including blackmail, bribery and even murder”. “Based on this assessment I see no reason to remove sanctions against Mr Deripaska, and until he divests from and relinquishes control of RUSAL and EN+, there is no justification to remove the sanctions on those companies.”

Aughinish Alumina found itself at the centre of the US-Russian sanctions issue in April after the US announced the punitive measures. The Limerick plant is the largest in Europe and provides about 30 per cent of the EU’s alumina, much of which is used for aluminium in the car and aeronautical sectors.

Uncertainty about Rusal’s future could severely disrupt global aluminium markets. It is also one of the biggest employers in the Shannon region, with around 450 people employed directly.

Senior figures

Mr Donohoe is expected to raise the meeting on Tuesday during his meeting with Mr Mnuchin as well as senior figures on Capitol Hill, including Congressman Richard Neal, the incoming chair of the Ways and Means Committee.

Mr Donohoe, who arrived in Washington on Monday, is also due to meet IMF managing director Christine Lagarde.

Mr Donohoe is due to deliver a keynote address on Brexit at the Peterson Institute, an influential economic think-tank in Washington, on Tuesday morning.

There has been ongoing background negotiations at ministerial level and through the Embassy of Ireland in Washington with senior figures in the Trump administration about finding a solution to the Limerick impasse.

The EU mission in Washington has also been centrally involved, given the impact of any shutdown in operations at Aughinish on European aluminium markets and manufacturers in other countries such as France.

Officials stressed on Monday that there was still political will at the highest levels to find a way out of the impasse, but that the ownership issues remained complex.