The BBC president used an offshore Cayman Islands company to invest in a crypto firm founded by a now-sanctioned Russian oligarch.
Richard Sharp was one of the first investors in Atomyze, a Swiss company building a blockchain business by the oligarch Vladimir Potanin. Also known as the “Nickel King”, Potanin has played ice hockey with Vladimir Putin and was one of the oligarchs summoned to the Kremlin when Russia invaded Ukraine.
Potanin was hit with sanctions by the British government in June as part of a crackdown on “Putin’s inner circle”. The Foreign Office said the oligarch – once considered Russia’s richest man – was being targeted because he ‘continues to amass wealth by supporting Putin’s regime’.
It is unclear how the Russian ended up in business with Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs banker and Conservative Party donor who was appointed BBC chairman by Boris Johnson’s government.
Sharp’s previously unreported investment in the oligarch’s Atomyze crypto business was made in 2019 through a Cayman Islands company called ABCP GP Ltd. The Cayman Islands is an offshore tax haven known for releasing limited financial records on business owners.
Atomyze uses blockchain technology to trade commodities, especially metals produced by Potanin’s nornickel company that dominates the global nickel market.
The future president of the BBC then became a director of the company Atomyze for two months. Although Sharp has since resigned from that position, filings by the Swiss companies show that a person who works for Sharp’s personal investment office continues to serve on the board.
There is no suggestion that Sharp breached any of the sanctions recently introduced by the UK government which would prevent ongoing financial dealings with Potanin or his companies.
Sharp was appointed chairman of the BBC after previously donating hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Conservative Party. His long career in the City of London included a successful stint as a banker at Goldman Sachs – where a young Rishi Sunak worked for him – before moving into private investments and taking up leadership roles in the UK art scene. .
His personal wealth is such that he donates his salary of £160,000 a year for part-time BBC work to charity.
Sharp, along with BBC Director General Tim Davie and a number of prominent BBC journalists, have been banned by the Russian government from traveling to the country since the invasion of Ukraine due to coverage of the conflict by the British broadcaster.
A spokesperson for Sharp’s investment trust said it had “a long-standing interest in a range of emerging technology companies”. They pointed out that no sanctions were imposed on Potanin when Sharp invested in the oligarch’s company, which is regulated by Swiss authorities.
The spokesperson said Sharp placed its investments in a blind trust – an arrangement in which financial assets are managed by a third party to avoid conflicts of interest – in May 2020 after being hired as an adviser to the Treasury by the then Chancellor, Sunak.
They added: “The arrangement continued after Sharp became chairman of the BBC. This blind trust professionally managed the interests of ABCP GP Ltd and Atomyze Switzerland independently of Mr. Sharp and at the sole discretion of the Trust since its inception.
“At this time, the Blind Trust, and therefore Mr. Sharp, have no financial or management interest in the businesses owned and controlled by Mr. Potanin.”