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Russian-American Billionaire Sues Treasury for Including Him on “Putin List”

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Russian-American billionaire Valentin Gapontsev is suing the U.S. Department of the Treasury for listing him as a Russian oligarch, The Worcester Business Journal reports.

Gapontsev is the founder and chief executive of Massachusetts-based IPG Photonics, a company which manufactures fiber lasers. The Treasury designation could eventually freeze the billionaire’s assets or block him from being in the country.

“Dr. Gapontsev’s wealth comes from his invention of market-leading industrial laser technologies, not from any corrupt parceling out of public assets to cronies of President Putin,” the December court complaint said, according to the news outlet.

The Treasury, at the behest of Congress, compiled a list of Russian oligarchs and political operatives last year to comply with a law that imposed sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia. That law, CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) required a report on the effects of imposing sanctions on Russian businesses in the U.S. with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.

According to Gapontsev, the list simply copied the list of Russian billionaires from a March 2017 issue of Forbes magazine.

Forbes has since removed Gapontsev from that list and he is now listed as an American billionaire because his residence, company and wealth are based in the U.S.

According to the complaint, the company’s customers and financial institutions have begun questioning whether they should continue to do business with IPG.

“At least one counterparty stated they assumed that IPG Photonics, due to its founder, CEO, and substantial owner’s designation as a Russian oligarch by the Secretary, is effectively disqualified from doing business with U.S. persons and corporations,” the complaint said.

Most affected is the company’s small but growing business with U.S. government contractors. Now, the government and contractors have told the company “they believed they could no longer work with IPG Photonics” due to Gapontsev’s inclusion on the list, the lawsuit said.

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Russian Corporate Mobile Market Grows 15% in 2018: Report

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B2B (business-to-business) revenues of Russian mobile operators grew by 15 percent year-on-year in 2018, according to a study from the company AC&M Consulting. Another market researcher, TMT Consulting estimates the market grew by 11 to 15 percent, business newspaper Vedomosti reports.

Corporate subscribers accounted for 13.5 percent of the total mobile customer base, or 43 million. B2B revenues generated 15.5 percent of revenues at mobile operators, equal to 140 billion ($2.166 billion), according to AC&M managing partner Mikhail Alekseev.

But the retail market of cellular communication last year grew in money by less than 3%, according to the report. The growth rates have been negatively affected by aggressive tariff offers and the return of unlimited tariffs, Alekseev said.

More than two-thirds of the total number of respondents among corporate users have confirmed that they use mobile Internet services. In 2016, the share of corporate customers using mobile Internet accounted for a little more than half, and in 2015 only about 40%, the report says.

Three-quarters of corporate clients use the services of two or more operators. Respondents in the segment of large and medium enterprises are mostly using the services of operator MTS. In the micro-business segment, respondents are mostly choosing MTS and MegaFon, while Tele2 and Rostelecom were the least mentioned in the survey, AC&M said.

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Greece Expects more than a Million Russian Tourists This Year

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A rise in early bookings by Russian tour operators for travel packages to Greece is leading Greek authorities to expect more than one million Russian holidaymakers to visit the country this year, Gtp.gr reports.

Early bookings from Russia are up by 15 percent, the Greek Tourism Ministry said on Thursday at the Moscow International Travel and Tourism Exhibition (MITT).

Greek Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura met with leading travel and tourism groups of the Russian market that plan and distribute the bulk of travel packages to Greece. Among the main topics of the meetings was for the Russian travel groups to introduce new Greek destinations to Russian holidaymakers, increase the promotion of the country’s most popular destinations in their travel packages and promote the thematic tourist products that Greece offers.

The meetings were also attended by Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) VP Aggeliki Chondromatidou and GNTO Russia & CIS Head Polykarpos Efstathiou.

“In 2018, approximately one million Russian tourists visited Greece. We expect to see a rise in these numbers in 2019 due to the fact that we are already seeing a 15 percent increase in bookings compared to the same time last year,” the minister said.

The Greek delegation hosted a promotional event in Moscow which was held to boost Greece’s promotion in the Russian market. The event was attended by prestigious Russian artists, representatives of the largest spa resorts and hotel chains in Greece, and heads leading travel agencies specializing in luxury vacations.

A record-breaking 30 million tourists visited Greece in 2018, according to data from the country’s central bank. The figure is an increase of 10.8 percent compared to 2017, when 27.19 million people visited the country.

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Car Imports in Russia Fall After Almost two Years of Growth

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Vehicle imports to Russia dropped in February by 3,6% year-on-year after 22 months of steady growth, Automotive Logistics reported citing data by the Association of European Businesses (AEB). Analysts say the population’s lower incomes and weakening purchasing power are among the reasons for the drop in imports.

In 2018, the country imported 293,100 finished vehicles, up almost 10% compared with the same period the previous year, according to the Russian Federal Customs Service. The value of vehicles imported reached $7.6 billion last year, the highest figure since 2014.

AEB’s chairman Jorg Schreiber says the buying power of the Russian population was weakening and making continued growth prospects for the Russian vehicle market less certain.

The increase in imports to satisfy consumer preferences in Russia over the last 22 months could be explained by a gradual reduction in import duties across the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which includes Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. From September 1 last year, the EEU cut duties on imported finished vehicles from 20% to 17%. It had reduced them in 2017 from 23% to 20%. Although the final decision has not been made yet, there are plans to reduce the duties further, down to 15%.

The reductions are being made to honor obligations EEU member states took when they individually joined the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In Russia, the federal government decided to offset the reduction in import duties on finished vehicles by increasing the “utilization fee” – the tax ostensibly designed to account for recycling charges at the end of the imported vehicle’s life. From 2014, carmakers have had to pay the utilization fee both for vehicles assembled in Russia and those imported to the country, but on locally-made vehicles, the government reimburses the fee.

In April 2018, Russia raised the utilization fee and for some models, the increase was almost double. In October last year, deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak proposed a further increase of 30% but there is no information on when or if that is likely to happen.

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