From the first glimpse Herman Gref, the almost almighty Russian banker is a liberal icon. An admirer of Goethe, Erich Heckel and Fritz Lang, an ethnic German with the second passport seems to be a counterweight to the massive state machine. In some meaning, he is the counterweight: a part that serves his role. And according to the sober view this role is no way better than of militaries and secret services of Russia.
In 2014, due to the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, Sberbank, led by Herman Gref came under the EU and U.S. sanctions. Also in 2014, Ukraine accused Sberbank of “financing of terrorism” and supporting “terrorist groups” in the east of the country.
Herman Gref and the fears of the US election meddling
In 2016, The Observer revealed Sberbank’s ties with key employees of the campaign headquarters of the presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
According to The Observer, Sberbank chose the Podesta Group to lobby for its interests in the United States after the imposition of sanctions. The founders of the company are two brothers Tony Podesta and John Podesta. John, the former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton and an adviser to President Barack Obama, was the head of the campaign headquarters of Hillary Clinton. And his brother, Tony, one of the most influential lobbyists, was collecting donations to the Hillary presidential campaign fund. The media expressed concern that the Podesta brothers could have appeared in Clinton administration if she had won the election.
Although these are speculations, but not entirely unfounded.
Herman Gref’s Sberbank used as a financial weapon
The Observer, citing a source in NATO counterintelligence, also noted that Western intelligence is aware of Sberbank’s close relationship with Vladimir Putin and his regime. Funds passing through Sberbank accounts are regularly used to support covert intelligence operations. Its offices abroad are also often used as a cover for the activities of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). According to the source, Sberbank has outposts in almost two dozen foreign countries, operating as branches of the Foreign Intelligence Service outside Russia: many of its senior officials are “former employees of Russian intelligence.” Within Russia, Sberbank has close relations with the Federal Security Service (FSB).
In January 2018, Herman Gref was included in the Kremlin report of the U.S. Treasury Department, a list of Russian officials, politicians, and businessmen close to the Russian president.
In 2022 Herman Gref has been sanctioned.
Herman Gref’s career
In 1998, Herman Oskarovich Gref became a member of the collegium of the Ministry of State Property, was the first deputy head of the said department.
The next year was no less rich in appointments to key posts for the young politician. Among them, membership in the board of the Federal Commission for the Securities Market, election to the board of directors of Gazprom, Svyazinvest, management of the Center for Strategic Research.
After Putin’s victory in the election of the country’s leader, Gref was invited to the government as the head of the newly created Ministry of Economic Development and Trade (by merging the separately existing departments). He retained his position during the change of the executive branch, gaining recognition in “universality”.
Herman Gref as the Sberbank CEO
On the recommendation of the Supervisory Board of the main credit and financial institution of the Russian Federation, in 2007, Herman Gref was elected its president and chairman of the board.
His team expanded the circle of clients conducting payment transactions via the Internet, involved pensioners in the progress of the mass adoption of plastic cards and other advanced technologies, and introduced a private banking service for wealthy citizens.
Gref, Sberbank, and subsidiaries are repeatedly accused by entrepreneurs of economic crimes, namely, illegal seizure of company assets. One of the most notorious cases happened with the Russian company for the extraction of crushed stone, Pavlovskgranit, and its former owner, Sergei Poymanov, who lost his business because of his unwillingness to transfer company shares to Sberbank Capital. Some other businessmen who owed Sberbank and Sberbank Capital are hiding abroad or are in prison, and accuse Sberbank and its subsidiary Sberbank Capital of raiding. The lawsuit is claiming damages of $750 million.
The Pavlovskgranit case, which started in January 2017, is so notorious, the Russian press reports of the details are legion. The New York court papers set out how Oleg Gref, and two companies with which he had financial and shareholding interests – Neo Centre (Russia) and Nisoram (Cyprus) – are alleged to have conspired with his father and Sberbank to under-value the Pavlovskgranit assets and trigger a Sberbank loan recovery proceeding, bankrupt the owner, seize his assets, and during his resort to legal action, put him in prison.
Herman Gref’s response in the press has been to say that Sberbank doesn’t do business by raiding assets. Oleg Gref (the son of Herman Gref, involved in the case) has made no public comment. However, within weeks of the US court filing, he left NEO Center, one of the corporate defendants in Manhattan, and established a brand-new Moscow company called Brayne Asset and Change Management.
A spokesman for Brayne confirms that Sberbank is one of the firm’s clients. According to Brayne company, it’s in the business of “restructuring of distressed assets” – Oleg and Herman Gref’s line of business together, according to the New York court papers.
It isn’t known whether any of the children of the partners at NEO Center or Brayne go to school at Khoroshkola. It would be entirely lawful if they do. Desirable that they should, according to advertorial by Bloomberg and by the endorsement of President Vladimir Putin.
In his recent address to the Federal Assembly, Putin didn’t mention the Gref school. He did say he is ordering the Russian state budget to finance a “shift to completely new education methods, including personalised learning, in order to cultivate in our children a readiness for change and creative curiosity, and teach them to work in teams, which is very important in the modern world, and other life skills applicable to the digital era.”
Herman Gref is a part of the same system, despite the initial impression of the opposite.