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Billionaire Lakshmi Mittal accused of profiting from the Ukraine war

ArcelorMittal has saluted its ‘courageous people’ at its plant. But Lakshmi Mittal is also joint owner of a firm importing an estimated £2.36 billion of Putin’s oil since the invasion.

London-based billionaire Lakshmi Mittal’s steel empire has witnessed war in a way that is beyond the experience of all but a few companies. At least 118 former employees of the Ukrainian outpost of ArcelorMittal, the steel giant he founded, have died fighting to repel Russia’s invasion. 

Among them was Maksym Kelyp — a railway engineer with 22 years’ experience at the steelworks before he died on November 27 at Bohuslav hospital. In his online testimonial, which the company posts for each of its fallen colleagues, he was described as a “talented, promising worker with a sincere and kind heart” by a manager at the railway workshop where he worked. 

ArcelorMittal lauded him for his service in defending the country: “Faithful to the role of the soldier and to the Ukrainian nation, he bravely conducted his military duty,” read the company’s website.

However, while Kelyp’s co-workers mourned, Lakshmi Mittal, the company’s executive chairman, was indirectly funding the other side of the conflict. The billionaire, who ranked 6th on The Sunday Times Rich List and remains the largest shareholder in the world’s second biggest steel manufacturer, has also been cultivating another lucrative venture. Another company, which he is a large shareholder in and which his son is chairman of, has been buying Russian oil.

A joint investigation by The Sunday Times and the non-governmental organisation Global Witness can reveal that Mittal jointly owns a business which operates an oil refinery in India that has bought an estimated £2.36 billion of Russian crude since the invasion of Ukraine. These imports have allowed the equivalent of hundreds of millions of pounds to flow into the Kremlin’s coffers, according to estimates based on Russian export duties.

Mittal’s spokesman said that he had spoken out many times against the invasion of Ukraine — but Oleg Ustenko, an economic adviser to President Zelensky, said: “Every drop of oil that Russia sells helps pay for its war crimes in Ukraine. There is no excuse for buying tainted Russian oil as peaceful Ukrainian steelworkers die for their country and their beloved ones.” 

Dame Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the all-parliamentary group on anti-corruption and responsible tax, also condemned the billionaire. “Just two years ago, [Lakshmi] Mittal expressed concern for all the people of Ukraine. Yet he has been caught opportunistically importing Russian oil to prop up his global business operations. 

“If international businessmen like Mittal continue doing these deals, then the barbaric war in Ukraine will continue, funded by cash from the West,” she said.

The expanse of Lakshmi Mittal’s sprawling empire cannot be overstated. Born in Rajasthan, northern India, he started work in his father’s steel company before going it alone aged 26 and opening his first steelworks in East Java, Indonesia.

His company, Mittal Steel, expanded aggressively across the world and, after a €27 billion merger with Luxembourg’s Arcelor in 2006, it became the biggest steel producer globally. It was overtaken by the state-owned China Baowu Steel Group in 2021. Today, Mittal owns nearly forty per cent of ArcelorMittal in a fund with his family.

In the process, Mittal’s wealth grew and grew and his family became mainstays of London’s elite. He topped The Sunday Times Rich List between 2006 and 2012 and became famed for his property portfolio. The family own three houses worth about £300 million in London’s exclusive Kensington Palace Gardens and a mansion in Hampstead’s “billionaires’ row”, The Bishops Avenue.

In 2004, near the peak of the family fortune, Vanisha Mittal, Lakshmi’s daughter, married investment banker Amit Bhatia in what was then the world’s most expensive wedding. The $60 million, week-long festival bought the couple a private concert by Kylie Minogue, fireworks at the Eiffel Tower and a ceremony at the Palace of Versailles.

Lakshmi’s younger brother Pramod also threw his daughter a £50 million wedding and lived in a £17 million house just off Park Lane. But Pramod ran up debts — Lakshmi reportedly had to bail him out a few times — and he wound up declaring bankruptcy in 2020.

This article was initially posted on The Sunday Times, on January 20th, 2024

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