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IPG CEO Gapontsev files lawsuit against Treasury for inclusion on Russian oligarch list

January 11, 2019
Photo | File
Photo | File
Valentin Gapontsev was able to move his name from Forbes' Russian billionaires list to its American billionaires list, but he still is listed by the U.S. Treasury as a Russian oligarch.

The Russian-American billionaire founder and chief executive of Oxford-based IPG Photonics is suing the U.S. Department of the Treasury for listing him as a Russian oligarch.

That designation could eventually freeze Valentin Gapontsev'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.

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, Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017, 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.

Gapontsev, a Worcester resident, says in a 33-page complaint that he does not belong anywhere near that list.

However, the list compiled by the Treasury simply copied the list of Russian billionaires from a March 2017 issue of Forbes magazine, Gapontsev alleges.

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 with with IPG Photonics" due to Gapontsev's inclusion on the list.

The complaint details how Gapontsev, born in the Soviet Union and raised in Ukraine, worked at the Soviet Academy of Sciences to research fiber-based lasers and amplifiers.

After publishing a scientific paper, an Italian telecommunications company contracted with Gapontsev's company, dubbed STC IRE-Polus Partnership, to develop a high-powered erbium fiber amplifier. That is credited as his first major breakthrough and was not funded by the Russian government, the complaint notes.

In 1997, Gapontsev's products were qualified for use in BellSouth, a U.S.-based telecommunications company for a fiber-optic network. It was then that Gapontsev established IPG Photonics and opened its Oxford headquarters after a $100 million in private equity investments from U.S.-based TA Associates and Merrill Lynch, which took a minority ownership in the company.

It was scientific innovation, hard work and contracts with western corporations that drove Gapontsev's wealth.

According to the complaint, Russian entities are far from being the company's biggest customers.

"By region, 44% of the company's sales are to companies in China, 12% of the company's sales are to companies in the United States, 8% of the company's sales are to companies in Germany, 21% of the company's sales are to 'Other Europe,' and 15% of the company's sales are to 'Other Asia.' Of this 15%, approximately 2% of total sales were in Russia," the suit alleges.

Notably, some other customers include government contractors Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

The physicist says he has only met Putin once, in 2011, while receiving an award for scientific achievement by a Russian. But it was the U.S. and other countries that he credits with his success.

"Dr. Gapontsev is the polar opposite of a Russian oligarch," the complaint said. "He had no friends in high places in the Russian Government. His wealth came exclusively from his individual scientific innovation and global market demand for his unique products. He is not a "Russian oligarch."

The suit charges Department of the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as a defendant, and summons include him, the Treasury, and the U.S. Attorney General's office.

The case, however, is on hold, with Congress and President Donald Trump failing to agree on a government funding package.

Photo | Grant Welker
Photo | Grant Welker
The Oxford headquarters of IPG Photonics.