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Senate Democrat increases scrutiny of Russian investment in a Kentucky mill

Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Business News

WASHINGTON -- A top Senate Democrat is asking the owner of a controversial Kentucky aluminum mill to provide more details about a Russian oligarch's investment in the project, including whether the partnership could provide the Russian company with access to sensitive information.

In a letter to Craig Bouchard, Braidy Industries' chief executive officer, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., says recent reports about the plant have raised questions about whether there were discussions with the Russian company's investment in the plant before the U.S. Treasury Department lifted sanctions on the company.

The Russian firm Rusal, which has pledged a $200 million investment in a Braidy Industries proposed $1.68 billion aluminum mill near Ashland, was taken off a Treasury sanctions list in late January, despite assertions that it and a large shareholder, Oleg Deripaska, are closely tied to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Rusal's parent company, En+, noted Thursday that Deripaska had already relinquished his control of the company and "has no any management or day-to-day involvement in Rusal." It said his stake has been reduced to a minority investment with no access to dividends.

Wyden's letter notes that according to a recent report in Time, Bouchard met in Switzerland with a Rusal sales executive in January, although the Russian company was then facing U.S. sanctions. The letter notes that the day after the Switzerland meeting, the Senate blocked a bill to keep the sanctions in place and three months later, Rusal announced plans for a partnership with a Braidy subsidiary, Braidy Atlas.

"Was a potential investment by Rusal in Braidy Atlas discussed during this dinner, or at any other time prior to sanctions being lifted?" asked Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

 

The company said in a statement that it had "previously made the facts widely known concerning Rusal's direct minority investment" in the aluminum rolling mill, including on its website. But it said it looks forward to providing Wyden "with a timely response to his inquiry and interest in our example of leadership in the economic revitalization of Appalachia."

Braidy said the investment and the supply contract with Rusal would allow Braidy Atlas "to create the most sustainable aluminum production in the world for the automotive and food and beverage industries" and says it would create 600 jobs and boost Kentucky's economy by $2.8 billion.

It noted that Bouchard addressed the United Nations Global Climate Action Summit last week and that Braidy Atlas "has taken a leadership role in the international coalition to bring the aluminum industry to zero net carbon emissions by 2050. The health and prosperity of our community are of a higher priority than political partisanship."

Rusal's investment in Kentucky came months after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., helped defeat a House-approved measure to keep the sanctions on the Russian entities. Wyden's letter to Bouchard asks whether the January meeting was disclosed to any state or federal government officials before the sanctions were lifted.

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