Los Altos Hills VC invested cash for Russians, documents show

From staff and wire reports

A trove of leaked documents released yesterday (Nov. 5) show that Los Altos Hills venture capitalist, Yuri Milner, received nearly $1.2 billion from Russian companies to make investments in Twitter and Facebook.

The documents, known as the Paradise Papers, also show that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the Trump administration’s point man on trade and manufacturing policy, has a stake in a company that does business with a gas producer partly owned by the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And, the documents show that Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has invested $11 million in offshore portfolios in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.

The documents are from a Bermuda-based law firm known as Appleby, which sets up offshore accounts for some of the world’s wealthiest individuals. The documents were leaked to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung. The newspaper shared the documents with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, or ICIJ — a global network that won the Pulitzer Prize this year for its work on the Panama Papers.

$100 million home

Milner made headlines locally in 2011 when he paid $100 million for a 17-acre hilltop estate at 133 La Paloma Road with a 25,545-square-foot mansion. At the time, it was the most expensive home sold in California history.

Paradise Papers documents show Milner got $191 million from the Russian government bank VTB, and invested that money in Twitter. The leaked records also show that a financial subsidiary of Russian energy company Gazprom funded a shell company that invested in a Milner-affiliated company that held roughly $1 billion in Facebook shares shortly before its 2012 initial public offering.

Milner said in a statement yesterday that any indication that his investment firm, DST Global, was working on behalf of the Russian government to gain influence over social media in last year’s presidential election is a “fairy tale.”

“When we negotiated the Facebook and Twitter deals we asked for no board seats, and assigned all our votes to their founders, figuring they knew best how to run their companies,” Milner said.

Milner has also invested in a tech-savvy real estate fund that was co-founded by Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner called Cadre. Milner told the ICIJ that he used his own money for that investment.

Commerce Secretary’s Russian ties

As for Commerce Secretary Ross, the documents show he is an investor in Navigator Holdings, a shipping giant that counts Russian gas and petrochemical producer Sibur among its major customers. Putin’s son-in-law Kirill Shamalov once owned more than 20% of the company, but now holds a much smaller stake.

Commerce Department spokesman James Rockas said Ross “never met” Shamalov and has generally supported the Trump administration’s sanctions against Russia, according to the ICIJ report. Rockas added that Ross has withdrawn from matters related to transoceanic shipping vessels and has met the “highest ethical standards.”