[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 July, 2004, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
TVR buyer is Russia's youngest millionaire
By Artyom Liss
BBC reporter in Moscow

TVR car
Owning a TVR - A daddy's boy's dream?
Buying a sportscar with daddy's money has got to be every young man's dream. But Nikolay Smolensky, 23, has gone a one step further.

The young Russian has bought the entire iconic sportscar maker TVR from motoring legend Peter Wheeler.

Mr Smolensky, who is Russia's youngest millionaire, is believed to be a friend of Russian billionaire and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich - although by comparison he is hardly well off.

His personal wealth is estimated at just $100m (55m), just a fraction of Mr Abramovich's $14bn fortune.

Still, for a businessman in his early 20s, Mr Smolensky's financial achievement is impressive - even if it does not offer a guarantee of future acumen or success.

Daddy's boy

So far, Mr Smolensky does not seem to be a self-made millionaire. Rather, much of his money is reported to have come from the businesses created by his father: Russia's first private banker, the oligarch Alexander Smolensky.

Clients queue up at the entrance of a downtown branch of the SBS-Agro, a leading Russian commercial bank, in hopes to take out their deposits in Moscow early Thursday, Aug. 27, 1998.
Bank customers, desperate to withdraw their cash from SBS-Agro in 1998.

The elder Smolensky's first bank, Stolichny, appeared on the market in February 1991, ten months before the final collapse of the USSR.

A year later, Stolichny and two other Russian banks set up the country's first debit card processing system, and started opening offices in some of Russia's most remote locations.

By 1998, Alexander Smolensky owned the country's largest private network of banking offices and a large stake in the debit card scheme, which had 1.2 million subscribers.

He had also merged his operations Agroprombank, which served the country's huge agricultural sector. Following the merger, Mr Smolensky's group - renamed SBS-Agro - gained considerable lobbying power.

Many analysts say that Mr Smolensky, even though disliked by the Kremlin, was in a perfect position to influence some of the government's key ministers.

Unpopularity

But then came August 1998: "Black August", as Russians dub it, when the banking system collapsed amid the country's worst financial meltdown.

Many Russian analysts accuse Mr Smolensky of trying to cash in on a bear market for the rouble shortly before and during the 1998 crisis. Many see him as one of the behind-the-scenes actors in that year's Russian economic drama.

Shortly after the Kremlin announced that Russia would default on its national debt, the national currency plunged and dozens of small and medium-sized financial institutions shut their doors.

Mr Smolensky's banking group was among those that had collapsed. Along with other banks, it said there was no money left to return the deposits held in SBS-Agro, and no money available to save private investors from their plight.

The news bewildered many Russians, who had desperately wanted to believe that bankers were at least trying to help them.

Thousands of Russians have spent years trying to reclaim the money which they had deposited in SBS-Agro.

In 2002, most of these debts were repaid by other banks. Even so, if you ask an average Russian to give the name of the country's most unpopular oligarch, many would mention Alexander Smolensky.

Revival

Mr Smolensky's banking business - now renamed OVK - has since been resuscitated and, even though he has moved to Austria, he retains some control of the company through his son Nikolay, who was until recently chairman of the OVK board.

But in July 2003 the long story of the Smolenskys' banking involvement seemed to have come to an end.

OVK was sold to Vladimir Potanin, an oligarch rumoured to be very close to the Kremlin, and both Nikolay and Alexander joined the unofficial club of wealthy unemployed Russians.

By purchasing TVR, Nikolay Smolensky has now put the family back into the spotlight.

So far, the new owner of the legendary British car manufacturer has only promised to keep the company's wheels rolling.

Little else is known about him or his plans, though some reports suggest he will invest heavily in the firm to boost its production from the current 1,000 units a year, and try to push its cars into new markets.

So the 400 employees of TVR should not lose any sleep over the acquisition. People who know Mr Smolensky personally say that he has always been a fan of sportscars, and, in particular, of TVR.


SEE ALSO:
Russian buys up British car firm
27 Jul 04  |  Lancashire


RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific