In the icy waters of a Siberian port, a Russian ship with the unusual French name Christophe de Margery was ready to be loaded. The world’s first ice-breaking gas tanker was designed for a very specific purpose. Opening of Russian Arctic sea routes to Europe and Asia during winter. It was December 2017, and temperatures had dipped to minus 27 degrees Celsius, but politicians and oil executives cheered as they gathered in Sabetta on the Yamal Peninsula. Vladimir Putin flew to this event. At the president’s signal, gasoline began to be pumped into the tanker. “This is probably the biggest step in the evolution of the Arctic,” Putin said. While watching, viewers will notice another distinguishing feature of the ship: The bow was painted with a huge white mustache.
The beard and name paid tribute to the former boss of French oil giant Total. Known as “the big mustache” because of his abundant facial hair, de Margery has spent years sitting between Paris and Moscow. and transformed itself with a $27 billion partnership with Novatek, Russia’s largest private gas company, and China’s state-owned oil company. From remote wilderness with vast undeveloped gas fields to bustling industrial hubs.
Sabetta now has ports, airports, train stations, power plants, and facilities to condense methane into liquids. The liquefied natural gas (LNG) is then exported by sea. However, De Margerie was not present at the tanker’s inauguration. He had died three years before him in an accident at Moscow airport when his private plane collided with a snowplow.
Doing business in Russia is risky, but the rewards are attractive. In his five-year period from 2017, Total (or now his TotalEnergies) has received approximately $1.8 billion (£1.48 billion) in dividends from Novatek and its investment in the Yamal LNG joint venture. Last year, he made $750 million, according to company filings. An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has described the profits as “blood money.” The timing was surprising. “The big question with today’s announcement is why now and not soon,” an analyst told Reuters.
Total said there was no connection between the deadline and the announcement. The company said it had already written off billions of dollars worth of its investments in Russia and pulled out of another joint venture with Novatec. A spokeswoman said the decision was “another logical step in line with our code of conduct to phase out Russian assets.”
Combining the various deals, Timchenko and Colvin appear to have sold Yamal for his £1.6bn. They bought his entire company in 2008, sold part of it in 2009, and the rest in 2011. He has not filed an account declaring a deal until 2014, when the Cypriot company was liquidated, so the profits of the years published were hidden. The file does not have the buyer’s name