U.S.-based Russian Businessman Sues Fed for Calling him “Oligarch”

A Russian-born businessman is challenging in federal court his inclusion on a Treasury Department list of oligarchs, saying the agency “effectively republished” the list from an issue of Forbes Magazine, Law.com reports.

In a 33-page complaint filed Monday, Valentin Gapontsev, who runs a company based in Massachusetts that produces fiber lasers, claims that the Treasury Department did not look closely at his alleged connections to the Kremlin or give him any chance to challenge his inclusion on the list.

“‘Russian oligarch’ is a widely understood term,” the complaint states. “It refers to the few friends of prominent Russian leaders who were corruptly allocated public assets and became rich from it. Dr. Gapontsev is the polar opposite of a Russian oligarch. 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’.”

In a statement, IPG Photonics general counsel Angelo Lopresti said Gapontsev turned to the courts only after the Treasury Department refused to remove him from the list by itself.

“The only thing Dr. Gapontsev has in common with Putin’s cronies is that they were born in the Soviet Union, which cannot be the legal the reason for Treasury to label and harm Dr. Gapontsev, a remarkable immigrant success story.”

Gapontsev says far from being a stooge of the Russian government, his wealth comes entirely from the roughly 140 patents he holds and from the “U.S.-based, U.S.-listed, U.S.-headquartered” company he runs.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Gapontsev worked to develop fiber optic and other technologies with multiple Western European and American companies. He opened the IPG Photonics headquarters in Oxford, Mass., in 2000 after securing $100 million in investments from U.S. companies, according to the complaint. He then moved to the United States, becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2008.

IPG Photonics went public in 2006 and reported $1.4 billion in revenue in 2017. Most of the company’s business comes from deals with U.S., European and Chinese companies, with a “small portion” coming from sales to Russia, according to the complaint.