Alisher Usmanov: all in the family

Plastic bag production jumpstarted Usmanov’s wealth
His fortune shot to the stratosphere by owning steel production and telecoms
Now he’s one of the oligarchs tightest with Putin


$19bn net worth pre invasion
$14.6bn net worth post invasion

Businessman, investor, Uzbekistan born, Russia raised.
* Oligarch * Power * Uzbek
☪️ 🏦 🌏

For Alisher Usmanov, one of the world’s richest men, family is everything.

Leo Tolstoy’s famous opening to Anna Karenina — “all happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”—  seems not to apply to the Usmanovs’ paterfamilias, with his sprawling, multi-continent family projecting contented and affluent optics.

Just prior to the Ukraine invasion, the Usmanov family network’s net worth was estimated at $19 billion. Then came sanctions from nearly every government that has imposed sanctions on Russia: the U.S., the EU, the U.K., Japan, Canada and Australia. The Usmanov net worth reportedly tumbled to $14.5 billion under intense scrutiny from various law enforcement agencies.

The Usmanov family roamed from Tashkent to Moscow to New York to Tel Aviv. Usmanov, often described as one of Putin’s favorite oligarchs, is related by marriage to Uzbekistan’s former prime minister and current president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Usmanov is from Uzbekistan and was touted in 2016 as a possible president of Uzbekistan following the death of the country’s longtime dictator Islam Karimov (who was reviled for boiling his political enemies in vats of scalding water).

But Usmanov is hardly parochial. He has donated millions to various causes in 60 countries and regularly invokes his wide-ranging philanthropy, from humanitarian aid to sports, as the real indicator of his character. The Sunday Times 2021 “Giving List” ranked Usmanov as the top charity spender over the past 20 years, estimating that he has given away more than £4.2 billion.

An industrialist with high tech investments

The primary source of Usmanov’s wealth is his USM company, a global conglomerate of metals and mining, telecommunications and technology companies. He controls key assets like Russia’s second-largest phone network MegaFon and Metalloinvest, a large iron and steel producer. In the tech industry, USM had a heavy stake in VK, the country’s largest social media site, until 2021, and Usmanov was once a significant shareholder of Facebook, Twitter and Alibaba. It was widely reported that Usmanov sold his 30% stake in the Arsenal Football Club for nearly $700 million in cash in 2018.

While Usmanov has used his family network to spread around a diverse portfolio of investments and business interests, he is a relative newcomer to a lavish life of extreme luxury. Before acquiring his mega-yachts and baroque real estate in London and New York, Usmanov languished in prison for fraud and embezzlement during the Soviet era, although this could have simply been the penalty for engaging in the trading of goods when entrepreneurship was illegal.

Usmanov’s superyacht has an estimated value of $750 million. It was seized by German authorities in March 2022.

One sister, 27 Swiss bank accounts

Wealth and proximity to Putin has made Usmanov and his family an especially juicy target of Western sanctions. Usmanov’s sister, Gulbakhor Ismailova, was sanctioned on the grounds that she was the legal owner of assets such as a $600 million yacht called “Dilbar.” The EU was forced to remove another one of Usmanov’s sisters, Saodat Narzieva, from their sanctions list in September after a successful appeal.

The Suisse Secrets and Panama Papers leaks highlighted Usamanov’s elaborate network of shell companies and trusts run through his family. Saodat Narzieva, for example, has 27 Swiss bank accounts.

This did not go unnoticed by law enforcement. Last September, the German police raided three Usmanov family properties outside Munich, although a German court later ruled that the orders authorizing searches of three properties in Germany and the Dilbar yacht were unlawful. Der Spiegel reported that the police suspect Usmanov of evading millions of euros in taxes and laundering money, via his German properties and the Dilbar yacht, through entities set up in the name of family members. These accusations could result in a prison sentence if Usmanov is charged and convicted. After he was sanctioned and his Bavarian homes raided last year, Usmanov is thought to have spent most of his time in Uzbekistan. Usmanov has denied any wrongdoing.

  • In the early 2000s, Alisher Usmanov met Vladimir Putin. Some media called him an oligarch unusually close to Vladimir Putin for his loyal service and willingness to help. In return, the Kremlin rewarded him with new assets. For instance, Usmanov’s holding company bought out “VK,” the largest social network in Russia. VK was once independent of the state and is now known for its censorship and its willingness to share data with the Russian security service, the FSB. The company sold its stake in VK in 2021. In 2018, Putin awarded Usmanov the Medal of Service to the Fatherland.

  • Since the 2022 invasion, Usmanov has resided in Uzbekistan. His relatives in the country regularly share their lavish lifestyle on social media revealing how they’ve benefited from the wealth Usmanov has accumulated. Ganya Usmanova, Alisher’s niece, is the most active of the relatives. She regularly posts pictures of expensive sports cars, jewelry and luxury vacations.

  • Usmanov’s sister, Saodat Narzieva, lives in Uzbekistan and works as a gynecologist. She has approximately 27 bank accounts in Switzerland. For her alleged role in obscuring Alisher Usmanov’s wealth, the European Union sanctioned her in April 2022 only to remove her from the sanctions list in September after a successful appeal.

A long marriage mysteriously ends

In the 1980s, while serving time in prison, Usmanov, who is Muslim, met Irina Viner, who is Jewish, through a shared interest in sports. He was a fencer. She was a gymnast. They dated during his six years of Soviet incarceration and married in 1992. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Usmanov snapped up state assets like steel factories and mines. By the early 2000s, his wealth had grown in tandem with Putin’s consolidation of power.

Few believe that it was an unhappy marriage that led Alisher Usmanov and Irina Viner to divorce after 30 years, just after the Ukraine invasion. Neither of them have explained the reasons behind the split.

Viner, the head of Russia’s Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation, is a senior member of Putin’s “United Russia” party. More importantly, she is also an ex-coach and close confidant of Alina Kabaeva, who married Putin after a long and secret relationship.

The paintings, as well as other art objects, do not belong to Usmanov, nor do the houses and the yacht themselves." — Usmanov’s representative, November 2022

Usmanov has no known biological children. But he has many relatives. Representatives for Alisher Usmanov stated, in response to a request for comment, that the family trusts were created for the purposes of the welfare and estate planning of his close relatives.

Research by Ivan Makridin.

CORRECTION [07/11/23, 10:15AM EDT]: 

This article originally stated that USM controls It has been corrected to reflect the current legal name of the company, VK, and to indicate that USM sold its stake in VK in 2021.

This article originally stated that Mr. Usmanov held stakes in Facebook, Alibaba and Twitter. It has been corrected to reflect that he has sold these stocks.

This article has been updated to correct the sum of money Mr. Usmanov has given away. He has given away 4.2 billion British pounds, not 4.2 billion U.S. dollars.

This article has been updated to reflect that a German court has ruled that orders authorizing searches of three properties in Germany and the Dilbar yacht were unlawful.

Alisher Usmanov Arkady Volozh Leonid Mikhelson Oleg Deripaska Mikhail Fridman Oleg Tinkov