Margin Calls with Billions at Stake

Russia's richest citizens may face margin calls and have to re-negotiate with banks as a result of the instability in Crimea.

Alexander Lebedev is concerned.

“Russian businessmen are very scared,” the 54-year-old former billionaire, who served in the Soviet embassy in London during the Cold War and owns Russia’s National Reserve Corp., said by phone. “There are risks to the Russian economy. There could be margin calls, reserves might be drawn down, exchange rates may fall, and prices will rise. This worries me.”

F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last president during the apartheid era, said the country and businessmen were able to work around the sanctions levied by the U.S. beginning in 1986.

“The sanctions delayed change in South Africa because it made us look for ways to evade them,” de Klerk, 77, said in a telephone interview from Cape Town. “We worked with the business community to find ways to keep companies going. In the end, not many factories shut down; they just changed ownership.”

“Mail.Ru and Megafon revenue is coming from Russia, and people won’t stop making calls and using the Internet,” he said. “Metalloinvest may face closure in European and American markets, but it can re-direct sales to China and other markets.”

Transferring ownership abroad may prove problematic if sanctions are imposed. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and other regulatory authorities may tell U.S.-based banks to exhibit greater compliance with the existing Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Standard Bank Group Ltd. said in a March 11 report.

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