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How a Prominent Russian Oligarch Helped Start America’s Cannabis Industry

Much of the start-up capital for the legal cannabis industry came from Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, newly revealed records show.

The 56-year-old Abramovich is perhaps the best known of the oligarchs who ended up controlling large parts of the Russian economy after the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s. He became a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin and assumed government positions after Putin took charge.

After Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Abramovich was sanctioned in Europe, the U.K., and Canada, forcing him to sell his best-known asset, the Premier League’s Chelsea Football Club. A more detailed picture of some of his other assets is now emerging from leaked records of a Cyprus-based firm that provided Abramovich with shell companies for his holdings and officers and directors for those companies.

The records detail billions of dollars that Abramovich invested in U.S. blue-chip stocks, films, oil and gas assets, art, venture capital—and the nascent cannabis industry. He funded marijuana media like Toke.TV, sales software, and the drug’s state-licensed producers. Most of his cannabis bets came through a British Virgin Islands company called Cetus Investments, the records show. Cetus is Latin for whale, and Abramovich was truly the whale of legal weed.

The uncloaking of aspects of the oligarch’s finances began in December, when 30,000 files from Cyprus-based accounting and trust company Meritservus Secretaries appeared at Distributed Denial of Secrets, a nonprofit website. Those files were scanned by the journalism consortium the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project,  allowing Barron’s and other news organizations to examine thousands of records. The leaked files show that Abramovich was a longtime Meritservus customer. [Read More @ Barron’s]

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