Billionaire with ties to Northeast Florida draws attention following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

A yacht harbored in St. Augustine, a Ponte Vedra Beach mansion listed for sale for nearly $17 million and a four-story office building on Jacksonville’s Southside are some of the Northeast Florida connections to a Soviet-born billionaire who has been in the news in recent weeks following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A yacht harbored in St. Augustine, a Ponte Vedra Beach mansion listed for sale for nearly $17 million and a four-story office building on Jacksonville’s Southside are some of the Northeast Florida connections to a Soviet-born billionaire who has been in the news in recent weeks following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The News4JAX I-TEAM has been looking into Igor Makarov and his web of international companies for several weeks. The I-TEAM has learned Makarov’s dealings have been involved in multiple investigations, but he has never been convicted of wrongdoing or sanctioned.

Makarov made a fortune in natural gas after the fall of the Soviet Union. He founded his company, ITERA, in Jacksonville in 1992 with several other people, some of whom still live here.

According to a spokesperson for Makarov, ITERA began exporting commodities like sugar, coffee and chicken to former Soviet states at a time when basic goods were in short supply. The spokesperson tells the I-TEAM that when Turkmenistan built up a significant debt, instead of paying ITERA in cash, the country paid in natural gas, bringing ITERA into the lucrative energy sector. The company then became a powerhouse, supplying natural gas to Ukraine and other countries.

In 2013, Reuters and Forbes reported that Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft bought a 49% stake in ITERA for $2.9 billion — Rosneft already owned the other 51% of ITERA. The following year, the U.S. sanctioned Rosneft and its CEO, Igor Sechin, after Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.

A spokesperson for Makarov said, “At the time of the sale, Rosneft was partnered with some of the largest Western-based energy companies in the world. Rosneft was not a sanctioned entity when the transaction took place.”

A few weeks ago, French authorities seized a yacht linked to Sechin, after the European Union sanctioned Sechin and two dozen other people, over the invasion of Ukraine.

As for Makarov, a spokesperson with a New York City-based public relations firm told the I-TEAM, “At no point in time have sanctions by any government been placed against Mr. Makarov or the businesses or projects he operates. There is no indication or reason to believe any will be employed.”

ITERA has been in the spotlight before. In 2006, News4JAX reported that FBI agents spent hours gathering documents at the company’s Southside offices. The raid was one of six happening that day around the country, as federal agents investigated whether Pennsylvania Congressman Curt Weldon helped his daughter’s lobbying firm win lucrative contracts with foreign businesses, including a half-million dollar contract with ITERA. Weldon was never charged, and we never heard anything else about what the FBI found at ITERA.

That Southside building now has a different name on a sign outside — ARETI. That’s the name of Makarov’s current company. A spokesperson said that while Makarov owns the Jacksonville building, ARETI doesn’t have offices there —rather, it’s based in Switzerland.

ARETI, which is ITERA spelled backward, also inspired the name of Makarov’s 125-foot yacht currently docked in St. Augustine, “ARETI I.” The yacht and Makarov were mentioned in an article published by Forbes titled, “Biden And Allies Are Coming For Russian Billionaires’ Yachts: Forbes Tracked Down 37. Here’s Where To Find Them.” The article was published March 1, about a week after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began.

In response to a question specifically about the Forbes article, Makarov’s spokesperson reiterated that neither Makarov nor his businesses have ever been sanctioned.

A spokesperson for Makarov told the I-TEAM that ARETI is not engaged in any energy or business projects with either Russia or Ukraine.

Over the years, dozens and dozens of companies associated with the key figures in the original ITERA company and its related companies have been based on the fourth floor of the office building that now has the ARETI name outside. The I-TEAM is continuing to look into those businesses.


About the Authors:

I-TEAM and general assignment reporter