JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There is new information in a News4JAX I-TEAM investigation into a Russian billionaire with ties to Northeast Florida.
Igor Makarov founded his company, ITERA, in Jacksonville in the early 1990s, selling it to a Russia-owned gas company years later.
In April, Canada and Australia sanctioned Makarov, as part of the sanctions on individuals.
Now, the I-TEAM has learned that back in 2018, Makarov was concerned about being sanctioned in the United States.
The I-TEAM talked with the consultant who put together a report detailing Makarov’s risk of sanctions and said Makarov reported he’d accompanied Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of a trade delegation in 2007 — after Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine.
According to the report, there’s no hard evidence of Makarov engaging in crime, but his relative proximity to Putin could make him a “good enough” target for sanctions if the U.S. wanted to send a message.
Makarov amassed a huge fortune after the fall of the Soviet Union. He also made some enemies who would like to see him taken down a notch.
He was born in Turkmenistan, made billions of dollars in the natural gas industry and made a home in Northeast Florida, headquartering his business ITERA in a Southside office building, owning an 11-bedroom mansion in Ponte Vedra Beach and harboring a yacht in St. Augustine.
In 2018, law enforcement and intelligence researcher and consultant Clifford Karchmer visited Makarov in Florida.
“I spent several days with Mr. Makarov,” Karchmer said.
His mission? A deep dive into Makarov’s past businesses to evaluate if he might be sanctioned as part of an effort to punish Russia for invading Ukraine.
Karchmer provided a rough draft of his 2018 report to the I-TEAM. It states Makarov was a Russian citizen and resident and “a prominent member of Russia’s energy elite.”
Karchmer writes that many have raised suspicions about the company’s swift rise to become one of the most influential in all of the former Soviet bloc, that he’s often been “regarded as a true ‘Putin-era oligarch,’” and that while business or political enemies may have been behind the release of some of the attacks on Makarov’s reputation, “factual reasons for concerns regarding potentially controversial ties and business dealings persist.”
“The group that I work with is very concerned with the initial impression and whether we believe the person to be blameless or innocent,” Karchmer said.
Makarov hired Karchmer after the U.S. Treasury listed Makarov as one of 96 Russian oligarchs in 2018. That list was later found to be an exact replica of the Russians listed on Forbes Magazine’s 2017 billionaires list, but it was enough for him to be concerned about sanctions.
Karchmer said his team doesn’t work with people who are dirty and they didn’t find any evidence of wrongdoing in the course of this investigation after reviewing public sources and financial records provided by Makarov. And indeed, Makarov has never been sanctioned in the U.S.
But this spring, American allies Canada and Australia sanctioned Makarov after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Karchmer acknowledged there is a possibility Makarov could be sanctioned in the U.S. but said, “It’s remote.”
He said he thinks there are potentially dozens of people the U.S. would sanction before getting to Makarov, just based on his net worth — estimated by Forbes to be around $2 billion.
“The more logical reason he won’t be sanctioned is he’s not done anything in my mind, that I found, and I’ve followed the media, to deserve sanctioning. I don’t know why he’s sanctioned in Canada, except that they wanted to become a player and sanction oligarchs, or people they believed to be oligarchy,” Karchmer said.
On April 19, Canada sanctioned 14 “close associates” of the Rusian regime, including Putin’s two adult daughters and Makarov. The government said those individuals were sanctioned because of their “complicity in Russia’s unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine,” freezing their assets and prohibiting Canadians from doing business with them.
The I-TEAM asked Makarov for comment on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through his representatives, and he declined.
The I-TEAM asked Karchmer if he found Makarov had any — or has — any relationship with Putin.
“I anticipated this question, and here’s my frank, honest answer: We discussed this with Mr. Makarov at length. He was contacted by the Putin entourage or administration to join them to join Putin and a trade delegation to go somewhere where the Russian government was presenting its background and stakes and credentials in energy. But he was invited by Putin. There had been no prior communication or entry or anything that he wanted to meet Putin — or that he sought Putin out. Putin sought him out,” Karchmer said.
Karchmer said Makarov did accompany Putin and others on a trade mission to India in 2007.
The I-TEAM asked Karchmer why he would seek out Makarov for that.
“Because of the relationship of Mr. Makarov to natural gas production in Turkmenistan,” Karchmer said.
The meeting happened before Russia was targeted with sanctions. Karchmer says Makarov likely accompanied Putin on the mission to maintain his standing.
“His standard as a citizen, it’s common knowledge, what happens to people who Mr. Putin does not favor from prison to, frankly, lethality, you know, to death. And I don’t think you would want to mess with well, what would happen in my case, it’s so much easier to go to a trade conference,” Karchmer said.
According to the report, most of Makrov’s business dealings are registered in Cyprus and offshore tax jurisdictions such as the Netherlands Antilles and the British Virgin Islands, and although the core of his main original business ITERA was in the area of the former Soviet Union, it was registered in Jacksonville, likely to take advantage of Florida law that allowed businesses to avoid disclosing who owned them.
Makarov’s team has declined to comment.