Russian banking tycoon Oleg Tinkov claims he was forced to go into hiding and sell his stake in the bank he founded after criticising the war in Ukraine and triggering a backlash from Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Tinkov says he sold his 35 per cent holding in TCS Group, which owns Tinkoff Bank, to Russian oligarch and mining titan Vladimir Potanin last week after Kremlin officials threatened to nationalise the bank unless it cut ties with the businessman.

Speaking to the Financial Times, 54-year old Tinkov, who is one of Russia’s few self-made entrepreneurs, said he was currently in an undisclosed location and fearing for his safety.

The businessman said he was hiring bodyguards, adding that he had survived leukaemia but “maybe now the Kremlin is going to kill me”.

On Thursday the bank announced that Tinkov sold his stake in TCS Group to Interros Capital, a firm run by Potanin, one of Russia’s richest men. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Potanin, who has not been sanctioned by the EU, US or the UK, also agreed to buy Rosbank from Société Générale in April. Potanin has been sanctioned by Canada.

Speaking to the Financial Times on Monday, Tinkov said he was forced into a “fire sale”. He believes that he sold his stake in the bank for around 3 per cent of its true value.

Tinkoff’s London-listed global depositary receipts — certificates that allow investors to bet on Russian stocks on global markets — had fallen from $112 in October to $3.19 when they were suspended in March.

Tinkov, who has amassed a multibillion-dollar fortune over multiple decades to become one of the country’s most high-profile entrepreneurs, has until now sought to put distance between himself and the Kremlin but stopped short of speaking out against Putin.

That approach changed last month when he authored a series of Instagram posts criticising the war in Ukraine. In one post Tinkov said: “I don’t see ANY beneficiary of this crazy war! Innocent people and soldiers are dying.” He added: “How will the army be good, if everything else in the country is shit and mired in [nepotism] and servility?” 

Just a handful of business leaders in Russia have spoken out against the war, and very few have used language as strong as Tinkov’s. Many have chosen to say they are against war in general. Tinkov, however, directed his critique specifically at Putin and at the Kremlin’s decision to invade Ukraine.

Putin has made it clear to the country’s oligarchs — including at a large meeting held in the Kremlin days after the outbreak of war — that they risked losing their businesses if they did not support the war.

Several people after that meeting said they felt powerless to affect Putin’s decision. In the decades since he first came to power, Putin has imposed his will on the oligarchs by responding to any criticism with reprisals, leaving them with vastly diminished influence.

Tinkoff, the bank Tinkov started in 2006, denied his characterisation of events and said there had been “no threats of any kind against the bank’s leadership”.

The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment. And a spokesperson for Potanin’s Interros investment vehicle declined to comment.

In March Tinkov was placed on the UK sanctions list and had his assets frozen as well as being barred from doing business with UK citizens and companies. He is also prevented from travelling to or from the UK.

The news of Tinkov’s claims were first reported by the New York Times.

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