By Marie Mannes
(Reuters) – Private food and drink company Paulig said on Thursday it had sold its Russia business to Indian private investor Vikas Soi, joining a stampede among Finnish companies to leave the country as Moscow feared seizing assets.
Paulig is the third Finnish company cited by the Russian authorities as an example of foreign companies likely to be nationalized. Last week, Finns Fazer and Valio sold their businesses in the country.
It is also the sixth company in the Nordic nation to reach an agreement to leave Russia as the country prepares to decide next week whether it will join NATO, the Western defense alliance, against which Russia l a warning.
This has heightened fears that Russia is trying to blackmail her by cutting off gas supplies.
The deal is also likely to underscore concerns that companies in Russia and countries not implicated in Western sanctions are grabbing valuable assets for a bargain as Western companies rush to comply with sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine, as well as threats from the Kremlin that foreign- held property may be seized.
Russia is India’s biggest arms supplier and New Delhi has not explicitly condemned what Moscow calls its special military operation in Ukraine.
Soi’s ties to Russia go back more than three decades. He studied engineering at the Lomonosov Moscow State University of Fine Chemical Technology from 1988 to 1994, according to his profile on the professional social network LinkedIn.
He also ran the grocery store for Megapolis, the Russian distribution company owned by Igor Kesaev and Sergey Katsiev, for 16 years, according to his profile.
He left at the end of 2015 and since the beginning of 2016 he has been managing director of the Moscow-based coffee producer Milagro Beverage Co which owns the brands Milagro, D’Arte and Belagio, according to his profile.
A Reuters review of business records and sanctions lists showed Kesaev was sanctioned in Europe for aiding Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Paulig divestiture includes the Paulig Rus LLC unit and includes Paulig’s operations as well as its coffee roastery in Tver. The deal does not include the Paulig brand, which will be phased out in Russia over the next few months.
(Reporting by Marie Mannes; Editing by Jason Neely, Josephine Mason, Alexandra Hudson)