Kentucky might be going into business with the Russian mafia.
Not the rough-and-tumble “Godfather” crowd with the bent noses and such names like Tessio, Barzini and Luca Brasi.
If all goes according to plan, by the middle of the year, we’ll be in business with Oleg Deripaska, a buddy of Vladimir Putin.
He could be sending $200 million — if you believe media reports — in what could very well be mobbed-up money to northeastern Kentucky to build a $1.7 billion aluminum plant on an old strip mine there.
The United States government, according to the New York Times, has long believed that Deripaska has deep ties to Russian organized crime — the Bratva — so much so it has limited his travel here and prohibited him from doing business in this country.
Background: Braidy Industries lands Russian investor for Kentucky aluminum mill
The 51-year-old billionaire emerged as a powerful businessman following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union after a bloody fight for control of Russia’s aluminum industry.
Last November, the New York Times quoted Mikhail Khodorkovsky, another Russian billionaire, saying he stayed out of that battle and urged those he worked with to do the same because of the ruthlessness of the fight. “There were so many murders, I refused to go into this business,” Khodorkovsky said.
According to the Times, many have claimed that Deripaska “engaged in theft, intimidation, bribery and even murder, notably of a Russian banker in 1995,” but that none of those claims has been substantiated.
He was sued in Delaware in 2004 in a case that portrayed him as a “member of a criminal gang that seized control of an iron-ore mining complex in the Ural Mountains in the late 1990s,” the Times wrote.
“ The previous manager claimed that at a meeting attended by Mr. Deripaska, a mafia leader and five armed thugs, he was told to transfer a majority share or ‘this is the last time you will leave here alive.’”
Deripaska denied the claims. The Delaware case was dismissed in 2007 because the American court didn’t have jurisdiction.
Now Deripaska could be bringing his aluminum acumen to Kentucky.
That plant in which he and his company is investing is the Braidy Industries aluminum plant that Gov. Matt Bevin poured $15 million of your money into in 2017.
When he announced the planned aluminum mill, Bevin hailed it as possibly the “most singularly transformative economic development decision that has ever been made in the commonwealth of Kentucky.”
But the plant has had trouble getting off the ground, in part because Braidy was forced to move the planned construction site from South Shore to Ashland when it was learned the original location couldn’t support the weight of the plant.
And money was a problem.
Enter Rusal, a Russian aluminum company that until just three months ago was barred from doing business in the United States in part because of its ties to Deripaska.
The Trump administration lifted the sanctions in January after Deripaska agreed to reduce his ownership stake in the Moscow-based company, the world’s second-largest aluminum manufacturer, from 70% to less than 45%.
And that came only after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell backed that decision despite large numbers of Republicans and Democrats who objected to allowing Rusal and its parent company En+ Group into the United States.
The House voted to keep the sanctions 362-53, but the Senate fell three votes short of the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster. McConnell, along with Sen. Rand Paul, voted against the resolution.
Get ready for borscht and vodka in Ashland.
The deal is that Rusal will own 40% of the mill and will supply it with its reserves of aluminum from a smelter under construction in Siberia. Braidy will roll it flat so it can be used to make car parts here in the United States.
Deripaska is supposed to have been sidelined. But who really believes that? He’s a Russian oligarch. He does what he wants.
So, why would you go into business with a guy like this?
Craig T. Bouchard, the CEO of Braidy Industries, has lagged behind in raising money to build the plant, and has repeatedly extended the fundraising deadline.
And Bouchard and his new best buddy, Matt Bevin, need to get this operation moving, and they could only do that after getting hundreds of millions in loans. And they couldn’t do that until they had private investors putting up approximately $500 million.
The plant, which at 2.5 million square feet — roughly the size of 14 super Walmart stores —would be one of the largest buildings in the world, is supposed to be fully operational in 2021.
There’s not a lot of time left.
But maybe, more importantly, Bevin faces reelection in November, and there has been an air of suspicion surrounding the Braidy project as it has dragged on.
The question being asked: Is this project really going to happen?
Even Bevin’s fellow Republicans have expressed doubt.
Earlier last week, U.S. Rep. James Comer, a Republican from Kentucky’s first district, said he wouldn’t invest in Braidy and said he wouldn’t have accepted the Russian investment. He didn’t even address the issue of Deripaska’s alleged involvement with Russian organized crime.
Did Deripaska make an offer that neither Bevin nor Braidy could refuse?
With the election fast approaching, perhaps Bevin is worried if this deal dies, his political career could be sleeping with the fishes.