Vlad Doronin denied business in Russia. Court filings suggest otherwise

Developer behind OKO, Aman held interest in Moscow-based firm

Vladislav Doronin of OKO Group (Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty)
Vladislav Doronin of OKO Group (Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty)

UPDATED, Aug. 22, 2022, 11:00 a.m.: Vladislav Doronin held an ownership stake in a Russian company as recently as this year, court records show, despite the billionaire developer’s assertions that he has not done business in the country since 2014.

The owner of OKO Group and the luxury hotel chain Aman Resorts, who has developed major U.S. projects including the hotel and condo conversion of Manhattan’s Crown Building and the 830 Brickell office tower in Miami — has distanced himself from Russia over the years, particularly since the country’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

“I denounce the aggression of Russia on Ukraine and fervently wish for peace,” Doronin said in a March 1 statement posted on social media, noting that he left the Soviet Union before its dissolution and had “not conducted business in Russia for many years.”

Doronin holds a Swedish passport but was born in Soviet-era St. Petersburg. He worked as a commodities trader, and cut his teeth developing commercial real estate in Moscow for companies such as IBM and Phillip Morris, he said in a 2020 Forbes interview. He has said his business in the country ended in 2013, when he sold his stake in the Moscow-based real estate firm Capital Group. The following year, a Doronin-led venture paid nearly $360 million for Aman.

Doronin maintains that he has not conducted business in Russia since 2013 or 2014, but recent court filings in the Southern District of Florida suggest he held a stake in Capital Group Development, a separate Moscow-based company formed in 2014, until April of this year, when he transferred his one-third interest to his mother. The Aspen Times revealed the transfer in an investigation published Aug. 9.

The transfer occurred more than a month after Doronin criticized Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, asserting that he had not “conducted business in Russia for many years.” A spokesperson said he transferred his stake to his mother because of recent changes in Russian laws that banned noncitizens from owning certain assets in Russia. The spokesperson described the assets as minor and part of already-completed developments. Doronin’s development portfolio spans 75 million square feet across the U.S. and internationally, according to OKO Group’s website.

The same week that he transferred the ownership stake to his mother, Doronin sued the Aspen newspaper for libel, citing coverage, including letters to the editor, that called Doronin a “Russian oligarch.” After the newspaper’s parent company settled the lawsuit, the Aspen Times published its investigation into his alleged finances. (In early March, Doronin filed a summons in New York court against The Real Deal’s parent company, alleging that the publication libeled him in an article about a protest near his Aman New York project. That suit did not advance beyond the initial summons. The article made clear that Doronin denounced the Russian invasion of Ukraine.)

The motherland

Terra Invest, a Russian firm, is litigating a case in the country involving its stake in a mixed-use development northwest of Moscow. The company used a U.S. statute to conduct discovery in the U.S., which is how the federal court filings became public record. Terra Invest is not suing Doronin, but is seeking information it believes he has about the project.

Included in the filings are Russian documents that show Doronin transferred his ownership of Capital Group Development LLC — an entity distinct from the Doronin-founded Capital Group — to his mother on April 14, one day after he filed his lawsuit against Aspen Times parent Swift Communications.

Doronin’s transfer to his mother was likely “motivated by Doronin trying to stay as far away from Russia and Russian legal issues as he possibly can,” including the possibility of being sanctioned by the Kremlin, Capital Group Development’s attorney, Jason Cowley, said in a May 4 hearing.

Poultry Farm Krasnogorskaia, which Terra Invest says is an affiliate of Capital Group Development, owns the land where the mixed-use project is being built, Terra Invest claims in court. Doronin disputes that.

Terra Invest’s CEO, Khalid Kumykov, said in a sworn statement that Doronin received about 600 million rubles in dividends from Capital Group between April 2020 and June 2021. Today, that amount equates to about $10 million, a small fraction of his overall net worth.

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Doronin’s representatives have denied any connection between Poultry Farm and Capital Group Development.

“To be clear, Doronin is a stranger to these matters,” Doronin’s attorney, Adam Schacter, wrote in a filing March 14. “Also, contrary to Terra’s assertions, Doronin is not an owner — through Capital Group or otherwise — of Poultry Farm Krasnogorskaia.”

Doronin’s spokesperson said that Doronin has not received dividends from Capital Group. Capital Group Development LLC was created to hold and sell “legacy assets” following his exit from Capital Group years ago, the spokesperson said, asserting that Doronin had no control over or management of Capital Group Development.

“As we have said consistently, Mr. Doronin made the decision to exit Capital Group in late 2013 and negotiated the terms of the sale with his partners in 2014,” the spokesperson said. “He has done no business in Russia since.”

“These were low-value assets that were built and unsold in projects that had long since been developed and completed,” the spokesperson added about the divestments. “As time progressed, these legacy assets continued to be sold and Capital Group Development distributed proceeds from these sales.”

In an interview published by Forbes Russia in February 2016, Doronin was asked if he was involved in the day-to-day management of Capital Group.

“We make strategic decisions together and jointly manage the company,” Doronin replied, according to the publication. (The exchange was also cited in Terra’s court filings.)

Asked about the 2016 Forbes Russia interview, in which Doronin outlined his partners’ roles and said he continued to attract investments for Capital Group, Doronin’s spokesperson said that he has not been involved in any development in Russia since 2014 and that his comments were in “reference to making joint decisions was in relation to Capital Group Development LLC and selling the legacy assets retained in that company only.”

Doronin has a number of luxury condo, office, hotel and apartment projects in Miami, a planned development in Aspen and the Aman property in New York. After being referred to as a “Russian real estate mogul” or “Russian billionaire” in press reports and interviews for years, Doronin has increasingly taken issue with those labels in recent months, emphasizing that he has never been a Russian citizen and, in the Aspen Times lawsuit, that he has “never resided in Russia.”

Doronin did divest at least one other Russian asset since 2014: his Zaha Hadid-designed mansion outside of Moscow. It’s the only private home designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect, who called Doronin the “Russian James Bond.”

His spokesperson said Doronin no longer owns the property.

This article was updated with a response from Doronin’s spokesperson about the 2016 Forbes Russia interview.