Note from Our Neighborhood Voices: Sacramento politicians wrote a blank check to developers – and one of the first to cash it is a Russian oligarch, and associate of Vladimir Putin. You can’t make this stuff up. The oligarch is using the so-called “Builders Remedy” to squeeze in a massive high-rise in Menlo Park at one of the most congested corners in the Bay Area. This is the direct result of the new laws championed by Scott Wiener, Matt Haney, California YIMBY, and YIMBY Action. If you want to bring back local democracy when it comes to community planning, join us using the form at the bottom of this page.
This article originally appeared in the Palo Alto Daily Post
By Emily Mibach
The son of Russia’s former Energy Minister under President Vladimir Putin controls the LLC that owns the former Sunset Magazine property in Menlo Park where massive towers have been proposed.
Willow Project LLC is controlled by Vitaly Yusufov, the son of Igor Yusufov, a prominent Russian politician with close ties to Putin and worth about $1.1 billion, according to Forbes. Attempts to reach the younger Yusufov yesterday were unsuccessful.
Yusufov’s Willow Project LLC bought the 80 Willow Road property in May 2018 from Embarcadero Capital Partners and the asset-management arm of Deutsche Bank, which co-owned the property, according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal and New York Times in 2019. The bank was bought into the property on behalf of clients in 2016, according to the Wall Street Journal. Yusufov’s LLC bought the property for $72 million, but not before a kerfuffle occurred over the purchase at Deutsche Bank, the Times and Journal reported.
Representatives for neither Embarcadero nor Deutsche Bank responded to the Post’s inquiries about the sale yesterday.
Some bank officials were worried about the appearance of doing business with Yusufov and his ties to Putin.
A New York-based Deutsche Bank executive committee tried to halt the transaction, citing the potential reputational damage it could do the bank, according to the New York Times. The decision was overruled by a committee in Europe. After the decision on the sale was overruled, an employee of the bank filed a suspicious activity report to the U.S. Treasury, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Sebastian Kraemer-Bach, a spokesman for Deutsche Bank, told the New York Times that the bank did due diligence on the sale and didn’t find evidence that it would violate money-laundering laws or sanctions.Not subject to sanctions
An online database of sanctions imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control does not list any sanctions against Yusufov or his father.
Yusufov’s purchase of the former Sunset building, which was mislabeled in some Russian media as a “sprawling $72-million mansion in California,” is hardly his first time being mentioned in the media.
In 2009, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel brokered a deal with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for the then-29-year-old Yusufov to purchase the Wadan Yards shipbuilding company, which provided 2,700 jobs. Before becoming the owner of Wadan Yards, Yusufov had worked as the head of the Moscow branch of the Russian pipeline company Nord Stream AG.
Wadan Yards was renamed to Nordic Yards and then sold in 2016.
Yusufov, along with his father and other family members were included in the leaked Pandora Papers in 2021, which exposed that Yusufov is the beneficiary of multiple British Virgin Islands offshore companies.
In April 2011, Yusufov bought an approximately 20% stake in the Bank of Moscow, Reuters reported at the time. He sold the stake later that year.Menlo Park proposal
Returning to the subject of the Sunset building, Yusufov’s LLC is proposing to build between 800 to 1,150 apartments, 150 hotel rooms, between 50,000 and 240,000 square feet of office space and 8,400 square feet of retail space. The project would be spread across four buildings, one of which would be up to 348 feet tall.
Sunset left its Menlo Park campus in 2015 for new headquarters in Oakland’s Jack London Square.
The Sunset campus includes the headquarters for the investment company Robinhood at 85 Willow Road, though that’s not included in the towers proposal. Time Inc. sold the Sunset campus to Embarcadero Capital Partners, a real estate investment firm in Belmont, for $78 million in 2014. Embarcadero sold the property to Willow Project LLC in 2018 for $72 million.