Exposed: How Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich Secretly Funded the World’s Biggest Cannabis Company
Forensic News reports that an offshore company controlled by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the U.S. marijuana industry and secretly funded top shareholders of the world’s largest cannabis company, leaked documents show.
Abramovich, whose net worth is estimated at $9 billion, was sanctioned by the U.K. and the EU after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has not been sanctioned by the U.S., but the Department of Justice obtained a warrant to seize two of his planes in June 2022.
Now, newly leaked documents from Cyprus show that Abramovich’s company invested in a plethora of companies in the American cannabis industry, and also helped fund the two biggest shareholders of Curaleaf, the world’s largest cannabis company with a market cap of nearly $3 billion.
The documents from a Cypriot accounting and secretarial firm were made available to journalists and researchers by Distributed Denial of Secrets, a non-profit that hosts leaked and hacked data. Forensic News has reviewed thousands of leaked documents related to Abramovich’s offshore empire.
Abramovich Secretly Funded Curaleaf Founders
Curaleaf has previously faced questions over its ties to Russia. Its executive chairman Boris Jordan was once a prominent investment banker in Russia, and has said that he “once had a close relationship with Vladimir Putin.” Jordan currently holds approximately 18.2% of Curaleaf and is now worth $1.6 billion. He has repeatedly denied speculation about Curaleaf’s ties to Russia.
The documents, however, show that Abramovich was quietly funding Jordan and companies under his control via a British Virgin Islands LLC, Cetus Investments.
Tens of millions of dollars in loans were issued to Jordan and his companies, something that appears to have never been disclosed by Jordan or Curaleaf. Some of the loans included stipulations that the money was only to be spent on purchasing shares in Curaleaf, previously known as PalliaTech Inc.
In November 2016, Lafayette LLC, a Delaware-based company owned by Jordan, received $14 million from Cetus Investments Limited, a British Virgin Islands company controlled by Abramovich. A promissory note said that the money must be used by Lafayette to purchase 878,569 shares of stock in PalliaTech.
The following October the note was amended to include a second loan for $10 million which was to be used to purchase an additional 418,253 shares of PalliaTech.
Abramovich and Jordan did not stop there.
Records show that Abramovich, through his Cetus Investments, loaned Sputnik Technology Ventures, an obscure Bahamian LLC connected to Jordan $45 million. In this case, Jordan and other companies under his control personally guaranteed the loan and pledged shares in Curaleaf to secure the funding.
In total, Abramovich appears to have loaned Jordan’s companies $69 million over the span of 2017 and 2018.
Jordan was not the only major shareholder in Curaleaf to be quietly funded by loans from Abramovich’s offshore company.
Curaleaf’s second-largest shareholder, Andrey Blokh, was also bankrolled by Abramovich, the files show.
The pattern of the Abramovich loans to Blokh was similar to the funding of Jordan. In late 2016, Cetus Investments lent Blokh just over $50 million, again earmarked for the specific use of purchasing PalliaTech shares.
Then, in October 2017, the amount lent to Blokh increased to over $60 million. Like Jordan, Blokh pledged shares in Palliatech to secure the loan.
Unlike Jordan, however, Blokh received a line of credit from Cetus for an additional $12 million to fund other marijuana ventures in the U.S., including cannabis dispensaries in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
By the end of 2018, according to Cetus internal financial statements, Abramovich’s company had lent approximately $140 million to Jordan and Blokh.
The money extended to Curaleaf’s top shareholders is not Abramovich’s only financial involvement in the company. Public reports from the SEC show that Cetus lent money directly to the cannabis company itself, $85 million in total. Those loans also appear in the leaked files.
All told, the Russian oligarch who is considered by Western governments to have “close links” to Putin, funded Curaleaf and its principals with $225 million in the months before it went public in the biggest marijuana Initial Public Offering in history.
In a statement to Forensic News, Curaleaf confirmed that Jordan and Blokh received funding from Abramovich’s Cetus: “As with any young company in its early days of securing capital, shareholders Boris Jordan and Andrei Blokh were raising funds through multiple sources and family offices to grow Palliatech, which later became Curaleaf."
Curaleaf added that "Cetus was a lender to many businesses around the world. All loans referred to in your email were repaid long before Curaleaf was formed or went public. Curaleaf has no debt with Cetus. We cannot speak on behalf of shareholders.”
Experts who examined the loans expressed concerns about Abramovich’s use of offshore companies to finance American industry.
"This type of financing, through opaque offshore jurisdictions, is problematic for law enforcement, government regulators, and financial institutions because it hides the ultimate beneficial owner of the investment funds," Karen Greenaway, a former financial crime investigator at the FBI, said.
“This financial arrangement often creates insurmountable barriers, particularly for law enforcement, when they attempt to investigate violations of U.S. money laundering laws. Without knowing the identity of the original investor or the original source of the funds, it is almost impossible to determine if the invested funds were from legal income."
Abramovich Revealed as Largest Shareholder of Cannabis Venture Capital Fund
Beyond Abramovich’s deep financial relationship with Curaleaf, he has expanded his influence in the U.S. marijuana market by quietly investing in Measure 8 Ventures, a New York-based marijuana Venture Capital firm.
Though Jordan is hailed as the “cannabis king” and the “founder” of Measure 8, financial records show that Abramovich was its largest beneficiary.
At nearly the same time it financed Curaleaf, Abramovich’s Cetus snatched up shares in Measure 8, becoming a 64.8% shareholder after injecting $48.5 million into the fund by 2018.
In mid-2019, Cetus sold 17% of its share in Measure 8 to another British Virgin Islands company, Erlinad Holdings which is beneficially owned by Abramovich’s close business associate David Davidovich.
The sale ostensibly saw Abramovich lose majority interest in the New York-based fund. But in a dizzying sequence of events, Abramovich appears to have lent money to his business associate's company to purchase the shares in Measure 8.
On the same day that Davidovich, via his offshore company Erlinad, purchased shares in Measure 8 from Abramovich for over $21 million, another Abramovich entity called Sonora Capital lent Erlinad over $27 million.
In effect, Abramovich appears to have funded the purchase of his own shares in Measure 8 which saw his direct holdings fall below 50%.
The relationship between Cetus and Measure 8 was so close that when Cetus sought more shares of Curaleaf, it went directly to a Measure 8 employee. Zhanna Vishnyakova, the Vice President of Operations at Measure 8, was appointed to serve as the power of attorney for Cetus in July 2020 in order to transfer 7.5 million shares of Curaleaf to Cetus.
Contacted by Forensic News, Vishnyakova said, “I am not allowed to answer any questions about that at all.”
The Curaleaf spokesperson added that “as far as we are aware, Measure 8 does not have any loan agreements with Cetus.”
Abramovich is not the only Curaleaf shareholder directly linked to Russia. In September 2021, Cetus sold 663,900 shares of the company to Daria Plutnik for $8 million. Plutnik is the wife of Alexander Plutnik, who currently serves as the deputy managing director of Russian Railways, the state-owned rail operator that the U.S. and the EU sanctioned after the war in Ukraine began.
Abramovich also invested smaller amounts in an array of companies in the cannabis industry. He owned $1 million worth of shares in Green Gorilla Inc., the first USDA Certified Organic Hemp CBD brand. Green Gorilla was founded by Steven Saxton, a Hollywood producer who has produced movies like Lone Survivor and Gott.
The internal financial statements show that Abramovich’s Cetus invested over $1M in other large American cannabis companies including Eaze, Tradiv, and the publicly-traded Tilt Holdings.
American representatives of Abramovich did not immediately reply to a request for comment.