By Pádraig Hoare
The owner of Aughinish Alumina, which employs 450 and more than 200 contractors in Co Limerick, has said it is doing all it can to avoid US sanctions that have thrown its future into doubt in recent weeks.
The jobs in Limerick have been under a cloud as US sanctions imposed on Aughinish’s owner Rusal played havoc with metal markets over the past three months.
Some 450 staff and around 220 contractors are employed at the plant, which has been described as one of Limerick’s best employers.
Rusal is majority-owned by a company controlled by Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who was targeted because of his purported close ties to the Kremlin.
Mr Deripaska has called the sanctions “groundless” but has indicated he would divest his interests in businesses like Rusal.
Rusal is doing everything it can to avoid punitive US restrictions due for full enforcement in October, according to the firm’s acting CEO Evgeny Nikitin.
“Right now, we are taking all the actions that should be required to achieve the right result for the company,” Nikitin, who replaced Alexandra Bouriko, said after the company’s annual meeting in Hong Kong.
“We are operating in full compliance with the conditions of our license” from the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, he said.
Rusal has endured months of turmoil since the US imposed sanctions in April aimed at Mr Deripaska, who resigned as a non-executive director last month in a fresh bid to distance himself from the company.
The curbs are set to take full effect from October 23 unless Mr Deripaska gives up control, leaving the jobs at Aughinish under a cloud.
Business Minister Heather Humphreys raised Aughinish with US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross in Washington last month, while acting US ambassador to Ireland, Reece Smyth said Washington was cognisant of Irish fears.
Mr Nikitin, who was named as acting boss of Rusal amid a mass exodus from the board last month, said: “The company, of course, has had some difficulties. We are now in constant contact with US authorities. I can’t speak concretely about that, but our contact is comprehensive, and always continuous.”
The US sanctions fuelled volatility in aluminium prices by casting doubt on the future of a major player in the supply chain.
Rusal supplied about 6% of the world’s aluminium and operates mines, smelters or refineries in locations including the Republic, Guinea, Jamaica and Russia.
Rusal’s woes show the more significant role geopolitics are now playing in commodities.
The sanctions are part of a package of measures targeting Russian tycoons to punish the country’s elite for actions including allegedly meddling in US elections and incursions into Ukraine.
President Donald Trump and counterpart Vladimir Putin will likely discuss these issues this summer.
Asked if he was hopeful that the planned summit between the two leaders could help in resolving Rusal’s difficulties, Mr Nikitin said: “We are businessmen, not politicians, so we will leave the politics to the presidents.”
Shares in Rusal rose around 1.5% yesterday. The sanctions when first introduced had wiped out more than half the firm’s value.
Additional reporting Bloomberg