By Jimmy Woulfe
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Irish ambassador in Washington DC, Dan Mulhall, are spearheading a critical lobbying effort in the US to stave off a threat to almost 700 jobs at Aughinish Alumina on the Shannon Estuary.
Rusal, the owner of Aughinish Alumina, is majority owned by En+, a company controlled by Russian billionaire oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who has been targeted by the US government, because of his purported ties to the Kremlin.
The US treasury has given Mr Deripaska until October 23 to divest his interest in Aughinish Alumina, or face further sanctions which could put the future of the plant at risk.
Rusal is currently having to cope with some US sanctions.
Paul Manafort, President Trump’s presidential campaign chairman, who was found guilty of financial fraud and made a plea deal to co-operate with Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, received a $10m loan from Mr Deripaska.
Prosecutors in Mr Manifort’s trial argued this money was never repaid to Mr Deripaska.
The jobs of 450 permanent staff and 220 contract workers at Aughinish Alumina have now been entangled with Washington’s targeting of Mr Deripaska.
Aughinish Aluminium produces alumina which is exported to be smelted into aluminium.
One of Rusal’s customers was quoted in an industry publication stating: “We can’t agree a deal with Rusal on the basis that sanctions will be lifted by October 23. Anyone that has a relationship with Rusal will be preparing for sanctions to remain in place for now.”
Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Patrick O’Donovan — whose constituency takes in the Shannon Estuary — said: “The Government, at the highest level, is working with the company and in Washington through our ambassador to the US, Dan Mulhall, to get a solution. This work through diplomatic channels is ongoing with the embassy, the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs. This is being worked on at the highest level, here and in Washington, to make sure Aughinish Alumina can continue to operate into the future. All the support the Government can give, is being given.”
The Irish representations are being made to the US State Department, the US Treasury and other US government agencies.