One of the Russian business figures sanctioned by the U.S. government Thursday may have dodged some of the financial impact of those sanctions by selling all of his shares in a large commodities trading firm one day earlier.
The commodities trading firm Gunvor Group said that Gennady Timchenko sold his shares on March 19 to his business partner in the firm, Torbjorn Törnqvist, a Swedish citizen who was not sanctioned by the U.S. government.
In a statement posted to its website, the firm said the transaction was made "anticipating potential economic sanctions so to ensure with certainty the continued and uninterrupted operations of Gunvor Group Ltd's activities." As a result, the firm said, "Mr. Törnqvist has become the majority owner of Gunvor Group Ltd, with an 87 percent stake, and "Mr. Timchenko has fully divested his entire holdings in the company." The remaining 13 percent of shares are held by senior employees; there are no other outside shareholders.
A U.S. Treasury spokeswoman had no comment on the transaction.
But earlier in the day, senior administration officials said the U.S. was sanctioning Timchenko as one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's "cronies" as punishment for Russia's incursion into Crimea. A fact sheet put out by Treasury said "Timchenko's activities in the energy sector have been directly linked to Putin." It also asserted that "Putin has investments in Gunvor and may have access to Gunvor funds."
A spokesman for Gunvor, Seth Thomas Pietras, said the U.S. State Department did not contact the firm ahead of the sanctions and also said that the firm "does not know the basis for these outrageous allegations."
"Where did they get this Putin stuff?" Pietras asked.
Gunvar maintains its head trading office in Geneva and in 2012 had about 1,600 employees and revenue of $93 billion in 2012, according to the firm. Treasury called Gunvor "one of the world's largest independent commodity trading companies involved in the oil and energy markets."
—By CNBC's Eamon Javers. Follow him on Twitter: @eamonjavers