How to piss off a Russian oligarch
In this week's Office Hours, Karim Zidan looks back at his coverage of Ziyavudin Magomedov, the Dagestani oligarch now languishing in Russian prison.
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It isn’t everyday that you wake up to find out that you had pissed off a Russian oligarch.
To my astonishment, that is exactly what happened to me last week when, amidst a sea of mundane job applications and spam that typically flood my LinkedIn inbox, I discovered this captivating note awaiting me.
Fun story: I used to teach English to Ziyavudin Magomedov (pre-him going to prison) and he'd request news articles to study with, and obviously very often your articles would pop up. You have noooo idea how bad you pissed him off! Haha! Anyway thought you'd have fun with that! Have a great day! :)
The messenger, who shall remain anonymous to protect their identity, was referencing Ziyavudin Magomedov, the Russian billionaire and founder of Summa Group, one of Russia's largest diversified private holdings. Magomedov was arrested in 2018 (reportedly under politically motivated circumstances) on charges of embezzlement and racketeering and was sentenced to 19 years in prison in December 2022.
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Magomedov appeared on my radar in 2016, when reports began to swirl that the oligarch was interested in purchasing the UFC. I penned my first article on the oligarch forlater that same year titled “An in-depth look at the mysterious billionaire who attempted to buy the UFC and now promotes Fedor in Russia.”
“Russian oligarch share many things in common: ostentatious behavior, lavish lifestyles, and questionable pasts are some of the ones that come to mind. Few, however, can be found in a Moscow gym, dressed in a tracksuit, training with professional fighters,” read the lede. “Ziyavudin Magomedov is not your average Russian billionaire.”
In the article, I delved into Magomedov’s extraordinary journey from a difficult childhood in Makhachkala, Dagestan—one of Russia’s most impoverished republics—to one of the country’s most prosperous businessmen with an estimated wealth of $3 billion.
I argued that Magomedov’s success coincided with Dmitry Medvedev’s tenure as Russia’s president (2008-2012). However, that period of prosperity came to an end upon Putin’s return to office in 2012. Putin forcibly nationalized several of Magomedov’s assets and weakened Summa Group’s political influence. As a result, Magomedov’s fortune plummeted to $800 million in 2013.
Over the next few years, Magomedov reinvented himself as a venture capitalist and invested hundreds of millions in high-tech start ups, as well as transportation, robotics, agricultural, industrial and consumer projects. He became the co-executive chairman of Los Angeles-based tech firm Virgin Hyperloop One alongside Richard Branson, and even fashioned himself as a combat sports enthusiast and invested in various mixed martial arts related projects.
In 2016, Magomedov reportedly attempted to purchase the UFC before Endeavor acquired full control of the organization for $4 billion. Undeterred, the Russian oligarch went on to purchase a controlling stake in Fight Nights Global (now AMC Fight Nights), a prominent Russian MMA organization at the time.
At this point, things took a peculiar turn.
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