In the early 1990s, Eugene Tenenbaum was working as an accountant in Toronto when opportunity beckoned halfway across the world. After stints as an auditor at Price Waterhouse Canada and in the Toronto office of KPMG, he set off for Moscow, where he would serve as national director of KPMG Peat Marwick Russia.
The post-Soviet Russian Federation was an economic wild west, but Tenenbaum was undoubtedly a natural fit for the position, a bright accountant who spoke Russian fluently, having spent the first decade of his life in Kyiv, Ukraine, before immigrating to Canada in the mid-1970s.
In Russia, Tenenbaum met a wealthy and well-connected businessman named Roman Abramovich — the oligarch now facing sanctions in the United Kingdom, European Union and Canada over his ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin — and the two, it seems, hit it off.
The Canadian went on to become one of Abramovich’s closest associates, according Tenenbaum’s director biography on the website of the Chelsea Football Club, which Abramovich owns.
That relationship was put front and centre Friday when Reuters reported that Tenenbaum, now 57, had bought one of Abramovich’s companies holding tens of millions of dollars in investments after Russia invaded Ukraine last month — and shortly before the United Kingdom sanctioned Abramovich along with entities and other individuals in response to the invasion.
According to Reuters, Tenenbaum said he bought Ervington Investments Ltd. from a trust called Norma Investments, which previously had Abramovich and his children as beneficiaries.
It is my hope that the unjust measures imposed on Mr. Abramovich will be reassessed
Tenenbaum could not be reached for comment Friday, but told Reuters he bought the company, in compliance with all laws and regulations, because it is a company he has worked with for many years.
“I know the company’s investments and employees well, and buying Ervington provides me with an opportunity to continue to work with this business under my control and for my, and the employees’ benefit,” he told the news service.
It is not the only asset Abramovich apparently unloaded as the invasion unfolded. The Wall Street Journal previously reported that Abramovich had transferred control of Norma Investments to another associate, David Davidovich, on the day of the invasion. Due to the sanctions, Abramovich has also been forced to put Chelsea up for sale.
Neither Tenenbaum nor Davidovich are subject to sanctions.
The manoeuvrings on the international stage, and in close proximity to the economic fallout of Russia’s invasion to Ukraine, seem like an unlikely path for Tenenbaum, who came to Canada in the mid-1970s, at a time when the Soviet Union had opened the doors to emigration after years of tightly controlling departures.
Tenenbaum’s surname was Borsuk before his mother remarried and he once used the first name Evgeny, according to a 2003 filing for Chelsea FC Plc. He attended Newtonbrook High School and then went to the University of Toronto, where he earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree and graduated with distinction in economics.
In a 1991 article by the Canadian Press chronicling his time with Russian office of KPMG a few years after graduation, Tenenbaum described a financial culture shock he experienced as Russian businesses shifted to the market principles of capitalism from quotas ordered by a central government.
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As he travelled the globe and settled in the U.K., he did not distance himself from his Canadian roots. In a 2003 regulatory filing there confirming his appointment as a director of Fordstam Ltd., an investment vehicle through which Abramovich controls Chelsea FC, Tenenbaum listed a Thornhill, Ont., address as his “usual residential address” and his nationality as “Canadian.”
Other U.K. filings in that time period listed the same address and nationality, though in the Friday Reuters article he said he was a British citizen.
Property records indicate the Thornhill home, jointly held with a relative, was sold in August 2014 for $689,000. Another Fordstam Limited filing dated March 9, 2020, indicated Tenenbaum had changed his place of residence to Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands and perhaps best-known as a tax haven.
By the mid-1990s, Tenenbaum had shifted into investment banking, and worked for Salomon Brothers in London. Then, in 1998, he joined Sibneft, which was controlled by one of Abramovich’s holding companies called Millhouse Capital, as head of corporate finance. By the time Sibneft was sold to Gazprom in 2006 for US$13.1 billion, the association between the two men had deepened.
Abramovich had bought Chelsea, a jewel of the UK’s Premier League, in 2003, and Tenenbaum was installed as a director at the football club.
He was also managing director of MHC Services Ltd., according to his biography on the Chelsea website, a successor to Millhouse Capital. According to U.K. government filings, Tenenbaum resigned that post in 2020.
News articles have referred to Tenenbaum as an impromptu interpreter for the Russian.
“I don’t understand the language but I understand emotion,” former Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho told The Telegraph in 2005. “So when he (Abramovich) needs to explain something Russian I get the emotion before Eugene Tenenbaum or other friends translate.”
In addition to Chelsea, Tenenbaum held a seat on the board of EVRAZ plc, a steel and mining company with a North American subsidiary that has operations in Alberta and Saskatchewan, in which Abramovich holds a 29 per cent stake. The U.K.-listed shares were frozen earlier this month when Abramovich was sanctioned in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and all 10 Evraz directors of the firm, including Tenenbaum, resigned
Tenenbaum told Reuters in a statement Friday that he had been forced by the March 10 sanctions to establish some distance from Abramovich, and that he disagrees with the way his associate has been characterized in U.K.’s sanctions: as a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin for decades.
“It is my hope that the unjust measures imposed on Mr. Abramovich will be reassessed,” he told the news service.
In a May 2020 article in Forbes, Tenenbaum described Abramovich as an entrepreneur.
“He likes challenges. Once he gets focused, it’s not luck. He likes to understand what a project is about and involve himself for the long-term,” Tenenbaum told the magazine.
“He likes a drive for results, he likes to win and he wants to help out.”