Doing business in Russia can get really nasty, really fast. New York real estate developer Janna Bullock is finding out how bad as she fights a smear campaign being waged by a Russian judo instructor turned corporate raider.
The Russian-born Bullock, who is married to Russian businessman Aleksei Kuznetsov, has taken a leave of absence from the Guggenheim board so she can handle a dispute involving her development company, RIGroup, which she claims is worth $2 billion, and a company headed by Putin's former coach.
Ms. Bullock started her company, RIGroup, in 1998. Beginning in 2005, she began buying, renovating and selling Upper East Side town houses, many of them with storied or just plain strange pasts: Among her first purchases was 54 East 64th Street, The New York Observer building. In 2007, she bought the hole on East 62nd Street that was left after an Upper East Side doctor blew up his town house (and himself) to prevent his ex-wife from getting it.
Mr. Kuznetsov, meanwhile, became the finance director for the Moscow region in 2000. Three years later, Ms. Bullock made her expansion to Russia, acquiring vast tracts of land around Moscow to develop malls and homes, and eventually forming a partnership with a government corporation managed by her husband's department.
Kuznetsov said he was forced out of his post because his wife's company was being audited by the government. Soon after, while on vacation, one of his "political allies" was murdered and he hasn't returned since. RIGroup was then taken over by rival company OSRI, which is partly owned by Putin's martial arts instructor. According to Bullock: "The moment my husband was kicked out of office, I had no control over my companies." Her lawyer says she is now the victim of "a malicious, vindictive and defamatory" smear campaign in the Russian media.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is a legendary ass-kicker, so it should come as no surprise that the man who taught him to kick so much ass is kicking major ass in Russian corporate boardrooms. Jennifer Blei Stockman, president of the Guggenheim, told the Times, "We didn't get into any of the gossip or the allegations. We have no idea what's true or false."