03 March 2005 – The Times
TO RECENT Reuben-watchers, it may appear that the billionaire brothers have emerged on the British business scene out of nowhere; in fact, they have spent more than 40 years building their reputations as astute dealmakers.
The sons of an Iraqi Jewish textile merchant who moved to India, the family relocated to Britain in the 1950s when the boys were teenagers. The brothers built a multimillion-pound fortune in the 1960s and 1970s from dealing in property, a scrap metals business and a carpet company.
The decision to take their London-based metal-trading company to Russia after the Soviet break-up of 1991 propelled them up the ranks of the world’s super-rich.
The Reubens exploited the wild selling taking place in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet system to buy up half of Russia’s aluminium industry and become the world’s third-biggest producer of the metal — and this at a time when Russia represented frontier capitalism at its craziest.
At its peak, their company, Trans-World Metals, and its associates controlled 5 per cent of the world’s aluminium output.
Russian aluminium smelters were incapacitated by debt. Trans-World entered into tolling arrangements with factories in which they paid for and delivered raw materials in return for finished aluminium, which it then sold for profit.
The company’s investment in Russia was $1.5 billion (£870 million), with global sales in 1995 topping $6 billion.
The kingdom began to come tumbling down when the Reubens’ influence and activities in Russia came under attack from Russian politicians. By 2000 Trans-World had disposed of its investments in Russia, with its aluminium interests in Krasnoyarsk, Bratsk and other plants sold to Sibneft, a company controlled by Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club.
The Reubens’ involvement in Russia led to an article in Fortune magazine, which accused the brothers of having links with the Russian mafia. The Reubens adamantly denied the allegations and sued the magazine’s parent company for libel. Fortune recently agreed an out of court settlement, in which it was forced to issue a lengthy clarification.
An investigation by Kroll Associates, the investigator also cleared the Reubens of any wrongdoing.