Truphone, a British wireless carrier, faces a $660,000 fine by the FCC over its ties to Russian oligarchs including Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich and his business partners Alexander Frolov and Alexander Abramov.
All three Russians are major shareholders in steel giant Evraz. The regulator said Truphone, which owns a small US carrier called iSmart Mobile, had "misrepresented" its ownership structure,
meaning control of iSmart's FCC-authorised telco licences were "passed to foreign entities that were not vetted." The FCC's notice outlined a series of complex ownership structure changes for Truphone that indicate the three oligarchs' involvement.
"Truphone failed to accurately report its ownership structure and obtain prior approval before vesting control of the company in its current owners, and also failed to obtain Commission approval before an unvetted foreign individual/entity acquired more than five percent of Truphone," the agency said in its news release.
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement the commission launched an "internal assessment of Russian ownership of telecommunications interests in the United States" in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Roman Abramovich — who has a net worth of about $14 billion — has been sanctioned by the UK and the European Union but not the US. Neither Frolov or Abramov are sanctioned.
"While it does not appear that these individuals are currently subject to any US sanctions, they have been targeted with sanctions overseas," said FCC commissioner Geoffrey Starks. "The licences at issue have undergone a bewildering number of changes in ownership over the years but at all times have ultimately been controlled by these oligarchs and their representatives."
He added that the action was about keeping US networks secure. "Even before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the United States and other democracies around the world were reassessing their policies towards entities affiliated or otherwise subject to the jurisdiction of adversary states," he said, citing recent action to "rip and replace" Huawei and ZTE equipment from US networks as an example.
Truphone has 30 days to pay the fine or file an appeal. Truphone previously said in an April 1 statement that Abramovich has been a minority investor in the company since 2013 through investing firm Minden Worldwide. "It should be emphasised that Truphone is not subject to any sanctions," it said in the statement.
Truphone did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment sent via FRP Advisory, a business advisory it has appointed.