Holland & Barrett (H&B), the UK’s largest store for supplements and wellbeing products, is under pressure over its links to oligarch Mikhail Fridman. The private equity firm ‘LetterOne’, founded by Fridman, holds a major stake in H&B. On Twitter, people thus urged us to buy our supplements elsewhere. One customer tweeted: ‘Please boycott Holland & Barrett as it is owned by a Russian oligarch with links to Putin.’
Fridman who owns Athlone House, a sprawling £65million mansion in Highgate, North London, was sanctioned by the European Union. His assets were frozen and he is banned from traveling. Consequently, he spoke out against the fighting in Ukraine but refused to denounce Putin. He has since stepped down from the board of LetterOne.
Holland & Barrett itself is unlikely to face sanctions as the oligarch owns less than half the shares in the parent company LetterOne. Fridman convened a press conference last week, which was broadcast on television. However, the move might have backfired, as it alerted H&B shoppers to his connection with the stores.
Fridman was born in Ukraine and has an Israelian passport. He made most of his £11billion fortune from oil, gas, banking, and telecoms. He founded Alfa Bank in January 1991, which grew to become one of the largest private banks in Russia. In 2013, he set up LetterOne in London using £11billion raised from the sale of his stake in TNKBP to Kremlin-backed oil giant Rosneft, whose petrol is currently fuelling Russian tanks. Fridman and Aven (another oligarch) own just under 50 percent of LetterOne. The rest of the company is split between board members German Khan, Alexey Kuzmichev and Andrei Kosogov – who all left the board recently.
A spokesman for LetterOne said: ‘Holland and Barrett is a fantastic business. The business employs thousands of people and we will do everything to protect them.’ Holland & Barrett’s made a gross profit of £445million for the year to the end of September 2020. Fridman and Aven said the EU sanctions are spurious and unfounded and vowed to contest them.
Quite apart from the oligarch co-ownership, I did ask myself some time ago: is H&B a recommendable shop? It is advertised on Facebook as follows: