Alex Rovt, The Fertilizer Baron Of Manhattan

May 6th, 2013

This is from 2012, but it’s a keeper.

Would someone out there please email this story to Joel and Ethan Coen? This could make Miller’s Crossing look like Sunday School.

Via: Bloomberg:

Everyone looking to unload overleveraged or overpriced property, another broker who dealt with Rovt told me, is now chasing a stereotype: the Ukrainian fertilizer billionaire. This frustrates Rovt, who hates nothing more than being portrayed as an oligarch. Yes, he capitalized on post-Soviet privatizations, and sure, he looks the type, with his bearish physique, slicked-back black hair, thick moustache, and fondness for cigars. True, he made his billions overseas, under the radar—yet he lived securely within U.S. borders the whole time. His story is, despite appearances, an American one, a tale that really begins in Brooklyn, where he moved nearly 30 years ago. “I am not an outsider,” Rovt says. He’s a consummate insider—a macher, as they say in Yiddish, his first language—a canny manipulator of the levers of power.

The initials IBE stood for international barter exchange. The founder, Sheldon Silverston, a Korean War veteran and former intelligence operative, shipped goods to pariah states with little hard currency—Uganda after its 1980s civil war, for instance, or Romania under Ceau?escu—and accepted payment in commodities like coffee or iron ore. “He was an old spook dude,” says Bill Grant, a former Republican congressman from Florida who worked in various capacities for IBE. “Shelly Silverston knows a lot of things, and a lot of people in a lot of places, that ordinary people don’t know.”

In Rovt, Silverston found an entrée into the closed economy of the Soviet Union, where Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms were just beginning to take hold. Fertilizer was an ideal barter commodity, and the Soviet Union had made tons of it, due to its bountiful supplies of natural gas.

Rovt courted the local plant managers, who had found themselves newly empowered as the state loosened economic control. Their decaying factories needed upgraded technology, spare parts, even bricks. “[Rovt] got the concept of barter immediately,” Silverston says. “Once he met someone that had potential to do business with us, he was able to cultivate this person.” Many of IBE’s contacts wanted to send their children to America, and Silverston, a major Republican donor, says he used his influence to smooth the way, helping with visas, college placement, even jobs around the company’s office.

Research Credit: almaverdad2

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