Russian biometric players trading hands amid sanctions uncertainty
Western nations’ sanctions on Russia have forced that country’s biggest lender to dump dozens of investments, including biometrics firms, in a bid to avoid being hit with damaging penalties.
Another Russian company, Rostelecom Group, bought Russian biometrics software maker BI Solutions, also this week. It is not known if this deal is related to sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a related development, a trade publisher says it has found 10 technology fairs and conferences that this year will showcase Russian and Russian-linked technology companies that could be militarily strategic to Moscow.
According to top10vpm, the Russian wares, including from biometrics developers NtechLab, RecFaces, SpeechPro, and VisionLabs will be shown under the same roofs as those of Western nations including the United States, the United Kingdom and European Union members.
Sberbank and 42 subsidiaries were named as sanctioned entities in April. One of the holdings sold was biometrics developer Speech Technology Center, according to Reuters. Others are in cloud systems and video and audio streaming.
It is unclear if the deal shields Sberbank or the divested entities from sanctions.
Reports have not found how much the deal was valued at. The Interfax news agency, which is not considered tightly aligned with Moscow, quoted a bank spokesperson saying, “The deal was made at a fair market value.”
Noviye Vozmozhnosti (New Opportunities) reportedly bought the holdings, according to the Moscow Times, a publication reputed to be at odds with Russia’s autocratic leadership.
A joint venture, Noviye Vozmozhnosti was formed in March, after Russia struck at Ukraine. Reports indicate that the company is owned by Tatiana Portnykh, a former stock-transfer agency representative.
The identity of Portnykh’s partner or partners in the holdings has not been divulged. Sberbank reportedly is not affiliated with Noviye Vozmozhnosti.
Sberbank executives apparently are hoping they can create just enough distance between themselves and the companies they shed to avoid sanctions.
Reuters has reported that the bank is creating partnerships with the firms and will “continue implementing joint marketing and operational activities.”
It nonetheless must be a bitter pill. Sberbank had made showy progress toward becoming a major player in Russia’s technology industry. Executives had said they wanted to be at least the country’s third biggest e-commerce player by 2023.
The other notable biometrics-related sale this week is the purchase of BI Solutions by telco Rostelecom Group. BI makes biometric data protection software. Sergei Becker, BI’s general director, had owned the firm outright, according to Interfax.
Rostelecom now owns 99.9 percent of BI. Westelecom JSC, itself a holding of Rostelecom, owns the balance, according to the Tass news agency, which is owned by the Russian government.
The telco reportedly wanted to bolster its own data protection operations.