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MAY 20, 2005

Eddie Irvine Russian revealed

Eddie Irvine was wandering around the F1 paddock on Friday in Monaco chatting with various team owners and introducing them to a wealthy Russian who is considering buying a Formula 1 team for Irvine to run. Irvine's mysterious friend is none other than Roustam Tariko, a 43-year-old Russian who is estimated to be worth something in the region of $870m.

Tariko is the chairman of Russian Standard Bank but has a background in the vodka trade. Tariko started out importing expensive chocolates into Russia in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He then switched to importing luxury alcohol brands for the Russian market, selling Martini, Johnnie Walker and Bacardi to the new rich of Russia. In 1998 he launched his own brand of vodka, called Russian Standard and it quickly became one of the country's best selling brands, with sales of around $75m a year. Not content with this he then bought an inactive bank called Agroopttorgbank and renamed it the Russian Standard Bank and started offering consumer loans in Russia in 2000. His plan was to create a brand and offer a variety of different services, as a sort of Russian version of Richard Branson's Virgin. In the middle of last year it was announced that BNP Paribas, France's second largest bank, was going to buy the Russian Standard Bank for around $300m. Soon after the deal was agreed, however, Tariko went cold on the deal and appeared to change his mind and the deal has since fallen apart.

Tariko controls his empire through a British Virgin Islands company called Roust Holdings Ltd.

The word is that Tariko will buy Alex Shnaider out of Jordan.