Oleg Deripaska (R), CEO of Russian metals giant UC Rusal, takes part in a press conference to announce the company's 2009 annual results in Hong Kong on April 12, 2009. Rusal, the first Russian company to list on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, said it swung back into the black in 2009 following its debt restructuring, reporting a net profit of 821 million USD.   AFP PHOTO / MIKE CLARKE / AFP PHOTO / MIKE CLARKE
Oleg Deripaska (right), CEO of Russian metals giant UC Rusal, takes part in a press conference to announce the company's 2009 annual results in Hong Kong on April 12, 2009. Photo: AFP / Mike Clarke

The Windalco alumina assets in Jamaica owned by United Company Rusal of sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska “are safe,” Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness said on Friday during a state visit to the United States.

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness speaks on Rusal assets in Jamaica at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on April 1, 2022. Video: Capitol Intelligence Group

Speaking to Capitol Intelligence/BBN PR after a meeting with Vice-President Kamala Harris, Holness said he saw no reason the seek the divestment of Windalco by Rusal notwithstanding its controlling shareholder Oleg Deripaska being under US and European Union sanctions related to the war in Ukraine.

Rusal’s “Jamaican assets are safe,” Holness said after a news briefing at the National Press Club in Washington on Friday, making his first public comment on Rusal’s considerable assets on the Caribbean island.

At the same time, Rusal has asked bankers in New York and London to spin off the company’s foreign-based assets such as Windalco to protect them from new US and EU sanctions and the more than likely re-nationalization of Rusal by Russian President Vladmir Putin, a Rusal source said.

However, Holness’ stance of non-intervention on Rusal’s Jamaican assets puts him at direct loggerheads with the chairwoman of the US House of Representatives Financial Services Committee, Maxine Waters, who is seeking to reimpose US Treasury Department sanctions against Rusal.

One of the most powerful members of Congress, Waters told Capitol Intelligence she particularly opposed Rusal’s assets in Jamaica.

US House Committee on Financial Services chairwoman Maxine Waters speaks on new sanctions against Rusal and Jamaica assets.

Jamaica owned a piece of Windalco up to 2014 when it offloaded its final 7.0% stake to UC Rusal for US$11 million, which was used partially to offset a $21 million debt to Rusal.

Jamaica did about $68 million worth of trade with Russia in 2020 and $45 million over the period January to October 2021, most of which related to the export of bauxite and alumina.

The Jamaican prime minister, who says his goal is to make Jamaica the Singapore of the Western Hemisphere, also said he saw no reason to curb Chinese investment to the island such as $700 million highway project financed by China Development Bank and built by Beijing-based China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC).

He noted that his country’s total debt to China is a mere 5% of its total foreign debt and that Chinese investment and subsequent debt obligations do not pose any problem for attracting US private-sector investment.

China is also a major player in Jamaica’s alumina sector, with Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company (JISCo) acquiring the Alpart alumina refinery from Rusal for $300 million.

Holness said he had very constructive meetings with Vice-President Harris, whose father was born in Jamaica.

However, leading members of the Jamaican-American diaspora say they are not very impressed with the actual deliverables Holness was able to win from the United States – $20 million worth of economic aid over five years and $10 million to reduce violence and human trafficking.

“The sums given to Jamaica are tiny. It is what Washington, DC, the state partner of Jamaica, could do on its own,” a Jamaican-American who joined Holness at the National Press Club said.

The miserly aid contribution to Jamaica may have more to do with issues surrounding the prime minister’s and his wife’s personal wealth – such as their ownership of a Beverly Hills mansion worth $13 million – as opposed to Jamaica’s geopolitical importance to the United States. Holness is quoted in the Jamaican press as saying he has invested a total of J$53 million ($350,000) into the California home.

He said that during his meeting with Harris they discussed US investment in Jamaica; the upcoming referendum to end Jamaica’s membership in the Commonwealth realm, and efforts seeking reparations from the UK for the legacy of slavery on the island.

While Holness says he no longer wants Queen Elizabeth II as Jamaica’s head of state, he is backing Jamaican Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson-Smith’s candidacy as the Commonwealth’s next secretary general.

Peter K Semler is the chief executive editor and founder of Capitol Intelligence. Previously, he was the Washington, DC, bureau chief for Mergermarket (Dealreporter/Debtwire) of the Financial Times and headed political and economic coverage of the US House of Representatives and Senate.