Fans of former SF mayor Gavin Newsom or of luxury writing implements might recall that in March, economic interest filings for the now Lt. Gov noted that he received a gift of a $398 pen. Not happy to just think “huh, that’s a fancy pants pen,” the folks at California Watch have taken a deeper dive into the hows, whys, and wherefores of that generous gift.
As reported by the Chron in March, the $398 Louis Vuitton pen was a gift to Newsom from “Russian billionaire” Dmitry Rybolovlev, as the Guardian noted, #59 on Forbes’ 2008 list of “The World’s Billionaires.” By 2010, he’d dropped to #79, his net worth plummeting to $8.6 bil from a $12.8 bil in 2008. Ouch!
According to CA Watch, Rybolovlev made his fortune during the ’90s privatization in Russia by the acquiring state-owned potash fertilizer company Uralkali. That same decade, he was, they report, charged with contract killing of an industrialist, but was released after serving 11 months in prison.
And his fortunes might still be shrinking — according to Forbes, his “Pending divorce from wife, Elena, may shrink his fertilizer fortune.” The split, described in September, 2010 as an “international fight for her share of the family’s fortune,” is still pending, but by March, 2011, he was on Forbes “Billionaire Bachelors” list, as “separated.”
So what was this guy doing giving Gavin Newsom a really nice pen?
According to CA Watch, Newsom was trying to court Rybolovlev in an attempt to get him to invest in Mission Bay by relocating a biotech company that he had been investing in there.
Though both Newsom spokesman Francisco Castillo and Jennifer Matz, director of the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development tell CA Watch of at least two meetings between the then-Mayor and Rybolovlev, it appears they were done in relative secret, with no mention being made of him on any of Newsom’s calendars or documents, reports CA Watch.
The day that Newsom allegedly met with Rybolovlev only listed the mayor as attending the opening of Nektar Therapeutics in Mission Bay, an invite-only event that did not include Rybolovlev’s name. He reportedly also visited Newsom at his office in City Hall, when he handed over City Hall, where Matz tells CA Watch Rybolovlev gave Newsom the pen.
Nothing (other than the pen) appeared to come from either interaction, however, and Matz could provide no further information.
“I have no idea what his business interests are,” Matz told CA Watch, “and we never inquired because it never got that far.”