Russian oil industry tycoon Vagit Alekperov is set to join a team looking to buy a 50% stake in the country’s largest IT player, Yandex, for an estimated $3.5 billion.

The move by the founder of Russia’s largest privately held oil producer, Lukoil, has come despite the threat of further Western sanctions against Russian individuals and companies in response to the invasion of Ukraine early last year.

Alekperov led Lukoil for more than 30 years before resigning announced as executive chairman in April 2022 after the UK, Australia and New Zealand approved personal sanctions against him.

However, he has avoided being targeted by US and European sanctions, including last week’s expanded list of US sanctions targeting Russian oil-related educational establishments and its energy research and design institutions and providers, as well various individuals.

After stepping down from his role at Lukoil, the 72-year-old billionaire was reported as saying that he would focus on running social initiatives and charity programmes.

However, earlier this week it was revealed that Alekperov and fellow Russian businessmen Vladimir Potanin and Alexei Mordashov, with backing from the state-run VTB bank, are aiming to buy a 50% stake in country’s largest IT player, Yandex, for estimated $3.5 billion.

The joint bid was revealed by Russian independent news outlet The Bell, which quoted unnamed Russian government sources as saying that President Vladimir Putin had approved the list of possible bidders for Yandex.

Mikhail Krutikhin, a partner at Moscow-based energy consultancy RusEnergy, said Alekperov may have joined the Yandex bidding team “to demonstrate his loyalty” to Putin, even though the president awarded Alekperov a Services to the Fatherland honour a month after his resignation from Lukoil.

Potanin, Mordashov and their companies, and VTB all have close links to the Kremlin, with those same links causing them to be included by earlier US sanctions.

Yandex founder Arkady Vorozh decided to leave Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, but this has not helped him escape European Union sanctions.

Vorozh was placed on the EU’s list of Russian businessmen being sanctioned after Yandex was found to be filtering out alternative news sources on the invasion for Russian audiences and promoting state run news outlets.

According to a research paper written by David Salvo, managing director of Germany’s Alliance for Securing Democracy & Malign Autocratic Influence, Yandex “directs Russian speakers worldwide to manipulated information — and at times to outright disinformation”.