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US senators call for tough policy on Rusal; Treasury says Deripaska is target

Washington β€” US senators called Tuesday for a tougher policy on aluminum producer Rusal, questioning the Department of the Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Sigal Mandelker, about sanctions and tariffs on the Russian company.

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In a hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, lawmakers asked for action against Rusal that lines up with overall US foreign policy objectives toward Russia.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat-North Dakota, called US actions toward Rusal "schizophrenic," questioning why Treasury seems more interested in targeting Oleg Deripaska, Rusal's owner, than the company itself.

"We were clear that when we designated Deripaska and his companies we were designating those companies because they were 50% or more owned or controlled by Mr. Deripaska," Mandelker said, adding: "We also appreciated that those kinds of designations can have wide ranging effects."

"No one cares that soybean farmers are collateral damage, so why do we care if people who use aluminum are collateral damage on sanctions?" the senator responded, adding: "When you have your boot on the neck of a bad actor, you should keep it there."

In a similar manner, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat-Massachusetts, asked why the Department of Commerce had originally granted Rusal an exemption for 14-inch diameter billets of AA6005A alloy.

The senator, who wrote Commerce questioning the product exemption on August 7, said she was glad Commerce revoked the decision August 8.

Warren also expressed concern over reports that Treasury was considering lifting sanctions on the aluminum producer.

"Treasury is reportedly considering lifting sanctions on Rusal, which is sanctioned for its ties to a corrupt Russian oligarch who contributed to [Russian President Vladimir Putin's] illegal occupation of Ukraine. Let me ask. Has Putin withdrawn from the illegal occupation of Ukraine? Stopped cyber attacks and disinformation or halted efforts to spread corruption?" Warren said.

Market sources have heard from Washington contacts that sanctions on Rusal could soon be lifted as the company has laid out a specific plan to remove Deripaska's influence.

Mandelker said US sanctions on Rusal are still in effect, and did not disclose any plans for lifting them in her testimony.

However, she said the goal of sanctions was "to make sure that the impact of the designation was felt by Mr. Deripaska and not our closest allies."

--Rebecca Grenham, rebecca.grenham@spglobal.com

--Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh, keiron.greenhalgh@spglobal.com