March 11, 2023 | 3:14 p.m.
‘Top Gun: Maverick’ – nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture – has a dark secret.
The blockbuster, which celebrates the scrappy nature of American fighter pilots flying dangerous missions to keep the world safe, is targeted for being funded in part by a Russian oligarch named Dmitry Rybolovlev, who is close to the Kremlin and sanctioned by the Ukraine.
In an open letter to the Academy, the Ukrainian World Congress, which represents Ukrainian expatriates around the world, expressed “serious concerns about Russia’s influence on the Hollywood film industry”.
The letter circulated last week during the final days of Oscar voting.
Rybolovlev, 56, is no stranger to controversy.
He maintained his innocence while spending a year in a Russian prison in the 1990s for a murder from which he was later acquitted.
In 2008, during the economic recession, Rybolovlev, through a trust, paid $95 million for Donald Trump’s Palm Beach mansion. At the time, Trump was cash-strapped and radioactive for American banks.
In 2011, Rybolovlev also paid a record $88 million for a 15 Central Park West penthouse owned by Joan Weill.
Joan lived in the penthouse with her husband, Sanford Weill, a former chairman of Citigroup, who actively transferred Russian money overseas in the 1990s, according to the US General Accounting Office.
In 2000, a GAO report stated that Citigroup allowed more than $800 million in suspicious Russian funds to flow through US accounts linked to Delaware-registered front companies.
According to the Tax Justice Network, a UK-based advocacy group, the deposits were seen by investigators as “money leaking taxes or profits from criminal activity”.
While the first “Top Gun” film mentions Russia as the enemy, “Top Gun: Maverick” makes no mention of Russia, even though American pilots bomb a snowy land with nukes, according to Diane Francis, anti-kleptocracy expert at the Atlantic Council, who reported on Rybolovlev’s “Top Gun” connection in its Substack newsletter.
“It’s appalling,” Francis told The Post. “Hollywood actors go to Ukraine for photo ops, but do nothing about Russian influence in their own backyards.”
Rybolovlev – who was said to have had an influence on the film – was the silent and controlling financial source behind New Republic Pictures.
In 2020, when the pandemic put Hollywood on shaky ground, New Republic negotiated a more than $200 million deal with Paramount Pictures to fund a quarter of the budget for 10 films, including “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Coming 2 America” and the new “Mission: Impossible” sequel, according to reports that first appeared in the LA Times in January.
Rybolovlev reportedly began moving his assets out of the West, including the New Republic, after the large-scale, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, as Western governments began imposing a new round of sanctions to the Russian oligarchs.
In his letter, UWC President Paul Grod said Rybolovlev is one of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs and a close friend and business partner of Yury Trutnev, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister.
Rybolovlev, known as Russia’s potash king, was also Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s biggest partner in potash exports, bringing cash flow that helped Lukashenko bolster his authoritarian rule, Grod wrote.
Rybolovlev’s quiet but controlling role at New Republic was first revealed by former New Republic president and chief content officer Bradley Fischer, who filed a content infringement lawsuit against New Republic in court. superior of Los Angeles, first reported in January in the LA Times. Part of the lawsuit has been redacted.
In its open letter to the Academy, the Ukrainian World Congress called on the Academy to reject films with “direct or indirect investments by Russian oligarchs or other enablers of Russia’s genocidal war against Ukraine” , to review the eligibility of “Top Gun: Maverick” to participate in the Oscars and issue a strong statement condemning Russia’s war against Ukraine and any attempt “to influence Hollywood and American society”.
Grod wrote: “We were moved by the moment of silence in solidarity with Ukraine at last year’s Oscars… In this context, the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) expresses its serious concerns about the influence of Russia on the Hollywood film industry.
In the letter, Grod also wrote, “Rybolovlev’s funding of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ has not been made public and there are good reasons to believe that his involvement may have led to censorship by the Kremlin. Unlike the original movie, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ makes no direct or indirect reference to Russia. It is not a coincidence. Hollywood must be vigilant and transparent about using Russian money to bolster pro-Kremlin censorship.
Rybolovlev is also an art collector and owner of the Monaco football team.
He has been investigated in Switzerland and Monaco and he has also brought charges against Sotheby’s and Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, alleging fraud.
Earlier this month, a US district court judge ruled ‘largely in favour’ of Sotheby’s, which is seeking to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Rybolovlev against the auction house over the battle of the oligarch with Bouvier, who allegedly “swindled” Rybolovlev out of a billion dollars by inflating art offers, according to reports.
The oligarch alleges Sotheby’s helped Bouvier acquire artwork for hundreds of millions less than the billion dollars he later sold to Rybolovlev.
Chords include “Salvatore Mundi” – partially attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Bouvier acquired Salvatore Mundi for $83 million in 2013, then sold it to Rybolovlev for $127 million.
In 2017, Rybolovlev auctioned it off at Christie’s for $450 million – the buyer was reportedly Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.