Telegram Raises $1Bln, With Help From Russian Direct Investment Fund

Telegram has sold more than $1 billion in bonds to international investors, founder Pavel Durov announced Tuesday — among them Russia’s state-run Direct Investment Fund (RDIF).

Durov, who founded Russia’s leading social network VKontakte before launching messaging app Telegram, said the investment will “enable Telegram to continue growing globally, while sticking to its values and remaining independent.”

The investment comes after Durov scrapped a $1.7 billion Telegram blockchain project last year after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ruled the entrepreneur had raised funds through an illegal initial coin offering (ICO). He was forced to return more than $1 billion to investors who were asked to swallow a 28% loss on their initial investment.

The size of the RDIF investment in Telegram bonds is unknown. Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported the organization took part with Abu Dhabi’s state fund, the Mubadala Investment Company, which invested a total of $75 million in five year convertible bonds. 

Russia’s Forbes magazine also reported RDIF had confirmed their involvement in the bond sale. But Telegram’s Vice President Ilya Perekopsky told business site The Bell that RDIF did not take part.

RDIF’s involvement caps a dramatic reversal in the Russian state’s approach to the messaging service. Authorities had previously waged a two-year war with Durov and Telegram in an unsuccessful attempt to block access over its refusal to provide encryption keys and backdoor access to user data. 

Russian regulators proved technologically unable to stop Telegram operating in Russia, and even before the ban was lifted in a surprise move last year, the app was widely used by government officials, departments and state-run news outlets.

Telegram founder and CEO Durov was born in St. Petersburg, but left Russia after being outmaneuvered from VKontakte in 2014 following a long-running battle with technology company Mail.Ru for control of the social network. He has since obtained Saint Kitts and Nevis citizenship through a golden passport investment scheme and focused on building the Telegram service, which prioritizes privacy and security.

“The end goal for Telegram is to become a financially sustainable project that can serve humanity for decades (or centuries) to come. Today’s news is another step towards that goal,” he added in a statement on his Telegram channel.

RDIF is Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, and has invested billions in Russian technology companies over the last decade. It is also behind the development, production and international sales of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.

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