A landmark donation of £80 million by the Reuben Foundation is to fund Oxford’s newest graduate college. The news comes despite accusations that the Reuben brothers were involved in illegal activity both in Russia and Kazakhstan, as well as having possible links to money-laundering activities.
Last year, Oxford University announced its 39th college as a new home for graduate students who will embrace opportunities for interdisciplinary exchange and apply their research to address key future challenges. Initially set to be named Parks College, this college will now become ‘Reuben College’ in recognition of this historic donation.
David and Simon Reuben are two of the UK’s most prominent businessmen with a net worth of £18 billion. These brothers amassed most of their fortune, however, through metal trading in the former Soviet Union. Their company, Trans-World Metals, at its peak, controlled 5-7% of global aluminium output.
While they were operating in Russia, there was an intense battle to control the production plants between local mafia groups and factory directors. Though the involvement of the brothers has not been confirmed, a series of dozens of murders ensued at the time including local bankers, crime bosses and factory officials. The victims included both allies and competitors of Trans-World.
The brothers have consistently refuted these allegations and David told the Financial Times in 2000 that, “There is absolutely no truth to any of the allegations that Trans-World has been involved with any illegal activity in Russia.” It still remains to be said, however, that the brothers’ competitors mysteriously no longer posed a threat to their business after these killings.
Amidst this controversy, the brothers hired Kroll Associates to review all of Trans-World’s business practices, which FORTUNE magazine was given full access to as well. FORTUNE concluded in their article that while there was no clear evidence of malpractice, but that there were possible links between Trans-World and other firms, which implicates them in three international money-laundering scandals.
Moreover, in Kazakhstan, the Reuben brothers had their assets seized after serious accusations of having unpaid taxes. As a result of their contentious relationships with other investment groups and tightening domestic forces, the company decided to settle and sell most of their shares in the region in the late 1990s. The matter was then formally concluded with a letter of confirmation from the Kazakh prime minister confirming there were no further unresolved matters.
Despite this murky history, Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, told the Financial Times that she is satisfied with the way the brothers generated their money. She said, “We have the most robust process of any institution I know. My sense is that we are very comfortable taking their money. I gather there were some allegations but they have been effectively refuted.”
In the last 20 years, the Reuben brothers have shifted away from their metal business into property investment where they have a large portfolio of debt-free assets. Some of their biggest properties include the Millbank Tower, the John Lewis Partnership Headquarters, and the Cambridge House, the former premises of the Naval and Military Club. Their overarching operations now focus on real estate in both the UK and abroad, venture capital, and private equity.
The Reuben Foundation is the Reuben brother’s philanthropic venture and has been involved with charitable giving in health and education. In 2012, it established the Reuben Scholarship Programme in Oxford for disadvantaged undergraduate students.
Now, alongside providing a significant portion of the endowment for this new college, the Reuben Foundation’s donation will also be used to expand their Reuben Scholarship. The programme will now include Oxford-Reuben graduate scholarships for students at Reuben College.
Professor Richardson commented in a recent press release: “This gift represents a vote of confidence in Oxford, a vote of confidence in the power of research to solve societal problems, and above all, a vote of confidence in the future.”
Reuben College is preparing to start recruiting its first cohort of graduate students this September, ready for admission in the autumn of 2021.