‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Oscar 2023 noms questioned amid Russia accusations

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109 shares, 170 points

“Top Gun: Maverick” — nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture — has a dark secret. 

The blockbuster, which celebrates the scrappy nature of US fighter pilots flying dangerous missions to keep the world safe, is being targeted for being funded in part by a Russian oligarch named Dmitry Rybolovlev, who is close to the Kremlin and sanctioned by Ukraine. 

In an open letter to the Academy, the Ukrainian World Congress, which represents Ukrainian expats around the world, expressed its “serious concerns over Russia’s influence on the Hollywood film industry.”

The letter circulated last week during the final days of voting for the Oscars. 

Rybolovlev, 56, is no stranger to controversy.

He maintained his innocence while spending a year in a Russian jail in the 1990s for a murder he was later acquitted of.

In 2008, during the economic recession, Rybolovlev, via a trust, paid $95 million for Donald Trump’s Palm Beach mansion. At the time, Trump was cash-strapped and radioactive to US banks.

In 2011, Rybolovlev also paid a then-record $88 million for a 15 Central Park West penthouse owned by Joan Weill.

Joan lived in the penthouse with her husband, Sanford Weill, former chair of Citigroup, which was active moving Russian money offshore 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 tied to shell companies registered in Delaware.

The deposits were believed by investigators to be “money fleeing taxes or the profits of criminal activities,” according to the Tax Justice Network, a UK-based advocacy group.

While the first “Top Gun” film mentions Russia as the enemy, “Top Gun: Maverick” makes no mention of Russia, even though the US pilots are bombing a snowy country’s nukes, according to Diane Francis, an anti-kleptocracy expert at the Atlantic Council, who reported on Rybolovlev’s “Top Gun” connection in her 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 backyard.” 

Rybolovlev — who reportedly had influence over 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 $200 million plus deal with Paramount Pictures to fund a quarter of the budget of 10 films,  including “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Coming 2 America,” and the new “Mission: Impossible” sequels, according to reports first published in the LA Times in January. 

Rybolovlev reportedly began moving his assets out of the West, including New Republic, after Russia’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, as Western governments began to impose a new round of sanctions on Russian oligarchs.

In its letter, UWC president Paul Grod said that Rybolovlev is one of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs and a close friend and business partner of Yury Trutnev, deputy prime minister of Russia.

Rybolovlev, known as Russia’s potash king, was also Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s largest partner in potash exports, bringing in cash flow that helped Lukashenko strengthen his authoritarian regime, Grod wrote.

Rybolovlev’s silent but controlling role in New Republic was first revealed by New Republic’s ex-president and chief content officer, Bradley Fischer, who filed a breach of content lawsuit against New Republic in LA Superior Court, first reported in January in the LA Times. Part of the suit was 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 on Ukraine,” to review the eligibility of “Top Gun: Maverick” from participating in the Academy Awards, and to issue a strong statement condemning Russia’s war against Ukraine and any attempts “to influence Hollywood and American society.” 

Wrote Grod: “We were moved by the moment of silence showing solidarity with Ukraine at last year’s Academy Awards…In this context, the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) expresses its serious concerns over Russia’s influence on the Hollywood film industry.”

In the letter, Grod also wrote: “Rybolovlev’s funding of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ was not publicly disclosed and there is good reason to believe that his involvement may have led to censorship on behalf of the Kremlin. Contrary to the original film, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ makes no direct or indirect reference to Russia. This is hardly a coincidence. Hollywood must be vigilant and transparent of Russian money being used to further pro-Kremlin censorship.”

Rybolovlev is also an art collector and Monaco soccer team owner.

He has been the subject of investigations in Switzerland and Monaco and he has also filed lawsuits against Sotheby’s and Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, alleging fraud.

Earlier this month, a US district court judge ruled “largely in favor” of Sotheby’s, which is seeking to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Rybolovlev against the auction house stemming from the oligarch’s battle with Bouvier, who allegedly “defrauded” Rybolovlev of $1 billion in inflating art deals, according to reports.

The oligarch alleges that Sotheby’s helped Bouvier acquire art for hundreds of millions less than the $1 billion he later sold them for to Rybolovlev.

The deals 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 at Christie’s for $450 million — the buyer was reportedly Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.  

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