Roman Abramovich sanctioned by UK over ties with Vladimir Putin

The Government hit the Chelsea owner with an asset freeze after weeks of pressure to act over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sam Blewett
Thursday 10 March 2022 13:55 GMT
Roman Abramovich (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Roman Abramovich (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich has been sanctioned over his links to Vladimir Putin as the UK targeted a fresh round of oligarchs accused of having the “blood of the Ukrainian people on their hands”.

Branded a pro-Kremlin oligarch, Mr Abramovich was hit with an asset freeze and a travel ban on Thursday after ministers came under sustained pressure to target him over the Russian President’s invasion of Ukraine.

The updated sanctions list, which hits seven new Russian elites, said Mr Abramovich has had a “close relationship for decades” with Mr Putin, which the billionaire has previously denied.

“This association has included obtaining a financial benefit or other material benefit from Putin and the government of Russia,” the Government says.

Oleg Deripaska, an industrialist worth £2 billion who has had close links with the British political establishment, was also targeted, as was Mr Putin’s “right-hand man” Igor Sechin, who is the chief executive of the Rosneft state oil firm.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the Government targeted the oligarchs to “ramp up the pressure on the Putin regime and choke off funds to his brutal war machine”.

“With their close links to Putin they are complicit in his aggression,” she said. “The blood of the Ukrainian people is on their hands. They should hang their heads in shame.”

Ministers issued a licence authorising Chelsea, which was hit by the asset freeze, to continue playing matches.

Season ticket holders and those with games already booked can still attend matches, but no new tickets can be sold and the club’s merchandise shop will close.

Downing Street is “open” to a sale of Chelsea, as has been planned by the oligarch, but said a separate licence would need to be approved by the Treasury and that “under no circumstances” could he profit from it.

Jets and yachts owned or chartered by Mr Abramovich, who is worth about £9.4 billion, can now been seized.

After critics urged Boris Johnson to go further in targeting the Kremlin’s backers, the Prime Minister defended the “very careful” approach to imposing sanctions and stressed the need to establish “clear evidence”.

He warned Moscow of more sanctions to come, telling broadcasters during a visit to Merseyside that he would work with allies to “tighten the economic vice around the Putin regime”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for fresh rounds of sanctions to go “further and faster”, saying he demanded Mr Abramovich be targeted weeks ago.

“Every oligarch and those supporting Putin in any way should be sanctioned,” he told reporters on a visit to the Tapa military base in Estonia.

Last week, Mr Abramovich, who has owned Chelsea since 2003, said he would sell the club, with the net proceeds being donated to a charity benefiting “all victims of the war in Ukraine”.

The 55-year-old’s spokesman said he would be playing a “limited” role in trying to broker a “peaceful resolution” to the Kremlin’s attack on its neighbour.

But on Thursday, the Government said Mr Abramovich had received financial benefits from the Kremlin, including tax breaks for his companies, the buying and selling of shares from and to the state at favourable rates, and contacts in the run up to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

“He is one of the few oligarchs from the 1990s to maintain prominence under Putin,” a statement read.

Mr Deripaska, who has a multi-million pound property portfolio in Britain, has also been a prominent figure for years.

In 2008, he was embroiled in a row involving Labour grandee Lord Peter Mandelson and then-shadow chancellor George Osborne.

Both men met Mr Deripaska on his yacht, while Mr Osborne reportedly attempted to solicit a donation for the Tory party from the oligarch – something he denied at the time.

The four others freshly hit by sanctions are:

– Andrey Kostin, a “close associate” of Mr Putin who has “long supported” the Kremlin as chairman of the sanctioned VTB bank;

– Alexei Miller, the chief executive of state-owned energy giant Gazprom, who is “one of the most important executives” backing the Kremlin;

– Nikolai Tokarev, who is said to have served as a KGB officer alongside Mr Putin in the 1980s before rising to be president of the Russia state-owned pipeline company Transneft; and

– Dmitri Lebedev, the chairman of the board of directors of the Bank Rossiya, which is considered the “Kremlin’s private bank”.

Mr Abramovich is also the biggest shareholder in Evraz – a FTSE 100-listed mining firm in which he owned a near-29% stake in February.

The Financial Conduct Authority said that it would temporarily suspend trading in Evraz’s shares “in order to protect investors pending clarification of the impact of the UK sanctions”.

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