‘Blood on their hands’: Johnson promises more sanctions on oligarchs after UK moves against Abramovich

Seven Russian plutocrats have ‘blood of Ukrainian people on their hands’, says Truss

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 10 March 2022 22:40 GMT
Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich sanctioned by UK government amid Russian oligarch crackdown

Boris Johnson has promised more sanctions on oligarchs linked to Vladimir Putin, after the UK slapped asset freezes and travel bans on Roman Abramovich and six others said to have “the blood of the Ukrainian people on their hands”.

The prime minister said there could be “no safe havens for those who have supported Putin’s vicious assault on Ukraine” and promised the UK will be “ruthless in pursuing those who enable the killing of civilians, destruction of hospitals and illegal occupation of sovereign allies”.

The long-demanded move means Abramovich-owned Chelsea Football Club can sell no more tickets or merchandise, and there will be a ban on transfers and new contracts. The projected £2bn sale of the club can go ahead only if none of the profit goes to the Russian billionaire.

The club has been granted a special licence to allow it to complete the season, and tickets already purchased remain valid, but gloomy fans were resigned to a period of deep uncertainty after 19 years of rouble-fuelled glory.

Chelsea Supporters’ Trust member Dan Silver said fans may have to swallow a “trophy wilderness” lasting as long as 10 years, but added: “So be it. We just want to make sure there is a Chelsea Football Club moving forward for us and for future generations.”

Abramovich, 55, has always denied maintaining close personal or financial links with Putin. His ownership of Chelsea has long been seen as a form of insurance protecting him from being tied to the fortunes of the Russian president.

But in an announcement on Thursday, the UK government said he has had a “close relationship” with Putin for decades, resulting in “financial benefit or other material benefit”.

These included tax breaks for his companies, the buying and selling of shares from and to the state at favourable rates, and contracts linked to the 2018 Fifa World Cup.

The businessman “is or has been involved in destabilising Ukraine” via the steel firm Evraz, in which he has a significant shareholding and which is “potentially supplying steel to the Russian military”, the statement said.

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

The other six individuals to be sanctioned are:

  • Oleg Deripaska, an industrialist worth £2bn who has cultivated links with the British political establishment and famously hosted George Osborne and Peter Mandelson on his yacht. Deripaska has a multimillion-pound property portfolio in the UK
  • Igor Sechin, known as Putin’s “right-hand man” and chief executive of the Rosneft state oil firm. Described by the Foreign Office as a “particularly close and influential ally of Putin”, he was already on the US and EU sanctions list and last week French authorities seized his yacht
  • Andrey Kostin, a “close associate” of Mr Putin who has “long supported” the Kremlin as chairman of the sanctioned VTB bank
  • Alexei Miller, CEO of state-owned energy company 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
  • Dmitri Lebedev, chairman of the board of directors of Bank Rossiya

Mr Johnson said there was “enough connection, enough link between the Putin regime and the individuals in question, to justify the action”.

“I think when you look at what is happening in Ukraine, and you look to the casual rejection of every norm of civilised behaviour in bombing a maternity hospital, I think people in this country can see that people connected to the Putin regime need to be sanctioned, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said, during a visit to Liverpool.

Britain’s list of 18 oligarchs sanctioned since the invasion began – not including Putin himself or foreign minister Sergei Lavrov – still lags well behind the EU and US.

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.

But Mr Johnson said the government was proceeding “very carefully” in order not to infringe laws around property rights.

Asked if there would be more measures against super-wealthy individuals in Russia’s power elite, he replied: “We’ve taken the powers to do that and certainly, you can expect to see that.”

Britain will join allies from across the international community to “tighten the economic vice around the Putin regime”, he said.

In the details of the sanctions placed on Mr Abramovich, the government described him as “a prominent Russian businessman and pro-Kremlin oligarch”.

It added: “Abramovich is associated with a person who is or has been involved in destabilising Ukraine and undermining and threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, namely Vladimir Putin, with whom Abramovich has had a close relationship for decades.”

Foreign secretary Liz Truss said that “oligarchs and kleptocrats have no place in our economy or society. The blood of the Ukrainian people is on their hands. They should hang their heads in shame.”

Abramovich put Chelsea up for sale on 2 March in the wake of Russia’s unprovoked invasion, promising to donate net proceeds to a charity benefitting “all victims of the war in Ukraine”. He has owned the club since 2003 and oversaw a record of 21 major trophies in 19 years.

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