Roman Abramovich: Chelsea-owner return to UK halted by government crackdown on Russian visas

Comes amid increased scrutiny of Russian investors in the UK 

Alina Polianskaya,Lizzie Dearden
Wednesday 23 May 2018 11:50 BST
Who is Roman Abramovich?

Roman Abramovich has apparently been caught up in a government crackdown on people applying for investor visas and the Chelsea Football Club owner is unable to enter Britain because his is yet to be renewed.

News of his situation emerged as the Kremlin hit out at Britain’s “unfriendly” actions towards Russian businesses, with spokesman Dimitry Peskov telling reporters there was Russophobic hysteria in Britain and unfair competition.

“Investors in other countries will see what is happening in the United Kingdom," he said, adding: "I would suggest that as far as investor attractiveness is concerned, this is a step backwards for UK.”

Downing Street confirmed it was taking a fresh look at tier 1 visas, which Mr Ambramovich is believed to hold. They allow anyone who invests more than £2m in the British economy to stay for 40 months.

The Russian oil magnate is understood to have a fortune of around $11.5bn according to Forbes magazine, making him Russia’s 11th richest man. It is understood he acquired his wealth primarily through the oil industry, before buying Chelsea FC in 2003.

One of only a few oligarchs to have successfully transitioned from Boris Yeltsin’s rule to Vladimir Putin's, Mr Abramovich is considered close to the current president.

There is clearly a personal bond and some have even talked about their relationship as being that of father and son.

Pragmatism is also undoubtedly at play. Unlike colleagues Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Mr Abramovich has obviously kept out of politics.

He has also agreed, at Mr Putin’s insistence, to become Governor of Chukotka, investing a great deal of his own money in the impoverished far eastern district.

While Mr Ambramovich’s visa has not been rejected, sources say the Home Office has been unusually slow to process his application.

He returned to Russia before his visa ran out in April and was forced to miss his team’s FA Cup final victory against Manchester United.

More than 700 Russians with Tier 1 visas – which Mr Abramovich is believed to have held – are to be retrospectively scrutinised after former Home Secretary Amber Rudd asked officials in March, to review how those who came to the UK between 2008 and 2015 acquired their wealth.

When asked about Mr Abramovich’s visa, security Minister Ben Wallace said they do not comment on individual cases.

“In 2014 and 2015 we took action to tighten up the Tier 1 investor route," he said. "This included introducing new powers to refuse applications where there are reasonable grounds to believe funds have been obtained unlawfully. As a result of these reforms, applications reduced by 84 per cent."

He added: “As the Prime Minister and former Home Secretary made clear, we are taking another look at how the route operates and are undertaking further checks on investors who came to the UK through this route before the reforms were introduced.”

There is no suggestion that Mr Abramovich has done anything wrong, but the delay comes amid heightened diplomatic tensions between Britain and Russia, following the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury this year, along with recent British military involvement in Syria.

The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee also released a hard-hitting report, accusing Mr Putin and his allies of "hiding and laundering their corrupt assets in London", this week.

MPs said that the government needed to show “stronger political leadership”, with further sanctions against “Kremlin-connected individuals” and action to close loopholes in the existing regime.

It added that currently it was “business as usual” in the City for wealthy Russian oligarchs.

Having faced criticism about “turning a blind eye” to the situation, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson insisted this was not the case, and said: “We are determined to drive dirty money and the money launderers out of the UK and we’ll use all the powers that we have – including the new powers in the Criminal Finance Act – to clamp down on those that threaten our security.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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