Ministers are urged to use new powers against ‘Putin crony‘ oligarchs

Ministers are urged to hammer ‘Putin crony‘ Russian oligarchs with tough sanctions immediately as new Magnitsky law comes into force

Ministers are facing demands to hammer Russian oligarchs with tough sanctions today as the new Magnitsky law comes into force.

Campaigners and MPs want the government to make immediate use of the powers to hit allies of linked to human rights abuses.

The calls come amid signs a wider crack down is already under way on wealthy Russians in Britain – with delays in issuing a new visa to Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. 

The issues with Mr Abramovich‘s visa case are separate to the Magnitsky measures. Sources close to the billionaire have reportedly denied he is being asked to prove where his money comes from, instead blaming normal visa processing delays.

But with relations between the countries the worst for decades, security minister Ben Wallace has made clear he expects more oligarchs will find life ‘trickier‘ in  in the future. 

The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act containing the Magnitsky measures is due to get Royal Assent later, and allows Whitehall to take swingeing steps including freezing assets when people are linked to human rights abuses.

The sanctions were named to commemorate Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who claimed in 2008 that fraud was being committed by corrupt Interior Ministry officials. 

Mr Magnitsky was arrested shortly after, accused of stealing the money himself and died a year later in jail after what supporters claim was a systematic torture campaign. 

Five of the Russians named in US list as Putin‘s cronies who have links to Britain

Alisher Usmanov  

(estimated wealth: £9.6bn)

Born in what is now Uzbekistan, Mr Usmanov has interests in metals and mining as well as some of Russia‘s biggest telecoms and internet firms.

He is also a part-owner of Arsenal FC in and president of the International Fencing Federation.

Last year, he won a libel case against Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny over a video regarding Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev‘s alleged secret wealth.

Mr Usmanov was jailed for six years in 1980 on charges of fraud and ‘theft of socialist property‘ in the Uzbek SSR.

But his conviction was quashed in 2000 when independent Uzbekistan‘s supreme court said it was ‘unjust‘.

 

Roman Abramovich 

(estimated wealth: £8.3bn)

Perhaps best known internationally as the owner of Chelsea FC, he made his fortune in oil and aluminium during the chaotic years that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Mr Abramovich has since embraced a glamorous lifestyle, with vast private yachts, art deals and his ownership of Chelsea, which he bought in 2003 and turned into title contenders in England.

His former business partner, Boris Berezovsky, accused Mr Abramovich of harassing him with ‘threats and intimidation‘ in 2008 so he would sell shares at a lower price than their value.

Mr Berezovsky later brought a High Court suit against Mr Abramovich in London, seeking over £3billion in damages, but it was dismissed in 2012.

 

Arkady Rotenberg 

(estimated wealth: £8.3bn)

Mr Rotenberg is Mr Putin’s former judo partner, and hit the headlines in Britain last month after he lost a battle to stay anonymous following a court dispute in London with his ex-wife over money.

Mr Rotenberg and his ex-wife Natalia were locked in a legal dispute after he argued that he should not have to make a divorce payout to her because his assets within the EU were frozen.

The long-term acquaintance of Mr Putin cannot come to Britain, where his ex-wife now lives in Surrey, because of European Union sanctions.

Most of his money comes from Kremlin-awarded contracts given to his engineering company, including a current project to build a bridge between Russia and Crimea.

Four years ago EU ministers froze funds – and imposed a ‘ban on staying‘ in EU territories – against people whose ‘actions‘ threatened the independence of Ukraine. 

 

Oleg Deripaska

(estimated wealth: £4.6bn)

Mr Deripaska, who is said to be a close ally of Mr Putin, raised an estimated £1billion through his energy firm EN+ after floating it on the London Stock Exchange last year. 

But MI6 raised concerns over the flotation by the 49-year-old father-of-two who has links to military hardware production. 

In 2008, Mr Deripaska was listed by Forbes as the ninth richest man in the world, worth about $28billion.

But when the financial crisis hit he almost went bankrupt, before bouncing back with the help of the Kremlin, according to some reports.

He hit the headlines in 2017 when he was found to have ties with Paul Manfort, President Donald Trump‘s former campaign chairman.

And last year David Cameron‘s former energy minister Greg Barker was appointed chairman of EN+, with critics saying the move was further worrying evidence of the ‘revolving door‘ between Whitehall and the City.

Lord Mandelson was an acquaintance of Mr Deripaska, who hosted him on his super-yacht, where the pair holidayed alongside Nat Rothschild, then shadow chancellor George Osborne and Tory fundraiser Andrew Feldman in 2008.

 

Vladimir Potanin

(estimated wealth: £11.7bn)

Vladimir Potanin, one of Moscow‘s most prominent tycoons, is known in the Britain press for his former marriage to Natalia Potanina.

The couple divorced in 2014 after a 31 year marriage, and she was denied £2.9billion claim by a Russian court because she made it too late.

But she launched a separate legal battle for a world-record £11.7billion against him and there is speculation that she will end up moving her claim to London, where she has a home.

Mr Potanin has previously told courts that he is no longer a billionaire, and is down to his last millions, living on a salary of £373,000 a month.

Meanwhile, Oleg Deripaska is currently taking Roman Abramovich to court in London to prevent the latter from selling his stake in mining firm Norilsk Nickel to rival Mr Potanin. 

Mr Potanin, who is chief excutive of Norilsk Nickel, is being represented by former attorney general Lord Goldsmith, who is said to have charged other Russian billionaires nearly £1,000 an hour. 

The US magnitsky‘s law has since been extended to include allegations beyond that particular case

Financier Bill Browder, who employed Mr Magnitsky and campaigned for parliament to pass the law, said there should be ‘swift and robust action‘ by the UK government and ‘top Putin oligarchs should be on that list‘.

The US version of Magnitsky ‘definitely affected the psychology of Putin, and if the British government were to do anything less it would tell Russia it can keep killing people on British soil‘, he told the Guardian.

John Penrose, a Conservative backbencher and former minister, also said it was time for the UK to follow the US lead. 

‘Given the extensive intelligence sharing and security co-operation between Britain and USA, if we don‘t announce our own sanctions pretty soon it will look extremely odd. 

‘The UK needs to publish a British equivalent of the US‘s list right now.‘ 

The law would stop individuals known to be corrupt or who abuse human rights from travelling to and living in Britain, and politicians backing it say this will help stop London becoming a destination for dodgy Russian money.

The US passed its Magnitsky Act in 2012.

It initially imposed asset freezes on individuals linked to that case – but was later extended to those who had profited from other human rights abuses.

The US list includes Mr Abramovich and other senior business figures like Oleg Deripaska. There are no suggestions that either would feature on a British version. 

The UK is only the third country to adopt similar measures, after Estonia followed the US in 2016. MPs passed an amendment introducing the powers in February, despite some resistance from the government.

Canada and the EU have been considering their own versions.

Security minister Mr Wallace was asked during an interview yesterday if there would be ‘more cases over the next few weeks‘ where wealthy oligarchs were finding it a bit more ‘tricky‘ to live in London.

‘I think I can say yes. We have put in place a series of powers through legislation,‘ he said. 

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson suggested this week that was looking at Donald Trump‘s recent decision to target dozens of tycoons, companies and key allies of Mr Putin.

‘The truth is actually that I think the effect of some of those sanctions particularly on some individuals has been very marked, and I‘ve noted that, but we have our own systems and our own approach,‘ Mr Johnson told reporters on a trip to south America.

‘There is a broader question about what the UK can do to crack down on people close to Putin who may have illicit or ill-gotten wealth.‘  

Separately, sources close to Mr Abramovich today denied he has been ordered to explain the origin of his wealth as part of his visa renewal application.

The Chelsea FC owner is at the centre of the latest spat between Britain and after it emerged his latest UK visa has not yet been approved.

The delays to the owner‘s visa come amid a tougher stance on the foreign money pouring in and out of . 

It has been claimed this week that the Russian is effectively banned from Britain until he can show his money is clean. 

But a source close to the oligarch insisted his finances were not being inspected and the visa renewal was simply taking longer than usual.

An associate told Russia‘s state-owned Sputnik news agency: ‘He was not asked to explain the source of his capital.‘ 

The source said Abramovich is undergoing ‘the usual process of visa renewal, just longer than usual‘ and there are ‘no additional requirements‘. 

Mr Johnson has declined to comment on Mr Abramovich‘s case, but cited a ‘broader question‘ about what Britain can do ‘to crack down on people close to Putin who may have illicit or ill-gotten wealth‘.

He pointed out that US sanctions on Putin‘s cronies has had a ‘very marked‘ effect on ‘some individuals‘.  

It is thought that Abramovich is required to prove his wealth is legitimate and is effectively banned from Britain until he can show his money is clean.

Other super-rich oligarchs in the UK also face being caught up in the clampdown on foreign cash deemed ‘not conducive to public good‘.

It follows months of tensions between the UK and Russia in the wake of the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.

The Government blamed Russia for the attack, with describing the incident as ‘despicable‘ and expelling a number of Russian diplomats.

Britain‘s tough stance on foreign money has sparked a furious backlash from the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin‘s spokesman condemned the UK‘s ‘unfair and unfriendly‘ approach to Russian businessmen.

The crackdown means Mr Abramovich, who is away from Britain and missed his club‘s FA Cup win on Saturday, is being treated as a ‘new applicant‘ for a UK visa, it is understood.

Under new rules to stamp out ‘dirty money‘, the oligarch – who is close to Mr Putin – will have to demonstrate that his fortune is above board.

Mr Abramovich is worth £9.3billion. Technically, he will need to show that at least £2million of his investment in the UK is from legal sources.

He has held UK visas for many years, but the rules were tightened in 2015, after he obtained his most recent 40-month visa.

What are the Magnitsky powers coming into force in Britain?

The sanctions were named to commemorate Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in jail in 2009

The US passed its Magnitsky Act in 2012.

The sanctions were named to commemorate Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who claimed in 2008 that fraud was being committed by corrupt Interior Ministry officials. 

Mr Magnitsky was arrested shortly after, accused of stealing the money himself and died a year later in jail after what supporters claim was a systematic torture campaign. 

The US law initially imposed asset freezes on individuals linked to that case – but was later extended to those who had profited from other human rights abuses.

The US list includes Roman Abramovich and other senior business figures like Oleg Deripaska. There are no suggestions that either would feature on a British version. 

The UK is only the third country to adopt similar measures, after Estonia followed the US in 2016. 

MPs passed an amendment introducing the powers in February, despite some resistance from the government.

Canada and the EU have been considering their own versions.

The passage of the amendment was described by Boris Johnson as ‘an important moment‘ that allowed Britain to ‘act against those responsible for serious offences worldwide‘.

Advertisement