Sanctioning Russian billionaire Usmanov ‘sends clear message’, says Truss

A travel ban and full asset freeze was also announced against former Russian deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov.

03 March 2022

Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who has had ties to Arsenal and Everton football clubs, has been sanctioned to pile pressure on Vladimir Putin over his “barbarous” invasion of Ukraine.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also announced a travel ban and full asset freeze against former Russian deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov on Thursday evening, taking the total number of oligarchs sanctioned to 15.

But Roman Abramovich, who says he will sell Chelsea FC, is not expected to be among the latest tranche of sanctioned oligarchs after it was conceded it could take “weeks and months” to build legally sound cases.

But Ms Truss will establish an Oligarch Taskforce of ministers and officials from departments including the Home Office, the Treasury and the National Crime Agency to co-ordinate sanctions and build cases against targets.

The move came after a Government source acknowledged to the PA news agency that it could take “weeks and months” to build a legally watertight case against some Russian oligarchs.

“We’re working round-the-clock and going as quick as we can,” the source added, with Ms Truss understood to have tripled the size of the sanctions team in recent months.

Mr Usmanov, whose commercial ties with Everton have been suspended, has already had his assets frozen as part of measures taken by the European Union.

On Wednesday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer questioned why Mr Shuvalov, who served under Mr Putin as his deputy prime minister, had not been sanctioned.

Mr Shuvalov owns property in Westminster and is the chair of the management board of VEB, one of the sanctioned Russian banks.

Ms Truss said: “Our message to Putin and his allies has been clear from day one – invading Ukraine would have serious and crippling economic consequences.

“Sanctioning Usmanov and Shuvalov sends a clear message that we will hit oligarchs and individuals closely associated with the Putin regime and his barbarous war. We won’t stop here. Our aim is to cripple the Russian economy and starve Putin’s war machine.”

(PA Graphics)

Both men are part of the Russian president’s inner circle, according to the Foreign Office, which acted in a co-ordinated move with the US.

Mr Usmanov is said to have had significant interests in both Arsenal and Everton and owns the £48 million Beechwood House in London’s Highgate and the 16th century Sutton Place estate in Surrey.

Mr Shuvalov was said to have headed up Russia’s bid for the 2018 football World Cup.

Earlier in the day, senior Tories called for the immediate seizure of oligarchs’ assets in the UK, such as luxury yachts and property, and the return of them to the Russian people “as soon as possible”.

(PA Graphics)

Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, called for the Government to go further to follow European allies to seize oligarchs’ assets.

“We should be looking immediately to seize those assets linked to those who are profiting from Putin’s war machine, holding it in trust and returning it to the Russian people as soon as possible,” he told PA.

Senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood echoed the call, warning there would be “increasing public anger that we’re not doing enough to help our fellow Ukrainians in their hour of need”.

The chairman of the Commons Defence Committee told PA: “There’s a race to squeeze Putin given the war crimes he’s now committing in Ukraine and London continues to be seen as ground zero as to where oligarchs’ investments sit. So we need to be impounding these assets in days, not weeks or months.

“Every day we wait offers more time for the oligarchs to move their wealth to other parts of the world. Don’t forget it’s not their wealth, this is the stolen wealth from the Russian people which is utilised to keep Putin in power.”

French authorities have said they seized a yacht linked to Igor Sechin, an ally of Mr Putin who runs oil giant Rosneft, under EU sanctions. It was also reported Germany had seized another megayacht.

It was understood UK officials had been tasked with looking at legal routes for seizing the luxury British properties of oligarchs with ties to Mr Putin without paying them compensation.

“It is time to shut down the racket of illicit money in British property,” a Government source said.

Mr Abramovich, the Russian/Israeli billionaire who has owned Chelsea since 2003, announced he would sell the club, with the “net proceeds” going to a charity he would set up to “benefit all victims of the war in Ukraine”.

His statement, which avoided any criticism of Mr Putin, came after politicians including Sir Keir called for Mr Abramovich to face sanctions.

Roman Abramovich
Roman Abramovich (Mike Egerton/PA)

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said a second round of talks was unable to broker peace but he did offer hopes of “humanitarian corridors” to allow civilians to flee areas of fighting, a suggestion echoed by Mr Putin.

The port city of Kherson became the first major city to fall since the invasion began a week ago, with Russian military claiming to have seized control and Ukrainian officials saying that forces had taken over local government headquarters.

The Kremlin was pressing its offensive on multiple fronts, but a long column of tanks has apparently been stalled outside the capital Kyiv for days.

Speaking during a visit to Estonia, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said a “line has clearly been crossed” by Moscow by deploying thermobaric “vacuum bombs” which could indiscriminately kill civilians if used in Ukrainian cities.

It was understood that Mr Wallace was not suggesting that vacuum bombs, which suck in oxygen to create a devastating, high-temperature blast, have been used in Ukraine.

His comments came after the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a war crimes investigation on Wednesday night after Britain and 37 allies referred Moscow over what the Prime Minister described as “abhorrent” attacks.

Ukraine has said that more than 2,000 civilians have died during the assault, as a humanitarian crisis unfurled in Europe, while the United Nations has said that more than one million people have now fled to seek sanctuary from the Russian invasion.

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