Newsdeck

Chelsea F.C.

UK imposes asset freezes on Abramovich, Rosneft boss Sechin

UK imposes asset freezes on Abramovich, Rosneft boss Sechin
The Stamford Bridge stadium prior to the Uefa Champions League round of 16, first-leg soccer match between Chelsea FC and Lille OSC in London, Britain, on 22 February 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Andy Rain)

LONDON, March 10 (Reuters) - Britain imposed sanctions on Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich and Igor Sechin, the chief executive of Russian oil giant Rosneft, hitting them with asset freezes and travel bans because of their links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The two billionaires plus Oleg Deripaska and four other Russian oligarchs are the most high-profile businessmen to be added to the British sanctions list since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and follows criticism that Britain has been acting too slowly.

The action puts on ice Abramovich’s plans to sell the Premier League club, effectively putting the current European champions under government control. The team can carry on playing, the sports minister said.

“There can be no safe havens for those who have supported Putin’s vicious assault on Ukraine,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

“We will be ruthless in pursuing those who enable the killing of civilians, destruction of hospitals and illegal occupation of sovereign allies.”

There had been loud calls from British lawmakers for action to be taken against Abramovich and other Russian oligarchs, with criticism that Johnson’s government was not moving fast enough compared to the European Union and the United States.

Sechin, who Britain described as Putin’s right hand man, was already on the U.S. and EU sanctions lists and last week French authorities seized his yacht.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow describes as a ‘special military operation’, Britain has imposed sanctions on about 20 Russian-linked figures. The EU announced fresh sanctions on Wednesday against 14 more oligarchs, meaning its restrictions apply to 862 people and 53 entities.

15 BILLION POUNDS

The others added to the British list were Deripaska, who has stakes in En+ Group, Dmitri Lebedev, chairman of Bank Rossiya, Alexei Miller, the chief executive of energy company Gazprom, and Nikolai Tokarev, the president of the Russia state-owned pipeline company Transneft.

In total Britain said the seven figures, who with the exception of Abramovich had previously been sanctioned by the U.S. or the EU, had a collective net worth of 15 billion pounds. ($19.74 billion).

Thursday’s action means Abramovich is banned from carrying out transactions with any British individuals and businesses, and cannot enter or stay in Britain. His spokeswoman declined immediate comment.

The 55-year-old, who has Israeli and Portuguese citizenship, became one of Russia’s most powerful businessmen by earning fabulous fortunes after the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. Forbes has put his net worth at $13.3 billion.

He bought Chelsea in 2003 for a reported 140 million pounds and his investment contributed hugely to the most successful era in the team’s history as they won five Premier League titles, five FA Cups and the Champions League twice.

They beat Brazilian side Palmeiras in February to become FIFA Club World Cup champions for the first time, having defeated fellow English side Manchester City to become European champions last season.

Last week, Abramovich announced that he would sell Chelsea and donate money from the sale to help victims of the war in Ukraine. The government said it had issued a special licence to allow Chelsea to play fixtures and pay staff, but will limit the sale of tickets and merchandise.

The entry on the British sanctions list described Abramovich, who Britain said was worth 9 billion pounds, as “a prominent Russian businessman and pro-Kremlin oligarch who had enjoyed “a close relationship for decades” with Putin.

This association with Putin had brought Abramovich a financial or material benefit from either the Russian president directly, or the Russian government, the listing added.

It said he was “involved in destabilising Ukraine” and undermining its sovereignty and independence via the London-listed Russian steelmaker Evraz EVRE.L in which he is the biggest shareholder.

Britain’s financial watchdog suspended trading of shares in Evraz, which plummeted 16% after the sanctions were announced.

Evraz has been involved in providing financial services, or funds, goods or technology that could damage Ukraine’s independence including providing steel that might be used to make Russian tanks, the British treasury said.

 

‘LONDONGRAD’

London has long been a top destination for Russian money and Johnson has vowed to crack down on those using the British capital as a luxury playground, enjoying upmarket hotels and educating their children at fee-paying schools, earning it the nickname Londongrad because of its popularity with oligarchs.

But Johnson’s critics, who point out his Conservative Party has close ties to Russian donors who have donated about 1.9 million pounds since he came to power, say the government has been slow to impose sanctions and asset freezes on Russia oligarchs and those close to Putin’s administration.

Opposition lawmakers, who have been demanding action against Abramovich and others, said the news of the sanctions was welcome, but had taken far too long.

“This is the right decision. But it should not have taken the government weeks,” David Lammy, the foreign affairs spokesman for the Labour Party said.

“Too few oligarchs linked to Putin’s rogue regime have so far faced sanctions from the UK government. We are lagging far behind allies in the EU and the US.”

By Michael Holden and William James

(Reporting by Kate Holton, Alistair Smout, and Paul Sandle; writing by Michael Holden; editing by William James and Frank Jack Daniel)

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.