Chelsea owner Abramovich and Rosneft boss Sechin hit by UK sanctions

  • UK sanctions seven more oligarchs it links to Kremlin
  • Group includes Chelsea owner Abramovich
  • Chelsea out put on hold, UK might sell club
  • Trading suspended in Evraz shares

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. The move follows criticism that Britain has been acting too slowly.

The action puts on ice Abramovich’s plans to sell the Premier League club, effectively placing the current European champions under government control. The team can carry on playing but the government said it was open to selling the club so long as Abramovich himself did not benefit. read more

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“There can be no safe havens for those who have supported Putin’s vicious assault on Ukraine,” 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 described Britain as Putin’s right-hand man, was already on the US and EU sanctions lists and last week French authorities seized his yacht. read more

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 new sanctions on Wednesday against 14 more oligarchs, meaning its restrictions apply to 862 people and 53 entities. read more

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 United States 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 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 enormously 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 he would sell Chelsea and donate money from the sale to help victims of the war in Ukraine. Johnson’s spokesman said the government was open to selling the club but it would require another license. read more

“If the club is sold, Abramovich will not benefit,” sports minister Nadine Dorries told reporters. read more

The government has issued a special license to allow Chelsea to play fixtures and pay staff, but will limit the sale of tickets and merchandise. read more

Anita Clifford, a lawyer who specializes in asset freezing and sanctions matters, said the measures temporarily deprived Abramovich of his assets but Chelsea could be sold with his and the government’s agreement. The money could potentially go to help Ukrainian war victims.

“The proceeds…would be frozen too and would not simply flow to the designated person unless there was a license or agreement in place to either cover this, or cover the proceeds going to a nominated beneficiary which both parties considered appropriate,” she told Reuters.

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 had brought Abramovich financial or material benefit from either Putin directly or the Russian government, it said.

It said he was “involved in destabilizing 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.

Abramovich could apply to the foreign office for an internal review of the asset freeze, or apply to the High Court in London for a review of the decision, a process that could take 18 months or longer, Clifford said.

‘LONDONGRAD’

London has long been a top destination for Russian money, with wealthy Russians using it as a luxury playground and educating their children at fee-paying schools. It has earned the nickname Londongrad.

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 the oligarchs and those close to Putin’s administration.

Opposition lawmakers said the news of the sanctions was welcome but they had taken far too long.

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

“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.”

($1 = 0.7599 pounds)

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

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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