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A British minister has threatened to seize Russian oligarchs’ yachts after German authorities grabbed Alisher Usmanov’s $600 million luxury vessel.
The Russian billionaire’s 156-metre yacht Dilbar was impounded in a Hamburg shipyard on Wednesday, after the EU introduced sweeping sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Damian Hinds, Britain’s security and borders minister, suggested the UK could follow Germany in seizing the yachts of oligarchs who have close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Asked if the government could make similar seizures, Mr Hinds told LBC Radio: “Yeah, and look, we are going to go further.
“We’ve acted very quickly on the initial round of sanctions — that includes individuals as well as organisations, banks and so on — but we’ve always been clear it is a ratchet approach and there can be more to come.
“Specifically on assets, we’ve got legislation going through parliament at the moment — we’re debating it on Monday — to include bolstering unexplained wealth orders, which are a potentially potent tool that can open investigations to lead to the proceeds of crime being seized.
“We need to gum up that system, we need to stop it, to stop the money laundering, but also, as you rightly say, where it is possible — and obviously we operate within a legal framework — we are absolutely motivated to seize the proceeds of crime.”
The French government on Thursday said it had seized a superyacht owned by a company linked to Igor Sechin, chief executive of Russian energy company Rosneft and close confidant of Mr Putin.
The 86-metre Amore Vero was seized at a shipyard at La Ciotat, near Marseille, the finance ministry said.
“French customs carried out the seizure of the yacht Amore Vero in La Ciotat as part of the implementation of sanctions by the European Union against Russia,” a statement said.
The yacht is owned by a firm “in which Sechin is the main shareholder".
The boat was made by Netherlands-based yacht builder Oceanco in 2013 and includes a swimming pool that can turn into a helipad. It also features a Jacuzzi on one of its decks.
The French Riviera has long been a playground for ultra-wealthy Russians, with many spending their summers there on yachts or in luxury villas.
Last week the French government said it was drawing up a list of assets in the country owned by oligarchs, including yachts, luxury cars and properties.
“If I were an oligarch, in Russia or France, I'd be worried,” French Foreign Minister Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday.
The EU added more Kremlin-linked businessmen and Mr Putin's spokesman to its sanctions blacklist that day.
Mr Sechin was the highest profile name, along with Nikolay Tokarev, boss of pipeline mammoth Transneft.
British prime minister Boris Johnson is under pressure to sanction more Russian oligarchs.
On Wednesday he declined to say whether Roman Abramovich's wealth would be targeted, when challenged by Labour leader Keir Starmer.
Perhaps sensing that the net could be closing in on him, Mr Abramovich announced hours later that he was selling Chelsea FC and said the “net proceeds” would go to help the victims of Ukraine's war.
The Russian-Israeli tycoon is alleged to have close ties to Mr Putin, which he has denied.
After the Russian president ordered his forces into Ukraine last week the UK introduced sanctions on Russian banks, companies and oligarchs.
Mr Hinds on Thursday pledged to admit “hundreds of thousands” of Ukrainians fleeing the conflict in their homeland
Amid criticism of the sluggish pace of the UK’s visa offers for Ukrainians, Mr Hinds insisted the government is “absolutely stepping up to the plate”.
She said the government had “lowered various requirements and salary thresholds so that people can be supported”, and that even if family members of British citizens do not meet the usual eligibility criteria, they will be allowed to enter the UK “outside the rules for 12 months".
Mr Hinds suggested more than double the figure given by Ms Patel could be admitted.
“We want to make sure that we have the warmest, most secure welcome possible, so things like this, the extended family programme that we have for which hundreds of thousands of people, a couple hundred thousand, is the estimate [of whom] may be eligible,” he told Sky News.
“There is absolutely no suggestion of any kind of delay here — people need help now.”
The UK’s extended family programme will be open to applications on Friday.
In addition, Mr Hinds said a community sponsorship scheme would be opened “in a few weeks’ time”.
One million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion, in the swiftest exodus of refugees this century, the UN said on Thursday.
The tally from UNHCR amounts to more than 2 per cent of Ukraine’s population on the move in under a week. The World Bank estimated the country's population at 44 million at the end of 2020.