UK's Liz Truss says sanctions against Russian billionaire 'send clear message'

Britain is looking at legal ways to seize oligarchs' luxury properties without compensation

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with businessman Alisher Usmanov during an awarding ceremony at the Kremlin in November 2018. Sputnik / Reuters
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The UK has imposed sanctions on Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who has had ties to Arsenal and Everton football clubs, to pile pressure on Vladimir Putin over his “barbarous” attacks on Ukraine.

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

But Roman Abramovich, who says he will sell Chelsea FC and give the proceeds to victims of the Ukraine war, is not expected to be a target of the latest sanctions 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.

A government source told PA that it could take some time 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 said.

Ms Truss is 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 introduced by the EU.

On Wednesday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked why Mr Shuvalov, who served under Mr Putin as his deputy prime minister, had not had sanctions imposed.

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

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

“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.”

Both men are part of Mr Putin’s inner circle, said the Foreign Office, which acted in co-ordination with the US.

Mr Usmanov is said to have had significant interests in Arsenal and Everton, and owns the £48 million ($64m) Beechwood House in London’s Highgate and the 16th century Sutton Place estate in Surrey.

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

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

Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, called for the government to go further, by following European allies moves 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,” Mr Tugendhat said.

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

“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," said Mr Ellwood, chairman of the Commons defence committee.

"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.”

Europe and US hitting Russian oligarch superyachts in sanctions

Europe and US hitting Russian oligarch superyachts in sanctions

French authorities say they seized a yacht linked to Igor Sechin, an ally of Mr Putin, who runs oil giant Rosneft. It was also reported Germany had seized another superyacht.

It was understood that UK officials had been told to look for legal routes to seize the luxury British properties of oligarchs with ties to Mr Putin without paying 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 comments, which avoided any criticism of Mr Putin, came after politicians including Mr Starmer called for him to face sanctions.

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 forces had taken over local government headquarters.

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

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said in Estonia that a “line has clearly been crossed” by Moscow regarding thermobaric “vacuum bombs”, which could indiscriminately kill civilians if used in Ukrainian cities.

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

The International Criminal Court opened a war crimes investigation on Wednesday night after Britain and 37 allies referred Moscow over what Prime Minister Boris Johnson called “abhorrent” attacks.

Ukraine has said that more than 2,000 civilians have died during the assault, as a humanitarian crisis unfurled in Europe.

The UN has said that more than one million people have now fled to seek sanctuary from the Russian attacks.

Updated: March 03, 2022, 11:17 PM