Why are mega-rich men facing global sanctions?

Putin has been warning his allies for years that they must defend themselves against such measures, significantly as relations with the U.S. and E.U. countries soured following the annexation of Crimea. But while some of his loved ones followed his advice and continued to invest in Russia, others kept their money in luxury overseas real estate and football clubs, and their companies remained listed on foreign stock exchanges. Now they are struggling to maintain their assets despite more comprehensive economic sanctions imposed in the modern era.   

SANCTIONED BY: US, EU, UK

According to Forbes, rumoured to be one of Putin’s favourite oligarchs, Alisher Usmanov is also one of the richest, with an estimated net worth of $17.6 billion. The former professional swordsman has been described by the E.U. as a “businessman’s official” who helps the president with business problems. Born in Uzbekistan, still part of the Soviet Union, he runs USM Holdings, a large mining and telecommunications group including Russia’s second-largest mobile network, MegaFon.   

The E.U. announced sanctions on February 28, followed by the U.S. and U.K. He called the sanctions unfair and said all the charges against him were false. USM Holdings appears to want to avoid E.U. sanctions because it owns just under 50 per cent.   

His superyacht Dilbar, named after his mother, is under repair in Hamburg and is under threat of arrest. In the U.K., his visible primary investments are in real estate. In London, he owns Beechwood House, a 65 square meter country house with land in the city’s heart, and near London, Surrey, he holds the Tudor mansion Sutton Place. Both were frozen by the British authorities. 

His business partner, Farhad Moshiri, owns Everton, while Mr Usmanov’s company USM, MegaFon and Yota are the club’s main sponsors, and his involvement is believed to be closer. Everton suspended the sponsorship deal last week, and Mr Moshiri resigned from the USM board.   

SANCTIONED BY: UK, EU

Roman Abramovich, one of Russia’s most famous billionaires thanks to the phenomenal success of his football club Chelsea, came under sanctions later than others, perhaps because he is clearly less powerful than Putin’s other allies. The question of how influential he is in the Kremlin is a matter of much debate. Some speculate that Putin is just tolerating it, but Britain believes the two are close and that Abramovich made money from the relationship, such as earning lucrative deals at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Abramovich vehemently denies close ties to Putin or the Kremlin, but the U.K.’s share of his $12.4 billion fortune has now been frozen.    

Shortly before the U.K. sanctions were announced, he put Chelsea up for sale for £3bn. His 150 m² home in London’s Kensington Palace Gardens was also reportedly up for sale.  

Mr Abramovich made his money in the 1990s and was one of the first oligarchs during Boris Yeltsin’s presidency. His most significant breakthrough was purchasing the oil company Sibneft at a bargain price.    

His assets include the world’s third longest yacht, Eclipse, which recently left the British Virgin Islands and headed east across the Atlantic. His other megayacht, Solaris, is in the Mediterranean.  

In recent years, he began to leave the U.K. In 2018, he decided not to apply for a U.K. visa extension and instead used his newly obtained Israeli passport to visit London. And because he has attended every Chelsea home game, he has rarely been seen at Stamford Bridge in recent years and is now barred from entering the U.K.  

SANCTIONED BY: US, UK

When President Putin came to power, Oleg Deripaska was incredibly wealthy, peaking at around $28 billion, but is now thought to be worth only $3 billion. He fought for fortune in the 1990s, winning a bitter battle for the aluminium industry.   

The United States claimed involvement in money laundering, corruption, extortion and racketeering and said it “ordered the murder of a businessman and has ties to a Russian organized crime group.” During the 2008 financial crisis, he was struck, and Putin needed to bail him out. In 2009, President Putin humiliated him by publicly saying that he had stolen a pen.   

SANCTIONED BY: US, EU, UK

Igor Sechin’s ties to Vladimir Putin are long and deep, according to the E.U., which on February 28 announced sanctions against him. He is said to be one of Putin’s most trusted and closest advisers and his personal friend, and it is assumed that they communicate daily.    

His progress was achieved by ruthlessly pushing back opponents – his nickname in the Russian press is Darth Vader. A leaked 2008 U.S. embassy cable described it as “so obscure that it joked that it may not actually exist, but rather some kind of urban myth, a bogey invented by the Kremlin to instil fear.” In 2014, the United States imposed sanctions against him, which they called “completely unreasonable and illegal.” New sanctions against him were announced on February 24.    

Mr Sechin has spent his career alternating between politics and business, sometimes holding senior positions in both simultaneously. When Putin was prime minister, he was deputy prime minister and now heads the state oil giant Rosneft. Mr Sechin worked with Mr Putin at St. Petersburg City Hall in the 1990s, and it is widely believed that he worked for the much-feared KGB, although he never admitted it openly.    

While in Russia, no one knows how much money Mr Sechin has, but the French seized a yacht associated with him called Amore Vero after his second wife, Olga Sechin, continued to post photos of herself on board. In addition, there are several indications that he has a significant overseas fortune that can be easily discovered, and it may be difficult to trace and freeze his other assets.    

SANCTIONED BY: US, UK

Alexey Miller is another old friend of Vladimir Putin. A grey man, he too had built his career on loyalty to the president, starting in the 1990s when he was Putin’s deputy on the international relations committee of the St. Petersburg mayor’s office. He’s been in charge of the hugely influential state-owned gas company Gazprom since 2001, but that was an unexpected date, and it’s widely believed he’s just following orders from his old boss. The U.S. ambassador to Moscow in 2009 called Gazprom “inefficient, politically motivated and corrupt.” 

Mr Miller has not been sanctioned since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, but when he was listed in the U.S. in 2018, he said he was proud of it. “Do not include in the first list.    

Mr Friedman, who is worth an estimated $12 billion, lives in London in a house near the Lord’s Cricket Ground and owns the vast Athlone House property in North London, for which he paid £65 million in 2016. 

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