Johnson under pressure to take action against Abramovich and Usmanov

Boris Johnson under pressure from MPs to enforce sanctions against billionaire Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and Everton-linked Alisher Usmanov after Alexei Navalny named them as Vladimir Putin’s ‘key enablers’ in human rights abuses

  • Boris Johnson has been told by MPs to sanction Russian oligarchs Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov
  • The duo were named by detained Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny last week as people who should be targeted
  • Navalny has been detained after spending five months in Germany following a poisoning he blames on Russia
  • Abramovich and Usmanov were said to be ‘key enablers and beneficiaries of Russian kleptocracy in the West’
  • Abramovich owns Chelsea while Usmanov used to be an Arsenal shareholder and now sponsors Everton 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been told by MPs to sanction Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and Everton backer Alisher Usmanov, both Russian oligarchs involved in English football, over human-rights abuses. 

Both Abramovich and Usmanov were named by detained Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny last week as people who should be targeted by Western governments in a bid to curb human-rights abuses by Vladimir Putin’s Russian state. They were described as ‘key enablers and beneficiaries of Russian kleptocracy, with significant ties and assets in the West’.

Navalny, a prominent face of the opposition towards the controversial Russian President, was detained at a Moscow airport earlier this month after spending five months in Germany recovering from nerve agent poisoning that he blames on Moscow.

His detention has been condemned by Governments around the world, with the UK and United States urging Russia to release him.

Labour former minister Dame Margaret Hodge and Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokeswoman Layla Moran backed the idea to impose sanctions on the likes of Abramovich and Usmanov on Wednesday and challenged the Government in the Commons to take action.

The Government has refused to speculate on future sanctions but Ministers do have the power to impose travel bans and freeze the financial assets of individuals involved in human rights abuses.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been told by MPs to sanction Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (L) and Everton backer Alisher Usmanov (R) over human-rights abuses

Abramovich – whose net worth is around £10bn –  owns a number of expensive properties across the globe, including a £30million penthouse overlooking London’s River Thames and a 162.5m yacht (pictured in September 2020), named ‘Eclipse’

Last year the Foreign Office sanctioned six Russians who were said to be complicit in the attempted murder of Navalny and his allies have since released a further list of eight people they deem to be in close contact with the Kremlin.

Abramovich and Usmanov have always denied these claims and a spokesperson for the Chelsea owner insisted there is ‘no foundation’ for them. Usmanov, a former Arsenal shareholder, successfully sued Navalny for libel back in 2017. 

Abramovich, whose net worth is believed to be around $14billion (£10bn), bought Premier League football club Chelsea in 2003 and has pumped his fortune into Stamford Bridge. Under his ownership, Chelsea have won numerous Premier League titles, the Champions League and become one of world football’s most valuable clubs.

The 54-year-old has admitted to using his extraordinary wealth to enjoy ‘an extravagant lifestyle’ in the past and he owns a number of expensive properties across the globe, including a £30million penthouse overlooking London’s River Thames.

Abramovich’s 162.5m yacht, named ‘Eclipse’, is one of the many stunning gems within his fortune. It can accomodate 36 guests in 18 cabins and boasts a cinema, conference facilities, children’s playroom, beauty salon, dance floor, two swimming pools, sauna and even a missile defence system.

Usmanov, the $16.5bn (£12bn) metals and technology tycoon, sold his shares in Arsenal for a reported £550m in the summer of 2019. He has now switched his investment to Everton and his holding company USM sponsors the club’s Finch Farm training ground.

Abramovich has admitted to using his fortune to live an ‘extravagant liftestyle’ and his fortune has transformed Chelsea FC

Usmanov, pictured at a north London derby in 2013, sold his shares in Arsenal for a reported £550m in 2019 and has now invested in fellow Premier League club Everton

In January 2020, the Russian tycoon then ploughed a further £30million into Goodison Park with an agreement in place for the naming rights for the club’s new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock, which is scheduled to be completed by 2023. 

Usmanov has also made significant investments in a number of high-profile companies, including Airbnb, Twitter, Uber and Spotify.

Speaking in the Commons, Dame Margaret said: ‘The best way in which we can show our support for Alexei Navalny is not by words but by actions, not by investigations but by convictions.

‘Navalny himself has said that he wants the international community to use sanctions against complicit Russian kleptocrats who live outside Russia. He has named Abramovich and Usmanov, both of whom have considerable wealth, property and links to English football clubs.

‘But on Facebook Navalny has said that the sanctions haven’t worked because “the West has refrained from sanctioning the people with the money”. Is that true?’ 

Abramovich, pictured alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2016, says there is ‘no foundation’ for Navalny’s claims

Usmanov was awarded Russia’s Order of Merit for the Fatherland by Putin at a ceremony in the Moscow Kremlin back in 2018

Usmanov owns his own super yacht, named Dilbar, and here it is pictured anchored in Weymouth bay on June 08, 2020

Foreign Office minister Wendy Morton, in her reply, said: ‘We continue to work and protect human rights and civil society in Russia.

‘We are considering all options for further action but, as I’ve previously said, it’d be inappropriate for me to speculate on any future listings.’

Ms Moran earlier said: ‘Chelsea Football Club have indeed been in the news this week a lot (after sacking manager Frank Lampard and replacing him with Thomas Tuchel), though largely not for this.

‘But Alexei Navalny’s team have released a list of names drawn up by Navalny just days before his return and arrest which included Chelsea FC’s owner Roman Abramovich and Everton FC’s Alisher Usmanov among those who they believe should be sanctioned.

‘Both individuals who are described as key enablers with significant ties and assets in the West.

‘I ask, is the minister taking these allegations seriously and will she provide assurances that anyone no matter their wealth or position would be considered for Magnitsky sanctions?’

The Government has refused to speculate on future sanctions after Labour former minister Dame Margaret Hodge (R) asked for them to be imposed

Ms Morton replied: ‘Try as she might to ask me to speculate on further listings, alas I’m not going to do that.’

Conservative Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, also said the Russian people have had their country’s wealth ‘stolen off them’ by a ‘gangster elite’.

He said: ‘When will we see a proper list of the ill-gotten gains that President Putin has stolen off the Russian people over the last 20 years?

‘When will we see a breakdown of his hidden wealth through UK jurisdictions or in areas where the UK has influence so that the Russian people can know how much money has been stolen off them by this gangster elite?’

Ms Morton, answering an urgent question on sanctions, earlier told MPs: ‘The UK is appalled by the politically-motivated detention of Alexei Navalny on arbitrary charges.

‘As the Foreign Secretary made clear, Mr Navalny is the victim of a despicable crime and we call for his immediate and unconditional release.’

She added: ‘We keep further sanctions designations under constant review, however, it would not be appropriate to comment at this stage on possible future designations as this could undermine their impact.

‘We carefully consider all options under the relevant sanctions regimes.’

Law enforcement officers clash with participants during a rally in support of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia on January 23, 2021

Among those to pressurise Prime Minister Johnson into taking action is former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, another famous figure who is opposed to Putin’s regime. 

He told The Guardian: ‘In Europe nobody can now send a more vocal message to the Kremlin than the Brits. As long as the money keeps flowing into London and to the free world, Putin’s power is untouched.’

Navalny fell into a coma while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on August 20 and he was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to a Berlin hospital two days later.

Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to the Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.

Russian authorities have refused to open a fully-fledged criminal inquiry, citing a lack of evidence that Mr Navalny was poisoned.  

Newly-elected US President Joe Biden has phoned Putin to raise Navalny and other contentious issues, while his new Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a sharp warning to Russia to ensure the safety of Navalny – and called on the Kremlin not to ‘muzzle’ opposing voices. 

Navalny’s campaign is gathering momentum and, on Wednesday, Moscow police launched a series of raids on the apartments and offices of his family and associates. 

The raids came four days before protests that Navalny’s supporters have called for Sunday. Demonstrations calling for his release took place in more than 100 cities across the nation last Saturday, a strong show of rising anger toward the Kremlin. Nearly 4,000 people were reported arrested at those protests.

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