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NYT: Russian oligarchs enjoy luxury life in UK under sanctions exemptions

by Martin Fornusek and The Kyiv Independent news desk July 27, 2023 10:20 PM 3 min read
Mikhail Fridman attends the plenary session of the Congress of Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) on the sidelines of Russian Business Week in Moscow in March 2017. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
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Sanctioned Russian oligarchs spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on luxury life in the U.K. thanks to numerous sanction exemptions, the New York Times reported on July 27.

In some cases, the oligarchs were allowed more than $1 million a year in living expenses, while in others, sanctions were removed after legal battles, the newspaper reported.

According to the New York Times, sanctions that are publicly announced by London are often softened by exemptions knowns as "licenses."

Thanks to such licenses, Ukraine-born Russian Israeli oligarch Mikhail Fridman reportedly spent almost $400,000 over 10 months to retain 19 staff members, including drivers, private chefs, and housekeepers.

He also receives almost $9,000 per month in monthly allowances, the New York Times reported. His former business partner, Russian Latvian oligarch Petr Aven, received a little less than $70,000 per month, according to the investigation.

U.K. officials have reportedly allowed Aven to spend more than $1.3 million while under sanctions.

The New York Times said that the British Treasury granted at least 82 licenses in 2022 and more applications are pending. While licenses are a common practice also in other countries, the U.S. grants them on a humanitarian basis or to cover basic living expenses and legal fees.

London applies the licenses much more liberally, taking into consideration the money flowing into the British economy, the New York Times commented.

Transparency International reported on Feb. 18, 2022, that Russian individuals accused of corruption or links to the Kremlin hold over $1.9 billion in property in the U.K.

Many Kremlin-backed oligarchs were permitted to live in the country through the so-called "golden visa" scheme, allowing wealthy individuals to buy the right to live in the U.K. by investing in British-registered companies.

Shortly before the start of the invasion, London scrapped the golden visa scheme and applied a number of sanctions against Russian entities and individuals as the full-scale war broke out.

According to the Ukrainian War & Sanctions database, the U.K. has imposed sanctions against 1,489 individuals and 178 entities over support or involvement in Russia's full-scale aggression in Ukraine.

Fridman, who was born in Lviv, is the founder of the Russian company Alpha Group. He is currently under international sanctions and was arrested in the U.K. in December 2022 on suspicion of money laundering, fraud, and perjury. He was released on bail.

Investigative reporters discovered in May that his company Alpha Insurance Firm insures cars of the Russian military fighting in Ukraine.

The company is also reported to provide services to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin's Main Office of Special Programs, which guards him. Another company Fridman co-owns, X5 Retail Group, also cooperates with the Russian military through the group's grocery chains.

Investigative Stories from Ukraine: Companies of Russian oligarch Fridman allegedly support Russian war effort in Ukraine
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