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Roman Abramovich seen at Israel’s airport, just before his plane leaves for Turkey

Russian-Israeli oligarch’s private aircraft had flown into Ben Gurion from Moscow on Sunday night; his superyacht Solaris leaves Montenegro marina

Russian-Israeli oligarch Roman Abramovich is seen at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, March 14, 2022. (Screenshot: Twitter)
Russian-Israeli oligarch Roman Abramovich is seen at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, March 14, 2022. (Screenshot: Twitter)

Russian-Israeli oligarch Roman Abramovich was photographed in the VIP departure lounge at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on Monday, shortly before a private plane he owns took off for Istanbul. The sighting marked the first time Abramovich has been seen since he was hit by sanctions in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Flight data flagged by a Twitter account that tracks the movement of Abramovich’s six aircraft showed that a Gulfstream G650 belonging to the oligarch flew from Ben Gurion to Istanbul, where it landed Monday afternoon. It had initially been expected to head to Moscow, but did not fly directly to the Russian capital.

In footage posted online, Abramovich was seen before takeoff at Ben Gurion Airport’s VIP Fattal Terminal. Several Hebrew media reports said he was on board the departing plane, but there was no immediate confirmation.

Abramovich, an Israeli passport-holder, was sanctioned by the United Kingdom last week, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, essentially blocking him from his home in London.

On Sunday night, his aircraft had taken off from Moscow and landed in Tel Aviv.

The Hebrew reports said Abramovich was aboard, and spent just one day in Israel. Earlier Monday, a large vehicle was seen leaving his Herzliya home.

Meanwhile, Abramovich’s superyacht Solaris was on the move again, after being spotted near the small Adriatic Sea state of Montenegro.

On Saturday, the 533-foot vessel was seen outside the Porto Montenegro marina in the coastal town of Tivat. The Montenegrin daily Vijesti reported it had arrived from Barcelona.

There was no immediate comment from the Montenegrin authorities on the arrival of the $600 million vessel. The NATO country joined Western sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

It was not clear where Solaris was heading next.

Russian oligarchs in the past days have sought to move their superyachts to safe locations to avoid confiscation because of the sanctions. Authorities in Italy, France, and other countries have impounded several luxury vessels.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said earlier Monday that Israel is working to ensure that the country’s financial institutions do not make possible the circumvention of crippling sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

“Israel will not be a route to bypass sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and other Western countries,” Lapid said.

Israel has so far avoided joining Western sanctions against Russian oligarchs, seeking to take on the role of mediator between Russia and Ukraine, as it has good relations with both countries.

According to Hebrew media reports, however, the Israel Airports Authority has instructed staff at Ben Gurion Airport not to approve long-term parking of private jets belonging to US-sanctioned Russians. Channel 12 reported last week that the planes are now limited to no more than 48 hours on the ground in Israel.

Abramovich took on Israeli citizenship in 2018 after the UK refused to renew his visa there in 2018, amid a diplomatic spat between London and Moscow. He continued to own the English soccer club Chelsea, but tried to sell the team late last month once it became clear he would likely be targeted by sanctions.

On Thursday, London hit him with an assets freeze and travel ban as part of new UK government sanctions targeting seven Russian oligarchs. The sanctions freeze his ability to sell Chelsea.

The UK government has estimated Abramovich’s net worth at £9.4 billion (11.1 billion euros, $12.2 billion).

In this photo, released by the Israel’s Government Press Office, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (left) talks with Israeli President Isaac Herzog at Stamford Bridge, in London, November 21, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/Israel’s Government Press Office via AP)

Abramovich is a major donor to causes in Israel, including the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem.

This has placed Israel in the difficult position of having to adhere to US and EU sanctions while trying to maintain good relations with several prominent donors to Jewish and Israeli causes.

Yad Vashem announced last week that it was suspending a newly announced “strategic partnership” with Abramovich, weeks after it said he had pledged an “eight-digit donation”  to strengthen its endeavors in the areas of Holocaust research and remembrance. Its announcement Thursday did not specify what would become of this money.

The US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, said Friday that Israel should get onboard with Western sanctions, and bar Russian oligarchs. “You don’t want to become the last haven for dirty money that’s fueling Putin’s wars,” Nuland said.

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