An unusual number of rented private jets have reportedly been flying from Russia to Israel since the invasion of Ukraine, a possible indication that some wealthy Russians are looking at ways to slip around sanctions imposed to punish their country for the attack.
At least seven private jets have arrived in Israel from Russia over the past week, Channel 12 news reported Sunday.
The planes were reportedly chartered from a company that provides jets for hire in Europe, and originated in Turkey. Tracking data showed the planes made trips from Turkey to Moscow and St. Petersburg, then from those cities to Tel Aviv.
The unknown identity of the passengers, and the timing of the journeys, has prompted speculation that those on board were Russian oligarchs who have been slapped with sanctions over the assault on Ukraine, the TV report said.
In the wake of the Russian attack on Ukraine, Western countries applied crippling sanctions on Russia, with the US along with numerous other countries also leveling penalties on Russian oligarchs. Though Israel has not yet decided if it will join the move, it reportedly banned the oligarchs Saturday from parking their planes in the country.
According to Hebrew media reports, the Israel Airports Authority instructed staff at Ben Gurion Airport not to approve long-term parking of private jets belonging to US-sanctioned Russians, to prevent them from being stashed in Israel in an attempt to bypass sanctions.
Channel 12 reported the planes are now limited to no more than 48 hours on the ground in the country.
The station speculated that some may have been using the hired private jets to avoid moving their own planes and to hide their movements as the turmoil surrounding the conflict in Ukraine continues.
The oligarchs — government officials and business owners who have amassed vast wealth in an economy where only loyalists of Russian President Vladimir Putin can get ahead — are seen as vulnerable because much of their wealth is tied to Western interests.
The sanctions matched earlier EU measures against Russia’s wealthiest figures, but also include a ban on travel to the US and preventing the targeted people from hiding their assets through transfers to family members.
On Friday, Channel 12 news reported that an inter-ministerial committee is set to give recommendations to the government this week regarding sanctions that Israel could employ against Russia.
One scenario that might potentially need to be addressed is how to prevent sanctioned Russian oligarchs from using Israel as a financial safe haven for their assets. As things stand, the network said, there is no legislation that would prevent oligarchs with Israeli citizenship from putting their money into bank accounts here.
The report also said policymakers in Israel recognize they won’t be able to maintain their relatively ambiguous policy regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for much longer, as the crisis there further escalates.
Agencies contributed to this report.