British intelligence services are planning to severely sanction the Russian-Israeli owner of Chelsea FC, hitting billionaire Roman Abramovich’s assets in the UK and limiting his ability to operate in Europe, as it targets Russian oligarchs with close ties to the Kremlin, a senior government source told the Telegraph at the weekend.
Abramovich has been included on a list of targets along with five other figures, which Prime Minister Theresa May has approved, the report said.
“These individuals have been identified as having an extremely close professional and financial relationship with President Putin,” the source said. “We believe they are involved in doing the Kremlin’s bidding on a whole range of fronts, which includes using their financial muscle on behalf of the Russian state.”
He added: “Roman Abramovich is on the list because he is believed to be Mr Putin’s most important financial supporter.
“The aim of the measures we intend to take is to limit their maneuverability and their ability to travel and operate freely in Britain, Europe and elsewhere.
The official said the move was “an important part” of London’s response to a nerve gas attack on a former spy in Salisbury in March, which the UK has blamed on Moscow.
Others on the list include industrialist Oleg Deripaska and business magnate Alisher Usmanov.
A source close to Abramovich denied he had close relations with Putin but did not comment further.
Abramovich immigrated to Israel in May under the Law of Return, which allows Jews to become citizens of Israel. Abramovich, worth $12.5 billion according to the British press, instantly became the richest person in the nation.
Abramovich’s British visa expired in April. His previous visa was granted before more rigorous regulations were instituted in April 2015. Even before moving to Israel, Abramovich was a frequent visitor to the country.
As a new citizen, Abramovich is exempt from taxes in Israel on income earned abroad for 10 years, and need not declare the sources of that income for the same period.
Abramovich would have to explain the source of his wealth to receive a new British visa, according to reports. The United Kingdom has scrutinized Russian businesspeople and diplomats more carefully since the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, in March. Several Russian diplomats were expelled following the incident.
In September Swiss media reported that Abramovich is suspected of money laundering and of having contacts with criminal organizations, citing federal police. Abramovich denies the allegations.
Abramovich had applied to become a resident of the Swiss canton of Valais in July 2016, according to the report. Cantonal authorities originally accepted the request, explaining that he would be “a very attractive taxpayer for the community and the canton.”
But federal authorities intervened and in January 2017 concluded, in an assessment handed to immigration authorities, that accepting Abramovich as a citizen could damage Switzerland’s reputation and even create a public security risk.
The oligarch has never been charged of money laundering or of having ties with criminal groups, but police concluded that based on the earlier investigations it “has reason to believe that a portion of Abramovich’s assets were arrived at illegally.”
JTA contributed to this report.