UK under pressure to seize oligarchs' assets after French and Germans go after yachts

3 March 2022, 16:13 | Updated: 3 March 2022, 16:52

Boris Johnson is under pressure to act on oligarch's assets. Inset: The 512-ft Dilbar
Boris Johnson is under pressure to act on oligarch's assets. Inset: The 512-ft Dilbar. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The UK government is coming under increasing pressure to go after oligarchs' assets after French and German authorities seized yachts in an EU clampdown on Vladimir Putin's allies.

French authorities today said they had seized a yacht linked to Igor Sechin, who runs Russian oil giant Rosneft, as part of sanctions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The French Finance Ministry said in a statement that customs authorities carried out an inspection of the Amore Vero in the Mediterranean resort of La Ciotat.

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The boat had been slated to stay there for repair work until April 1 but, when customs officers arrived, crew members were preparing an urgent departure even though the work wasn't finished, the statement said.

The boat was seized to prevent its departure.

Meanwhile, a yacht belonging to Alisher Usmanov, the billionaire who Everton Football Club recently cut ties with and previously owned part of Arsenal, has been seized by German authorities.

The 512-ft craft, called the Dilbar and worth a reported $600m, was seized at a shipyard in Hamburg.

It comes as the UK government fell under pressure to pursue the assets of Russian oligarchs as part of its next sanctioning steps.

Referencing Mr Usmanov's yacht, security minister Damian Hinds was pressed by LBC's Nick Ferrari on whether similar action on elite Russians should be taken in Britain.

It comes after Roman Abramovich announced he is selling Chelsea for reportedly as much as £3bn, with questions being raised as to why his assets have not yet been seized.

Mr Hinds said: "Look, we are going to go further.

"We've acted very quickly on the initial round of sanctions - that includes individuals as well as organisations, banks and so on - but we've always been clear it is a ratchet approach and there can be more to come.

"Specifically on assets, we've got legislation going through Parliament at the moment... to include bolstering unexplained wealth orders, which are a potentially potent tool that can open investigations to lead to the proceeds of crime being seized."

"We are absolutely motivated to seize the proceeds of crime," he added.

Senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood added to calls for the UK to confiscate oligarchs' assets before eventually returning their wealth to the Russian people.

The chairman of the Commons Defence Committee said: "We should leave no stone unturned in isolating these oligarchs from their investments including the seizure of properties and yachts.

"There's a race to squeeze Putin given the war crimes he's now committing in Ukraine and London continues to be seen as ground zero as to where oligarchs' investments sit. So we need to be impounding these assets in days, not weeks or months.

"There's going to be increasing public anger that we're not doing enough to help our fellow Ukrainians in their hour of need."

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He added: "Every day we wait offers more time for the oligarchs to move their wealth to other parts of the world. Don't forget it's not their wealth, this is the stolen wealth from the Russian people which is utilised to keep Putin in power."

Downing Street denied the Foreign Office has been held back from issuing sanctions against Russian oligarchs because officials are struggling to prove reasonable grounds.

"I wouldn't recognise that," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said. "We are not being held back from introducing sanctions."

"We've gone further and faster than we ever have done before but we do have laws that we need to abide when it comes to how we apply these sanctions and we are following them."

He denied it could take months to prove the grounds to sanction some Russian oligarchs.

"You will see over the coming days and weeks more and more sanctions come in," the spokesman added.