MILAN – European governments oppose Russian oligarchs to put pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to abandon his war in Ukraine by taking superyachts and other luxury real estate from billionaires on sanctions lists.
Italy has seized 143 million euros ($ 156 million) since Friday in luxury yachts and villas in some of the most scenic locations, including Sardinia, the Ligurian coast and Lake Como.
“We must be able to stop Putin’s attack by bringing him to the table, and he will not go into subtleties,” Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Mayo told Italian state television on Friday, announcing Italy’s plans to begin confiscating property belonging to Putin’s oligarchs.
Italian financial police quickly seized the Lena superyacht owned by Gennady Timchenko, an oligarch close to Putin, in the port of San Remo; The 65-meter (215-foot) “Lady M”, owned by Alexei Mardashov, in the neighboring Imperia, is valued at 65 million euros, as well as villas in Tuscany and Como.
The villa of Russian-Uzbek business tycoon Alisher Usmanov was seized along the Tony Emerald Coast in northern Sardinia, which has long been a platform for the world’s richest, according to the Italian news agency LaPresse.
This week, German officials denied reports of the seizure of Usmanov’s yacht in the port of Hamburg. According to the British government, he also owns the Beechwood House in Highgate, valued at £ 48 million, and the 16th-century Sutton Place estate in Surrey.
Activists say that following the oligarchs is the same as following Putin.
“Vladimir Putin keeps all his money with the oligarchs,” said William Browder, a London-based financier and human rights activist who was once a major investor in Russia but faced the government in the late 2000s.
“And it’s a very effective psychological warfare to start capturing yachts. I think it demoralizes for the oligarchs, and it demoralizes for Vladimir Putin. And this is a guy who … manages the image, you know, this is a man who has pictures of himself with his shirt taken off on a horse. And that’s why it’s a bad image when one of his best friend’s yachts was hijacked in the south of France, “Browder said.
The German Ministry of Economy said it was in the process of “swift and effective implementation of sanctions against Russia”, but declined to say publicly which assets had been confiscated, if any.
So far, French authorities have seized a yacht linked to Igor Sechin, an ally of Putin, who runs Russia’s oil giant Rosneft, in the Mediterranean resort of La Ciotat, where she arrived in January for repairs. French officials said Thursday that the crew was preparing for an emergency departure when they arrived, even through repairs still underway.
Britain, the long harbor of oligarchs ’wealth, is under pressure to do more. Putin’s proxy, Roman Abramovich, who owns Chelsea’s top football club, said this week that he would put the club up for sale. Sanctions were not imposed on him, but opposition politicians and members of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s party asked why not.
The UK has frozen the assets of individuals on its list and is amending the law to facilitate the persecution of those on Allied lists, following criticism that it is acting too slowly. However, it will take a long time to unravel as many assets are in front companies.
Danica Kirk in London, Aritz Parra in Madrid, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Barbara Surk in Nice, France, have contributed to this story.
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