Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich has been sanctioned for his links to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the UK hit a fresh round of oligarchs accused of having the “blood of the Ukrainian people … on their hands”.
Branded a pro-Kremlin oligarch, Mr Abramovich was targeted with an asset freeze and a travel ban on Thursday after ministers came under sustained pressure to target him over Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
The updated sanctions list, which hits seven new elite individuals, said Mr Abramovich has had a “close relationship for decades” with Mr Putin, which the football club owner has previously denied.
“This association has included obtaining a financial benefit or other material benefit from Putin and the government of Russia,” it said.
Oleg Deripaska, an industrialist worth £2 billion who has had close links with the British political establishment, was also targeted, as was Mr Putin’s “right-hand man” Igor Sechin, who is the chief executive of the Rosneft state oil firm.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the Government targeted the oligarchs to “ramp up the pressure on the Putin regime and choke off funds to his brutal war machine”.
“With their close links to Putin they are complicit in his aggression,” she said.
“The blood of the Ukrainian people is on their hands. They should hang their heads in shame.”
Ministers issued a licence authorising Chelsea to continue playing matches, given the “significant impact” the sanctions will have.
Season ticket holders and those with games already booked can still attend matches, but no new tickets can be sold and the club’s merchandise shop will close.
Jets and yachts owned or chartered by Mr Abramovich, who is worth about £9.4 billion, can been seized, the sanctions say.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “There can be no safe havens for those who have supported Putin’s vicious assault on Ukraine.
“We will be ruthless in pursuing those who enable the killing of civilians, destruction of hospitals and illegal occupation of sovereign allies.”
Mr Deripaska, who has a multi-million pound property portfolio in Britain, has been a prominent figure for years.
In 2008, he was embroiled in a row involving Labour grandee Lord Peter Mandelson and then-shadow chancellor George Osborne.
Both men met Mr Deripaska on his yacht, while Mr Osborne reportedly attempted to solicit a donation for the Tory party from the oligarch – something he denied at the time.
Last week, Mr Abramovich, who has owned Chelsea since 2003, said he would sell the club, with the net proceeds being donated to a charity benefiting “all victims of the war in Ukraine”.
The 55-year-old’s spokesman said he would be playing a “limited” role in trying to broker a “peaceful resolution” to the Kremlin’s attack on its neighbour.
The Government said Mr Abramovich had received financial benefits from the Kremlin, including tax breaks for his companies, the buying and selling of shares from and to the state at favourable rates, and contacts in the run up to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The four others freshly hit by sanctions are:
– Andrey Kostin, a “close associate” of Mr Putin who has “long supported” the Kremlin as chairman of the sanctioned VTB bank;
– Alexei Miller, the chief executive of state-owned energy giant Gazprom, who is “one of the most important executives” backing the Kremlin;
– Nikolai Tokarev, who is said to have served as a KGB officer alongside Mr Putin in the 1980s before rising to be president of the Russia state-owned pipeline company Transneft; and
– Dmitri Lebedev, the chairman of the board of directors of the Bank Rossiya, which is considered the “Kremlin’s private bank”.
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