Abramovich distances himself from Putin in call for EU
Lawyers for famous Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich have offered to personally tell EU officials that he does not support Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
The 55-year-old tycoon is best known as the former owner of English football club Chelsea FC.
But on March 17, his name joined a rogues gallery of hundreds of Russians facing asset freezes and visa bans by the EU for their role in the war, including Russian officers accused of rape and torture.
Abramovich recently sued a series of British newspapers and US publisher HarperCollins for denying claims that he was a regime insider.
He is suing the Council of the EU in the EU court in Luxembourg to have the sanctions annulled.
And on May 25, his Belgian law firm, Brussels-based Daldewolf, also wrote to EU officials in Brussels asking for his delisting.
His 35-page letter, seen by EUobserver, seeks to distance him from Putin.
He also describes him as a saving negotiator with Ukraine and accuses the EU of repeating “anti-Semitic” attacks.
“After the purchase of Chelsea Football Club, Mr. Abramovich became one of Russia‘s most famous businessmen. It is, however, wrong to translate this notoriety into involvement or influence in Russia,” the authorities said. Daldewolf’s lawyers at the Council of the EU in Brussels.
“Mr. Abramovich has never expressed his support for the policy of the Russian Federation towards Ukraine,” they said.
He made his fortune before Putin came to power, now “worked largely outside of Russia”, and “his wealth was largely managed and invested outside of Russia”, they noted.
Daldewolf attached a second letter, addressed “to whom it may concern” and signed by David Arkhamia, Ukrainian MP and chief peace negotiator, on May 27, which also stated that Abramovich was “actively participating in the peace negotiations between the Russia and Ukraine” and that “thanks to [his] efforts” more than “400,000 civilians were evacuated”.
And Abramovich’s lawyers have described him as a victim of attacks by people with openly anti-Semitic beliefs, such as former Russian general Alexander Korzhakov, who called Abramovich a “cashier” to the regime.
They evoke “the role played by anti-Semitism in the gratuitous and defamatory accusations made against him”, which “are still repeated today and are also present in the testimonies brought by the [EU] advice”.
“We remain at the Council’s disposal to present our arguments orally,” said two of his lawyers.
It would take a new deal involving all 27 EU states to remove it from the blacklist.
But Russian billionaires are struggling to find sympathetic ears in Brussels amid Putin’s horrific aggression in Ukraine, diplomatic sources have said.
The EU has sanctioned about 40 members of Russia’s top business families since the start of the war.
Many of them, like Abramovich, are suing the EU in Luxembourg to get away with it. Many also reached out to the EU in Brussels, but their appeals seemed to be met with disdain.
“I think almost all the oligarchs – they have money, so they can afford it – have sent us letters like this [Abramovich’s] requesting delisting,” an EU diplomat told EUobserver.
Lawyer and lobbying
Meanwhile, the latest round of EU sanctions against Russia, which came into force last Friday (June 3), banned the provision of consultancy services to Russian clients, but allowed legal services.
And the new policy begs the question – who is who?
Daldewolf declined to answer questions about his work, citing “professional secrecy”.
EU officials said delisting appeals to the EU Council were normally part of the sanctions process, but had no legal connection to prosecution in the EU court.
And Belgian lawyers indulged in speculation about the wisdom of EU sanctions more broadly in what looked more like lobbying than advocating.
EU sanctions against Russian oligarchs “will have no effect” on Putin’s war, they said, as Western companies such as Alcon, Aucha, Credit Suisse, Metro, Philip Morris and UniCredit were paying anyway much more taxes in Russia.
“They [EU sanctions] will not exert any pressure on the Russian authorities and will therefore have no useful effect,” Daldewolf told the EU Council.
Their letter shed new light on their client.
Abramovich started in business when he was 21 with a company called уют (meaning “Comfort” in Russian) that sold children’s toys, the letter said.
He now had Israeli, Portuguese and Russian nationalities and his “family office” was in London, where he spent so much time that he and his businesses paid £41million. [€48m] tax in the UK in 2019/2020, he noted.
EU sanctions prevented him from traveling to Europe despite his Portuguese passport, the lawyers complained.
And they portrayed Abramovich as a valued friend.
His philanthropic donations to Israeli causes meant that “several of the country’s top institutions sent letters of support to Mr. Abramovich and warned against [sic] the detrimental impact the sanctions would have on him,” their letter read.
He ‘brought over £2bn of his private funds into the UK over the past 20 years’, bought ‘a number of private properties’ and ’employed almost 1,000 people in the UK’ , added Daldewolf.