U.K. and U.S. Sanction Russian Oligarch “Financial Fixers”

Published: 13 April 2023

Alisher Usmanov

Alisher Usmanov, one of several Russian oligarchs who have relied on financial fixers to launder his ill-gotten gains across the world. (Photo: Gulustan, Wikimedia, License)

By Henry Pope

The U.K. and U.S. governments sanctioned Wednesday several “financial fixers” of sanctioned Russian oligarchs, including Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov, whose efforts to launder hundreds of millions of dollars have been intensely scrutinized since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February.

This new wave of sanctions, levied by both the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.K. Foreign Office, go after individuals who have knowingly helped sanctioned Russian oligarchs hide their assets throughout the world’s financial networks.

“We are closing the net on the Russian elite and those who try to help them hide their money for war,” said U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who added that “there’s no place to hide” for them.

Members of the network blacklisted by the U.K. include Demetris Ioannides and Christodoulos Vassiliades of Cyprus.

Ioannides, the Foreign Office said, engineered “the murky offshore structures” which allowed Abramovich to hide over £760 million ($950 million) in assets following Russia’s invasion.

Vassiliades, meanwhile, was found to be “at the center of a web of trusts and offshore companies that link Usmanov and Sutton Place Estate,” a 16th-century English grand manor. Usmanov’s connection with the historic building was identified last year by OCCRP’s Russian Asset Tracker.

More than £18 billion (US$22.4 billion) in Russian assets have been frozen by the British government alone since last February. It is because of this that oligarchs have sought out financial fixers who can shield their wealth behind offshore trusts, shell companies, and foreign bank accounts.

Abramovich was discovered in January earlier this year to have placed 1.4 billion euros ($1.5 billion) with Credit Suisse—a bank that has shown no qualms with laundering money for the world’s torturers, corrupt politicians, and organized criminals—through offshore firms.

Through these firms, Abramovich managed to infiltrate almost half a billion into several markets now closed to him, including two of the U.S.’s largest steel companies.

Authorities have relieved the notorious oligarch of billions of his ill-gotten gains since Russian president Vladimir Putin launched his all-out offensive against Ukraine last year. His close association with Putin also cost him his ownership of the Chelsea Football Club, his former trophy asset.

Alisher Usmanov is one of Russia’s wealthiest billionaires who holds significant interests in multiple sectors including metals and mining, telecommunications, and information technology.

He was sanctioned by the U.S. in March last year for supporting Putin’s regime, just over a week after Russia’s tanks crossed the border into Ukraine.

Since his blacklisting, financial authorities throughout the West have seized millions from his estate, including his megayacht, his villas, and other luxury assets. But this pales in comparison, investigators believe, to the billions he still has hidden throughout the world in trusts, secretive offshore companies, and Swiss bank accounts.

The U.S. also sanctioned another Cyprus national, one Demetrios Serghides, who has assisted Usmanov acquire real estate for both himself and his family.

Also targeted by the Treasury was Usmanov’s sister, Saodat Burxanovna Narzieva, for helping the oligarch conceal his ill-gotten gains by passing his millions off as her own. Narzieva was similarly sanctioned by the EU in April last year.

As for the oligarch’s business associates, Russian nationals Nazim Tofik Ogly Efendiev and Valery Dzhekovich Kazikaev, and Russian–Cyprus national Vakhtang Ernstovich Kocharov, were blacklisted due to their senior positions within Usmanov’s metals and mining companies Metalloinvest and Udokan Copper.

Altogether, 25 individuals are now considered persona non grata by the U.S., as are 29 separate entities.

“Today’s action underscores our dedication to implementing the G7 commitment to impose severe costs on third-country actors who support Russia’s war,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson. “The United States and our allies and partners will continue to disrupt evasion schemes that support Putin on the battlefield.”

“We will keep cutting them off from assets they thought were successfully hidden,” Cleverly said. “We won’t stop until Putin does.”