American policy makers, including some senators — like Republican Roger Wicker of Mississippi — are calling for the full “Navalny 35” list of Vladimir Putin cronies to be officially sanctioned by the US.
That’s a list of the top individual alleged “key enablers” of Putin’s kleptocracy, compiled by Russian opposition leader Alexi Navalny, who survived a near-fatal nerve agent poisoning by Putin thugs after he exposed the extent of the dictator’s corruption and money laundering — including the construction of a billion dollar presidential palace — and who is still speaking out even from prison during a kangaroo court hearing.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the US has now sanctioned Putin and some of his cronies — but not all. And the UK, Canada and more than 15 other countries have already agreed to ban Russian private planes from flying over “democratic skies.” Still, many prominent oligarchs have not been touched and are still enjoying their private planes and megayachts — although that could change.
“The oligarchs are deeply concerned about travel bans because they undermine their reputations and philanthropy, which they use to bolster their public image,” said Louise Shelley, director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University.
At the top of the Navalny 35 list is Roman Abramovich, the billionaire oligarch and British soccer club owner known as “Putin’s banker.”
Abramovich, worth more than $13.8 billion, recently nabbed citizenship in Portugal. In late 2017, Abramovich transferred $92 million worth of New York City property to his ex-wife, Dasha Zhukova — just before a 2018 round of sanctions was announced. Those sanctions penalized people close to Putin and were intended “to counter and deter malign Russian activities” that harm democracy around the globe.
Oligarchs’ ability to transfer wealth to others is another loophole that can’t be ignored, Shelley said. “This ability of politically exposed people to transfer property to friends and family is a way to get around the law, and we need legislation to address it,” she contended.
On Friday, UK members of parliament named Abramovich one of the “key enablers” of the Putin regime — something Abramovich has in the past denied. He has also been effectively barred from entering the UK, where he owns a $170 million mansion near Kensington Palace as well as the Chelsea soccer club. (He handed the “stewardship and care” – or direct control – of the club to a group of trustees on Saturday.)
He also owns a $600 million megayacht, Solaris, which boasts its own missile detection system; his other megayacht, Eclipse, was spotted docked in the tiny island of Saint Martin earlier this week, sources tell The Post. Meanwhile, UK prime minister Boris Johnson mistakenly said last week that Abramovich was already on the UK’s sanctions list; British foreign secretary Liz Truss then said the country wasn’t ruling out adding him in the future, according to reports.
Paul Massaro, a US Congressional counter-corruption and foreign policy adviser, claims that Abramovich and others in Putin’s orbit are in the Russian dictator’s wallet – “acting on behalf of the Russian state to infiltrate Western society and push Putin’s agenda.”
“They are part of the Russian governing apparatus and we don’t even see it, but they are infiltrating their way in to subvert democracy,” he contends. “They are his arms abroad – and they are in our system. We have come to rely on them for raw materials, and as the people running Russian state-owned or influenced companies. But they are appendages of the Russian state.”
One Russian political activist, Ilya Zaslavskiy, calls them “kremligarchs” because “oligarchs implies some independence, which they do not have.”
Many of these so-called oligarchs own property in New York. But it’s difficult to connect them to their holdings because they have been successful in hiding their identities behind multiple layers of anonymous shell companies and trusts, thanks to the fact that the real estate industry has managed to nab “temporary exemptions’’ — for two decades — from American anti-money laundering laws since the Patriot Act of 2002.
“The people sanctioned this week — by this point eight years after the first sanctions — don’t have traceable property in their names in the United States, which makes it difficult to seize,” said Tom Firestone, a partner at Stroock & Stroock & Levin, who specializes in transnational investigations and co-chairs the firm’s white-collar and internal investigations practice.
Global Witness, a non profit investigating the secret offshore world, says there is at least $12 trillion hidden in offshore accounts. That includes trillions of dollars allegedly stolen from the people of Russia and used, in part, to strengthen Putin’s autocracy at home while destabilizing — and even invading — democracies abroad.
Here are the Oligarchs of New York:
Roman Abramovich Estimated Worth: $13.8 billion
Not currently on a US sanctions list. Owns two yachts and owns the Chelsea soccer club in Britain. Known as Putin’s banker. Shortly before an earlier sanctions round in 2018, Abramovich transferred $92.3 million worth of real estate to his ex-wife, Dasha Zhukova, who is on the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Shed.
Zhukova, now married to shipping heir Stavros Niarchos, is also a New York real estate developer. She is currently building “Ray Harlem,” a 21-story new-construction building with 222 apartments that will also house the National Black Theater, at 2033 Fifth Avenue at 125th St. In addition, she is founder of Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Garage magazine and the digital platform Artsy.
Zhukova has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on her museum’s Instagram site, stating that they have “decided to stop work on all exhibitions until the human and political tragedy that is unfolding in Ukraine has ceased. We cannot support the illusion of normality when such events are taking place.” Zhukova declined to comment on her ex-husband’s status, however, and whether or not she agrees with policy makers who want family members of sanctioned oligarchs to also be deprived of illicit wealth and its accouterments — property, yachts, art, jets and jewels — obtained and retained thanks to direct ties to dirty deals and dictators.
In a statement, she told the Post: “The brutal and horrific invasion taken by Russia against Ukraine is shameful. As someone born in Russia, I unequivocally condemn these acts of war, and I stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people as well as with the millions of Russians who feel the same way.”
*Ownership of the three properties above all was transferred to Zhukova.
Oleg Deripaska Estimated Worth: $4.1 billion
On a US sanctions list: Barred from entering the United States. Began as a metals broker, trading aluminum. US officials say Deripaska is close to Putin and the Russian mob and is wanted for murder, money laundering, bribery and racketeering.
The US froze his assets but let his business partner’s ex-wife, Dasha Zhukova, live in his East 64th Street mansion for a time. She is no longer there. His companies were taken off the sanctions list when he reduced his ownership (but allegedly not his control) to under 50% His partners include Abramovich and Len Blavatnik.
In 2000, Deripaska founded Rusal — a partnership between Sibirsky Aluminium and Abramovich’s Millhouse Capital. By 2007, Rusal merged with SUAL Group, which is owned by sanctioned oligarch Viktor Vekselberg and his partner and friend, the Ukrainian born American and British citizen, Len Blavatnik. Deripaska’s ex-wife Polina Yumasheva is the daughter of the late Boris Yeltsin’s right hand, Valentin Yumashev.
HOMES CONNECTED TO HIM:
*11 E. 64th St. (bought for $42.5 million in 2008) It’s the former home of Alec Wildenstein and Jocelyn Wildenstein.
*The ownership of the above two properties was transferred to relatives of Deripaska.
Len Blavatnik Estimated worth: $34.2 billion
Not on a US sanctions list. His yacht is named after his birthplace, Odessa. One of the world’s richest men — said to be the richest in Britain, where he also has citizenship and a knighthood from the queen — Blavatnik is a metals and energy tycoon who also owns Warner Music. He has given controversial donations to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Hudson Institute, Harvard, Yale and Oxford, which now has the Blavatnik School of Government, to name a few.
When he gave $12 million most recently to CFR, 56 high-profile members, including Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, wrote an explosive letter to the group’s head, Richard Haas, urging him to return the money. He “acquired his initial wealth by way of highly questionable transactions in tandem with the regimes of [ex-Kazakhstan president] Nursultan Nazarbayev and Vladimir Putin,” according to the September 2019 letter, obtained by The Post: “Blavatnik protected that wealth in part through strategic alliances with security personnel and practices that would surely be considered criminal in any democracy.”
Blavatnik declined to comment at the time, Haas did not address the allegations against Blavatnik. Instead, he touted Blavatnik’s other donations, to Harvard, Yale and Oxford: “We are proud to find ourselves in such distinguished company,” he said. In the past, Blavatnik’s spokesman told the Post that Blavatnik has not spoken to Putin since 2000 and “plays no role in Russian politics.”
Blavatnik made his first fortune buying up ex-Soviet state natural resources and companies as the Soviet empire collapsed. His empire now extends to property, film, music, biotech and hotels around the world. In 2013, the Russian government paid Blavatnik $7.5 billion for his share in TNK-BP, a Russian oil company. (His partners were sanctioned oligarchs Viktor Vekselberg and the founders of the EU and US sanctioned Alfa-Bank: Mikhail Fridman, German Khan and Alexei Kuzmichev.)
HOMES CONNECTED TO HIM:
2 E. 63rd St., a 75 foot-wide townhouse, the former New York Academy of Sciences, 2005 purchase, $31.25 million After buying the New York Academy of Sciences building, Blavatnik launched the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists, established by the Blavatnik Family Foundation in 2007, and administered by the New York Academy of Sciences
15 E. 64th St., a $51 million purchase in 2007. The seller was Edgar Bronfman. After buying Bronfman’s townhouse, Blavatnik bought his company, Warner Music, for $3.3 billion.
Not on a US sanctions list. Kuzmichev is a co-founder of the Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private bank and the fourth largest in that country. Alfa is on US and EU sanctions lists. He co-controls Alfa Group and LetterOne — which has interests in banking telecom and natural resources — with sanctioned oligarchs Mikhail Fridman and German Khan. The trio have been partners since 1989. They were part of the oil consortium TNK-BP with Blavatnik and Vekselberg.
Dmitry Rybolovlev Estimated net worth: $6.7 billion
Not on a US sanctions list. Rybololev is a fertilizer oligarch and president of the Monaco Football Club. He made his fortune thanks to his ties to Putin, said Russian political activist IIlya Zaslavsky, who has written extensively on oligarchs.
Rybololev also owned a battery factory in North Carolina: It went through a name change — from “Alevo” to “Innolith’’ after its assets were sold and it was reformed after a bankruptcy — but the Alevo leadership and Russian ties are still in place, Russia watchers say. It helps power the US electric grid and policy experts have reportedly said that its Russian links are a threat to national security.