The European Parliament adopted a resolution on 21 January 2021, by an overwhelming majority, which calls for sanctioning Russian officials involved in the decision to imprison Alexey Navalny, to ensure that the Russian fortunes of opaque origin are not the welcome to the EU, and that work for the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is immediately stopped.
The near-legendary impunity of Russian oligarchs around the world has been steadily in the headlines for over 20 years. The novelty is that this impunity has become intolerable for democratic countries against a backdrop of interference in elections, systematic infiltration of civil societies and bellicose policies both militarily and in cyberspace. The oligarchs do not simply hide their money and their families in countries where the rule of law guarantees their assets and their security, they have become a real spearhead of the intrusive policies of the Mafia clan of Putin.
Let us take a few recent examples to illustrate the situation.
Russian society has literally been in turmoil since the return to Moscow on Jan. 17 of Alexey Navalny, the regime’s main opponent since surviving poisoning with Novichok, a strictly banned chemical weapon. Investigations into the corruption of ruling circles and their links with the oligarchs enjoy unheard-of popularity. The latest Navalny movie on Putin’s private palace at 1.12 billion euros is breaking all audience records with currently more than 110 million views on Youtube and more than a billion visitors on TikTok under the hashtag linked to Navalny.
Unfortunately, many large-scale corruption cases involving France and its neighbors either fail to find legal outlets or are stuck in endless litigation such as the 2013 complaint against the Vinci group involving oligarch Arkadi Rotenberg.
Bad men, bad husbands
Dishonest to the end, some oligarchs categorically refuse to respect court decisions and do everything to hide their fortune.
The press buzzes with high-profile divorces from oligarchs who fought hard to divorce their wives while hiding their assets. Roman Abramovich, for example, had to sell his second wife Irina a house in the UK at 250 million euros. While Oleg Deripaska finally reached an amicable agreement with his ex-wife Polina for more than 330 million euros in shares. Others, like Vladimir Potanin and his ex-wife Natalia, have still not reached an agreement.
The most recent example is that of Farkhad Akhmedov, a Russian billionaire from Azerbaijan whose ex-wife is awaiting the payment of 500 million euros following a decision of the High Court in London in 2016. Not only does he shamefully refuse to respect this decision, but would strive to hide his assets everywhere with the help of his son Temur, a British citizen. The son is now being pursued by his mother who, if she wins, will get her hands on a London house at 43 million euros and a villa in St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat at 15 million. A good start, before possibly seizing the billionaire’s yacht, estimated at 350 million euros, and which, for the moment, is protected from a change of owner by the Emirati justice.
The most extraordinary thing about this story is that this oligarch would even have manipulated Interpol to submit a document regarding an alleged divorce in Russia in 2000. As the investigation has shown, this document is a forgery and does not in any way call into question the current procedure.
Since then, Farkhad Akhmedov, – including investigations of Russian journalists have shown the very close ties he has with the Russian authorities – even playing a very active role in the very recent war of Azerbaijan, aided by Turkey and more than 2000 jihadists from Syria, against the republic of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Akhmedov would equip the Azerbaijani army, including equipment used in combat (generators, clothes, saws, etc.), and also finance the care of soldiers and support for families, which he readily talks about. in the press and social networks. Mr. Akhmedov would have finally mediated between Putin and Erdogan when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter plane in 2015 as reported by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in an interview with Sputnik Turkey in 2016.
Astonishing impunity for big banks and multinationals against a backdrop of international sanctions
The EU sanctions and the United States are targeting more and more Russian personalities for their various activities in connection either with the war against Ukraine, or with proven criminal activities, or even in connection with gross violations of fundamental rights as in the Sergei Magnitsky affair. At the same time, the surveys reports and financial information leaks show that large-scale money laundering continues.
In France, a complaint against Vinci Concessions Russia, a subsidiary of Vinci, was filed in 2013 by a group of associations for alleged bribery of a foreign public official for the award of the highway construction contract. As specified Sherpa association, ” This case constitutes the first large-scale case that is likely to implicate a large French company for acts of corruption committed in Russia. “. An examining magistrate has indeed been appointed, but since… it has been radio silence. However, the whole pattern of corruption as well as the beneficiaries, including the Russian oligarch Arkadi Rotenberg, have been revealed by environmental activists thanks in particular to the emblematic Evguenia Tchirikova, Goldman prize for the environment in 2012.
Serious consequences for international security
There are many examples of oligarchs doing unpunished crimes, but let’s take the example of Africa where Russia quickly returned to business. In a dozen countries like Libya, the CAR or Sudan, it is the billionaire Yevgeny Prigojine says “Putin’s cook” pulling the strings, including militarily with a group of mercenaries named Wagner. He also tries, with varying degrees of success, to influence the elections, including by using “troll factories” on social networks. Yevgeny Prigojine is now under US sanctions for his role in Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and also under EU sanctions since October 2020 for violations of the arms embargo imposed on Libya. And yet, Prigojine continues its criminal activities around the world with impunity. Journalists who try to investigate are often threatened. Worse, the three Russian journalists on mission in CAR in July 2018 Kirill Radchenko, Alexandre Rastorgouïev and Orkhan Djemal have, according to surveys carried out, been murdered by men from Prigojine.
For his part, the head of Russian foreign intelligence, the SVR, Sergei Naryshkin, visits the luxurious SPAs of God Nissanov almost daily, and even travels around Moscow in diplomatic cars from the Azerbaijani Embassy. This collusion might explain Russia’s weak reaction to the attack on Armenia, its strategic ally in danger.
The current sanctions seem ridiculous in the face of the misdeeds of oligarchs whose families are sometimes domiciled in France, Switzerland or the United Kingdom. Their assets are often in the name of their relatives, which should not prevent large-scale foreclosures. Would it not be high time to put an end to this impunity by following the resolution of the European Parliament?
DISCLAIMER: the author speaks in a personal capacity. The columns published in the section Les Experts d’EconomieMatin do not commit the editorial staff of the site. The papers are neither reviewed nor validated, but submitted via the publication interface.