- The Russian billionaire is effectively banned until he can show his money is clean
- Mr Abramovich is apparently being treated as a new applicant for a British visa
- It follows months of tensions over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury
Roman Abramovich will have to prove his wealth is legitimate after Whitehall launched a war on oligarchs.
The billionaire Russian Owner of Chelsea football club is effectively banned from Britain until he can show his money is clean.
Other super-rich oligarchs in Britain also face being caught up in the clampdown on foreign cash deemed ‘not conducive to public good’.
Above: Boeing 767-33A/ER owned by Roman Abramovich Cost: $ 120-170
It follows months of tensions between the UK and Russia in the wake of the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.
The Government blamed Russia for the attack, with Theresa May describing the incident as ‘despicable’ and expelling a number of Russian diplomats.
Last night Britain’s tough stance on foreign money sparked a furious backlash from the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin’s spokesman condemned the UK’s ‘unfair and unfriendly’ approach to Russian businessmen.
The crackdown means Mr Abramovich, who is away from Britain and missed his club’s FA Cup win on Saturday, is being treated as a ‘new applicant’ for a UK visa, it is understood.
Under new rules to stamp out ‘dirty money’, the oligarch – who is close to Mr Putin – will have to demonstrate that his fortune is above board.
He has held UK visas for many years, but the rules were tightened in 2015, after he obtained his most recent 40-month visa.
Mr Abramovich, Britain’s 13th-richest man who bought Chelsea in 2003, was last in the UK in early April. His Tier 1 investor visa has since expired and has so far not been renewed.
Invest £2million to fast-track visa
The Tier 1 visa allows anyone who invests more than £2million in Britain to apply to live here.
The scheme, dubbed the ‘golden visa’, gives wealthy tycoons residency in exchange for buying UK bonds or shares through a bank.
It is open to entrepreneurs from outside the European Economic Area and Switzerland.
It allows Russian oligarchs to jump to the front of the immigration queue with applications that cost £1,623. Tycoons investing £2million can apply for permanent residence after living in the UK for five years, while those offering £5million can settle after three years, and those with £10million after just two. They can also bring their spouses or partners, and children aged under 18. The original investment is returned to the applicant, along with any interest accrued, meaning the Government effectively pays rich migrants to live in Britain – where they can buy lavish homes and send their children to top schools.
Since 2008, 3,709 Tier 1 visas have been issued, including 807 to Russians. A total of 6,482 family members came to the UK under the scheme, including 1,549 Russians.
The businessman has risen from humble beginnings to be one of Russia’s wealthiest men and a friend of President Putin.
There is no suggestion he obtained his fortune unlawfully. However, in common with all wealthy foreign investors, he will have to satisfy officials that £2million of his money invested in the UK – the minimum for investor visas – is legitimate.
Last night Downing Street said rules had been tightened since the Russian tycoon first obtained a British visa in 2003. No 10 declined to comment directly on the case of Mr Abramovich.
But it is understood he will have to follow new procedures for those seeking a Tier 1 visa for wealthy investors.
Previously, they needed to show simply that they had £2million to invest in Britain.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said officials can refuse visas ‘if there are reasonable grounds to believe … the funds were obtained unlawfully or by conduct which would be unlawful in the UK, or if the character or conduct or associations of a third party providing the funds is not conducive to public good’.
Applicants are required to open a UK-regulated bank account for the funds to ensure they are ‘subject to UK due diligence and anti-money laundering checks’ before getting a visa.
Under the system, Mr Abramovich could face exhaustive questions from the Home Office about his business interests.
The crackdown follows complaints that the UK was becoming a home for dirty foreign money. Yesterday, MPs released a report accusing Mr Putin and allies of ‘hiding and laundering their corrupt assets in London’.
The Kremlin has hit back over the visa row, complaining that Russian businesses ‘often encounter unfriendly and unscrupulous actions’.
A further factor is the diplomatic crisis over the poisoning of former Russian spy Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, in March. No 10 said officials had begun a retrospective review of Tier 1 visa holders after the attack. Downing Street said officials were ensuring all holders, including 700 Russians, meet the new test requiring them to show they obtained their money legally.
Mrs May’s spokesman said: ‘In 2014-15 we took action to tighten up the Tier 1 investor route … We are currently taking another look at how the route operates and are undertaking further checks on investors who came to the UK through this route before the reforms were introduced.’
Boris Johnson yesterday hinted tougher sanctions could be on the way for Russian individuals, as he noted the impact of measures taken by Donald Trump.
In January the US put Mr Abramovich’s name on a public ‘Kremlin Report’ of oligarchs.
Speaking on a visit to Argentina, the Foreign Secretary said: ‘I think the effect of some of [the US] sanctions, particularly on some individuals, has been very marked and I’ve noted that.’
Both Mr Abramovich’s spokesman and the Home Office declined to comment.
But a source close to the oligarch reportedly said: ‘There is no indication that the visa won’t be given. There has been no refusal or negative feedback. It is just taking longer than usual and it’s not clear why.’
From an orphan in Russia’s bleak Komi republic to the billionaire owner of Chelsea: How Roman Abramovich turned his life from grim beginnings to become an oligarch with superyachts, private jets and a football club
From a grim start in life as an orphan in Russia’s bleak Komi republic, Roman Abramovich has come a long way.
Now worth an estimated £9.3billion, he is the world’s 139th richest person and owns a fleet of superyachts and private jets.
His sumptuous yacht Eclipse, a 533ft gin palace, has two helicopter pads, 24 guest cabins, two swimming pools, three launch boats and a mini-submarine.
His aircraft include a Boeing 767 with the same air missile avoidance system as Air Force One, a Gulfstream jet and a nippy Dassault Falcon dubbed ‘Mini Bandit’.
Yet his vast wealth has never been fully chronicled – not that fans at his trophy-laden football club Chelsea seem to mind.
Mr Abramovich, 51, was orphaned aged four and left school at 16. He studied engineering, then went into business, first as a mechanic and then heading a co-operative making plastic ducks and other toys, earning a paltry £2,000 a year.
But during the tumultuous decade that followed the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990, he was drawn into a circle of businessmen close to the Kremlin. The group bankrolled Boris Yeltsin in 1996 and were credited with ‘buying’ his presidential victory, and went on to back the next leader … Vladimir Putin.
Abramovich pictured with Vladimir Putin in 2016. In recent years, he has been mainly living in Moscow, where he remains close to the Russian leader
Many of these favoured businessmen were given the chance to snap up Russia’s state assets during an era of ‘privatisation’.
Mr Abramovich eventually emerged as the joint-owner of the Sibneft oil group.
His closeness to Mr Putin goes back a long way. Mr Abramovich was one of his early supporters, recommending him for the top Kremlin job to Boris Yeltsin when the ailing leader was looking for a successor.
According to the late oligarch Boris Berezovsky in evidence to the High Court in London, Mr Abramovich enjoyed significant political influence in Moscow in the second half of the 1990s.
In October 1999, he attended Mr Putin’s birthday party. Soon afterwards, Mr Abramovich allegedly bought Mr Putin, then the prime minister, a $50million (£37million) yacht. ‘The request came from Mr Putin,’ Mr Berezovsky said in evidence.
In 2003, Mr Abramovich bought Chelsea for £60million. Two years later, he was involved in a much larger transaction when he sold his oil company, Sibneft, to state-run Gazprom. He got $13billion (£10billion).
He began spending time in London, where he owns a 15-bedroom Victorian mansion on ‘Billionaire’s Row’ in Kensington, bought in 2009 for a reported £97million and now worth at least £150million. He also owns a row of four townhouses in Manhattan and a string of other properties across the globe.
Abramovich, pictured at a Chelsea game in 2003, bought the club for £60million that year
He married his first wife, Olga Lysova, in 1987, and his second, former Russian Aeroflot stewardess Irina Malandina, in 1991. They had five children before divorcing in 2007, with Miss Lysova accepting a reported settlement of £230million. He split from his third wife, art collector and gallery director Dasha Zhukova, last year after a decade together and two more children.
The billionaire’s visa difficulties do not seem to be hampering his global travel, though the exact location of the fiercely private oligarch is unknown.
Yesterday one unconfirmed report suggested he was sailing with friends in the Caribbean. But the Eclipse was moored in Antibes in the South of France, and yesterday afternoon his Gulfstream 650 private jet flew from nearby Monaco to Russia.
In recent years, he has been mainly living in Moscow, where he remains close to Mr Putin. If he does not get his British visa sorted out, he could be spending even more time there.