Ukraine war

Oligarchs with ties to Luxembourg firm to contest sanctions

Mikhail Fridman in a letter to staff last week called for an end of the bloodshed in Ukraine but on Monday was sanctioned by the EU as “an enabler of Putin’s inner circle” Photo: Shutterstock

Mikhail Fridman in a letter to staff last week called for an end of the bloodshed in Ukraine but on Monday was sanctioned by the EU as “an enabler of Putin’s inner circle” Photo: Shutterstock

Mikhail Fridman, founder of Luxembourg-headquartered investment company Letterone, and Petr Aven, a member of the group’s board of directors, have said they will contest the EU’s sanctions against them.

The Council of the EU on Monday added 26 individuals and one entity to its list of sanctioned entities over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Restrictive measures now apply to 680 persons and 53 entities, including asset freezes and travel bans.

But two of the billionaires targeted have said they would contest the sanctions they called “spurious and unfounded.”

Fridman founded investment firm Letterone, which is headquartered in Luxembourg and forms part of his Alfa Group empire. Fridman in documents filed with authorities in the grand duchy appears as a beneficial owner of Letterone, together with British nationals Christopher Clerey and Nigel Robinson, Swiss national Anton Wyss and Markus Summer from Austria.

The Letterone Investment Holdings group in its 2020 annual accounts listed consolidated net assets of US$14.8bn. Letterone Treasury Services posted an operating profit of US$180.8m for 2020 based on net income of US$221m. Further entities registered in Luxembourg include Letterone Office Services, Core Investments, Corporate Partner, Technology Growth, L1 New Energy and L1 PET Holdings.

Fridman is described as “a top Russian financier and enabler of Putin’s inner circle” in the EU sanctions documents.

His business partner Aven “is one of Vladimir Putin’s closest oligarchs,” the council said. “He is one of approximately 50 wealthy Russian businessmen who regularly meet with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin.”

Both men “actively supported materially or financially and benefited from Russian decision-makers responsible for the annexation of Crimea and the destabilisation of Ukraine. [They] also supported actions and policies which undermined or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” the council said.

Fridman and Aven in a joint statement on Tuesday said that they are “profoundly shocked by the demonstrably false allegations,” adding that they would contest the sanctions “through all means available.”

The businessmen said they have no financial or political relationship with Putin or the Kremlin.

Fridman in a letter last week to Letterone staff called the war in Ukraine a tragedy and said the bloodshed should end. Fridman was born in Ukraine but holds Russian and Israeli citizenship.

“I do not make political statements, I am a businessman with responsibilities to my many thousands of employees in Russia and Ukraine. I am however convinced that war can never be the answer. This crisis will cost lives and damage two nations who have been brothers for hundreds of years,” the email, seen by the Financial Times, said.