Russian billionaires’ opulent yachts, private jets remain untouched

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich owns Premier League soccer team Chelsea FC and political leaders in UK are pointing out that he should not be allowed to own a football club

Abramovich's yachts, the Solaris, is in Barcelona, while the other, the Eclipse, is in Saint Martin in the Caribbean. Political observers feel assets like planes or yachts of Russia's elite could be targeted by a round of sanctions. Pic: Twitter

Russia’s billionaires, who were hit by financial sanctions by the USA and UK, after the invasion of Ukraine, however, seem to be still cruising on their opulent yachts and flying around in their private jets.

Tens of billions of dollars have been wiped out from the fortunes of Russia’s billionaire elite this week as the country’s stock market and the ruble plunged in the backdrop of the attack on Ukraine. But, some of the high-end assets of these billionaires, which includes yachts, jets and real estate holdings like penthouses in Chelsea to Highgate mansions, have been left untouched, pointed out media reports.

British opposition lawmakers called for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to seize the assets of the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who lost more than $1 billion this week. The billionaire owner of Premier League soccer team Chelsea FC, who made his fortune in Russia’s oil industry after the fall of the Soviet Union, has got caught in the escalating tensions between London and Moscow.

Chelsea FC is one of Europe’s most successful teams, having won the Champion’s League last year, and valued at about $2.1 billion. On Saturday, Abramovich said he was handing over the “stewardship and care” of Chelsea to the trustees of its charitable foundation

On Thursday, Labour MP Chris Bryant demanded at the House of Commons that Abramovich, who is currently not on the UK’s sanctions list, should not be able to own a football club in this country. “Surely we should be looking at seizing some of his assets, including his 152 million pound home…,”he said.

Sports investors and private equity firms, including some from the U.S., have jumped in  listing potential takeover offers for the football club in case sanctions force the Russian billionaire to sell. Many in Putin’s circle live lavish lifestyles outside Russia, spending millions on luxury homes, yachts and celebrity-studded parties. It’s a situation that however makes them vulnerable to economic pressure as their assets are increasingly tied up in the west, said media reports.

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A Bloomberg report quoting flight data website ADS-B Exchange said that Abramovich’s Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner took off from an airport near Monaco on Thursday(February 24), to reach Moscow, while another billionaire Alexey Mordashov’s Bombardier Global 6000 traveled from the Seychelles region in the western Indian Ocean. They were part of the Russia’s richest elite, who had been called by Vladimir Putin for a meeting in the Kremlin after Russia invaded Ukraine.

After the meeting, Mordashov, Russia’s second-richest person with a net worth of $23 billion, according to flight data, flew back to the Seychelles region. His yacht Nord, which costed him $500 million, has been sailing in the island nation for 10 days. One of Abramovich’s yachts, the Solaris, is in Barcelona, while the other, the Eclipse, is in Saint Martin in the Caribbean.

International political observers felt that assets like planes or yachts could be targeted by a round of sanctions. While Natalie Jaresko, Ukraine’s former finance minister told Bloomberg that imposing sanctions on Russian’s ultra-rich is important, but she recognised that it is a complex issue and would take time. But their comforts must be taken away, said Jaresko.

“We have more individuals on our list, who we are ready to sanction,” UK foreign secretary Liz Truss told the media on Wednesday when questioned if Abramovich was a target for sanctions. “Nobody is off the table,” said Truss.

Alisher Usmanov, 68, is part of a group of billionaires with assets in the west and close ties to Putin.  Usmanov, whose net worth tops $16 billion, that includes his 512-foot superyacht “Ona” (formerly called “Dilbar,” the name of his late mother) which has a large garden, two helipads and an 82-foot swimming pool.

Usmanov, who has financial interests in Everton F.C., a Premier League soccer club in the United Kingdom, also has vast holdings in London, where he owns two sprawling mansions with a combined price tag of $300 million. He also owns properties in Sardinia, Munich and Monaco, according to reports.

Reigning in Russia’s billionaire class will not be so easy for most countries. But as an American professor of international history told the media that though sanctioning oligarchs is a fine thing to do, but it’s not like they are about to get on the phone and influence Putin. In terms of sanctions, the important thing is to target the entire economy, banks and the energy sector, said the professor.

According to Forbes, Russia’s roughly 116 billionaires have lost more than $126 billion since February 16. But they are still travelling around, and enjoying their superyachts which are parked in Barcelona, another two are parked along the Florida coast, in Miami and Palm Beach.

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