Twilight of the Gods
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The island of Jersey, a British territory and tax haven in the English Channel, recently froze $7 billion of assets owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. That’s around half the Chelsea football club owner’s wealth, noted Fortune. He’s been ordered to sell the team too, by the way. At around the same time, France seized an Abramovich-owned chateau worth nearly $100 million, added Insider.
British officials also seized $13 billion worth of assets owned by two other Russian oligarchs, CNBC reported. Germany recently confiscated the world’s largest yacht – almost 1,700 feet long – from a fourth oligarch, wrote Agence France-Presse. The boat was worth around $600 million. Cyprus has also stripped citizenship from four Russian billionaires who had qualified for the Mediterranean island nation’s “golden passport” program, which gave residency documents to high-flying investors, according to Radio Free Europe.
A breathtaking list of seized wealth can be viewed here in this CNN story.
The crackdown in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine brings a good run for these rich and powerful Russian men to an end.
As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation explained, Abramovich and other jet-setting Russian tycoons took advantage of the chaotic days after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s to buy up state-owned companies that were being privatized. Supporting ex-President Boris Yeltsin and his successor, Putin, they used political favoritism and corruption to cement their gains and secure more sweetheart deals.
As the Russian oligarchs grew rich, ordinary Russians experienced economic shocks, poverty and decreasing life expectancies.
When Putin sought to consolidate power after he became acting president in late 1999, oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was critical of Putin’s regime, coincidentally ran afoul of the law. Jailed for 10 years, he fled the country after Putin pardoned him in 2013. The arrest and imprisonment sent a signal to the oligarchs that they should fall in line or face the power of the state.
Today, Khodorkovsky, who lives in exile in London, regularly pleads with other oligarchs to rise up against Putin, the Washington Post wrote.
His appeals might be prescient. The era of the oligarchs might be over, argued Bloomberg. Dependent on an international financial system that allowed them to move ill-gotten gains from poor Russia to tony properties in London and elsewhere, the oligarchs now face tough sanctions and a dragnet that is stripping them of their wealth.
They enabled. They tolerated. Now they pay.