Sanction oligarchs involved in English football, MPs urge UK Government

Russian oligarchs involved in English football should face sanctions from the UK Government, MPs have urged.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov, who has ties with Everton, were named by detained Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny as people who should be targeted by Western governments in a bid to curb human-rights abuses by the Russian state.

Labour former minister Dame Margaret Hodge and Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokeswoman Layla Moran backed the idea and challenged the Government in the Commons to take action.

The Government refused to speculate on future sanctions listings.

Opposition leader Mr Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport earlier this month after spending five months in Germany recovering from nerve agent poisoning that he blames on Moscow.

Alisher Usmanov
Alisher Usmanov

His detention has been condemned by governments around the world, with the UK urging Russia to release him.

Speaking in the Commons, Dame Margaret said: “The best way in which we can show our support for Alexei Navalny is not by words but by actions, not by investigations but by convictions.

“Navalny himself has said that he wants the international community to use sanctions against complicit Russian kleptocrats who live outside Russia.

“He has named Abramovich and Usmanov, both of whom have considerable wealth, property and links to English football clubs.

“But on Facebook Navalny has said that the sanctions haven’t worked because ‘the West has refrained from sanctioning the people with the money’.

“Is that true?”

Foreign Office minister Wendy Morton, in her reply, said: “We continue to work and protect human rights and civil society in Russia.

“We are considering all options for further action but, as I’ve previously said, it’d be inappropriate for me to speculate on any future listings.”

Ms Moran earlier said: “Chelsea Football Club have indeed been in the news this week a lot, though largely not for this.

“But Alexei Navalny’s team have released a list of names drawn up by Navalny just days before his return and arrest which included Chelsea FC’s owner Roman Abramovich and Everton FC’s Alisher Usmanov among those who they believe should be sanctioned.

“Both individuals who are described as key enablers with significant ties and assets in the West.

“I ask, is the minister taking these allegations seriously and will she provide assurances that anyone no matter their wealth or position would be considered for Magnitsky sanctions?”

Ms Morton replied: “Try as she might to ask me to speculate on further listings, alas I’m not going to do that.”

Margaret Hodge
Margaret Hodge

Conservative Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, also said the Russian people have had their country’s wealth “stolen off them” by a “gangster elite”.

He said: “When will we see a proper list of the ill-gotten gains that President Putin has stolen off the Russian people over the last 20 years?

“When will we see a breakdown of his hidden wealth through UK jurisdictions or in areas where the UK has influence so that the Russian people can know how much money has been stolen off them by this gangster elite?”

Ms Morton, answering an urgent question on sanctions, earlier told MPs: “The UK is appalled by the politically-motivated detention of Alexei Navalny on arbitrary charges.

“As the Foreign Secretary made clear, Mr Navalny is the victim of a despicable crime and we call for his immediate and unconditional release.”

She added: “We keep further sanctions designations under constant review, however, it would not be appropriate to comment at this stage on possible future designations as this could undermine their impact.

“We carefully consider all options under the relevant sanctions regimes.”