France’s seizure of villa belonging to Putin’s ex ‘illegal’

Vladimir Putin and his then-wife Lyudmila Putina, now Lyudmila Ocheretnaya
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and his then-wife Lyudmila Putina, now Lyudmila Ocheretnaya - Getty

The Kremlin has condemned the seizure of a £7.6m palatial French villa linked to Vladimir Putin’s ex wife as “illegal”.

Nicknamed Suzanna, the palatial, art deco home was purchased for €5.4 million in 2013, with renovations totalling up to €3.5 million, according to French media.

The villa, 300m from the beach, is reported to be owned by a real estate company controlled by Russian businessman Artur Ocheretny, who is married to Lyudmila Ocheretnaya, the former Mrs Putin.

They were wed in 2015, two years after her marriage to the Russian president ended.

The villa, in the southwestern coastal town of Anglet, was targeted in December 2023 as part of an investigation into money laundering, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

“Any encroachment on private property is illegal from the onset,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“The French authorities are undermining the foundations of their legal system. We have said it many times,” he added.

Apartment also seized

Le Monde reported that another property, a Paris apartment allegedly belonging to  Mrs Ocheretnaya, was also seized in December.

Since the Ocheretnayas married, the ex First Lady of Russia, 66, and the businessman and Ironman triathlon aficionado, 46, are reported to have built up a real estate portfolio worth millions.

Two days after the invasion of Ukraine, it was graffitied with slogans including “F--- Putin”, “Putin’s Mafia” and “Glory to Ukraine!”

Before his move into real estate, Mr Ocheretny ran a seafood business and an event-organising company.

An investigation in 2017 by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project said there was nothing in Mr “Ocheretny’s background that explains how he could have come to own such a prime piece of real estate”.

In 2017, when his ownership of the villa was exposed, he did not reply to numerous requests for comment.

The French probe came to light following a complaint by Transparency International, an NGO that exposes and tracks assets it says are linked to “dirty money”.

Investigators are looking into whether the funds used to purchase the home were obtained fraudulently, although prosecutors have stressed no-one has been formally charged.

Vladimir Putin places a ring on Lyudmila's finger on their wedding day in 1983
Vladimir Putin places a ring on Lyudmila's finger on their wedding day in 1983 - Russian Archives/ZUMA Wire

Mrs Ocheretnaya was with Putin for about 30 years after they got married when he was a low level KGB officer and she was an air stewardess with the Aeroflot state airline.

They lived together in East Germany when Putin was an agent there before moving to St Petersburg, where Putin began his political career.

Britain sanctioned Mrs Ocheretnaya in May 2022, as well as a retired Olympic gymnast long rumoured to be one of Putin’s girlfriends.

Both were among 12 individuals hit by a travel ban on entering Britain and a freeze on using any funds or assets held in the UK.

The Government said they had helped the Russian president hide his huge undeclared personal wealth.

Since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022, billions of dollars worth of Russian assets have been frozen or confiscated in Europe due to sanctions.

Use Russian assets to fund war

The Kremlin has reacted furiously to the seizures and European efforts to use them to arm Ukraine, calling such moves an “unprecedented violation” of international law.

On Tuesday, Lord Cameron said the leaders of the G7 countries were close to agreeing a plan to use frozen Russian assets to fund Ukraine’s war effort.

The Foreign Secretary said an “emerging consensus” existed between Western countries on how to take advantage of more than £220 billion in Russian assets that have been frozen.

The UK and US are putting pressure on the EU to find a way to use the frozen assets.

The European Commission has put forward a plan that would use the accrued interest on frozen assets to help Ukraine.

But the plan would require the unanimous support of all 27 member states, some of which are concerned about sending more weapons to Ukraine for fear of escalating the conflict.