£300m art collector oligarch accused of breaching sanctions by selling luxury cars
The billionaire Russian oligarch with a mansion in the Home Counties and a £300million art collection is the target of allegations he breached international sanctions by buying and selling luxury cars.
Two company bank accounts – containing around £1.5m – used by Petr Aven, who said he spent all his money on art, have been frozen by the National Crime Agency for claiming that they were used to dodge the sanctions imposed on him because of his ties to Vladimir Putin.
The alleged breaches include transactions used to fund a £200,000 payment to two car dealers and another transfer of £160,000 believed to cover the sale of a Bentley.
The agency says they were 10 offenses involving ‘highly unusual’ spending and carried out through methods such as using the accounts of a key associate, digital bank Monzo, and ‘money spinning’. round” to disguise its origin. Mr Aven, who lives in the multi-million pound Ingliston home in Surrey surrounded by masterpieces, rejects the allegations and is seeking to ease orders freezing his accounts.
His lawyers accused the NCA of “sloppy homework” by failing to tell the judge who imposed the freezing orders that the government office for enforcement of sanctions had authorized Mr Aven’s use of the accounts.
Tim Akkouh QC, for the NCA, admitted it was ‘a mistake’ but said the freezing orders were justified as there was ‘ample evidence’ to back up the claim that sanctions breaches had occurred.
He said the alleged breaches began with a large transfer of money from an Austrian account believed to be controlled by Mr Aven to the business account at his home.
Other ‘highly unusual transfers’ occurred, including on March 15, when sanctions were imposed on Mr Aven, when an associate’s personal account ‘paid over £200,000 into two car dealership accounts “.
Mr. Akkouh said the NCA “suspected that these transfers were making vehicle purchases on behalf of Mr. Aven or with funds that ultimately belong to him.” Mr Akkouh listed a series of other suspicious transactions which led to the imposition of the freezing orders and told Westminster magistrates the suspicion was that ‘the funds identified by the NCA were criminal due to their intended use and their origin in criminal activity, namely sanctions”. contravention and circumvention”.
Hugo Keith QC, for Mr Aven, rejected the allegations and urged the court to either remove the freezing orders or change them. District Judge John Zani will decide later this week. Mr Aven, who is believed to be worth more than £4billion, was a patron of the Royal Academy and the Tate until he was sanctioned.
Mr Aven was first sanctioned by the European Union in February when he was described as one of Vladimir Putin’s “closest oligarchs” and a person who “actively supported materially or financially and benefited Russian decision-makers responsible for the annexation of Crimea and destabilization”. from Ukraine.
The EU sanctions document adds that Mr Aven “is a major shareholder in the Alfa Group, which includes one of Russia’s leading banks, Alfa Bank” and “one of around 50 wealthy Russian businessmen who regularly meet Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin”.
“He does not act independently of the demands of the president. His friendship with Vladimir Putin dates back to the early 1990s.
British sanctions were imposed on Mr Aven and a number of other oligarchs on March 15, when he was described in similar terms as ‘a prominent Russian businessman and pro-Kremlin oligarch “.
The two frozen accounts contain around £1.5million. Account freezing orders can be followed by forfeiture proceedings if law enforcement is not satisfied with the explanation given for suspicious transactions. Failure to comply with sanctions is a criminal offence.