Media caption,

Starmer: Why is Abramovich not facing sanctions?

Roman Abramovich – the owner of Chelsea Football Club – must be among those to face UK sanctions over Ukraine, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The Labour leader accused Boris Johnson of being slow to target individuals who “prop up” Vladimir Putin’s regime.

The PM said he could not comment on individual cases but UK sanctions were already “having an effect in Moscow”.

Mr Abramovich has previously denied having close financial ties with Vladimir Putin or the Kremlin.

The BBC has contacted his spokesperson for a response to Sir Keir’s claims.

The 55-year-old, who gave “stewardship and care” of Chelsea to its foundation trustees following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has now announced that he is selling the club.

In a statement, he said the “net proceeds” of the sale would go to a charitable foundation to help “all victims of the war in Ukraine”.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir Starmer said: “We must stand up to Putin and those who prop up his regime.

“Roman Abramovich is the owner of Chelsea Football Club and various other high-value assets in the United Kingdom.

“He’s a person of interest to the Home Office because of his links to the Russian state and his public association with corrupt activity and practices.

“Last week, the prime minister said that Abramovich is facing sanctions. He later corrected the record to say that he isn’t. Well, why on earth isn’t he?”

Image source, PA Media

Image caption,

Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea football club in 2003

Mr Johnson said it is not “appropriate” for him to comment on individual cases at this stage.

But he told MPs the UK had sanctioned 275 individuals, and a “further 100 this week”, and had led the way on action against Russian banks.

He added: “What we will publish in addition, is a full list of all those associated with the Putin regime.”

Downing Street later added that a significant proportion of those on that list could expect to face sanctions.

Boris Johnson has referred to the 100 figure several times in the past week. But when Reality Check asked for the names of the 100, the government could not provide them and said: “We’ll let you know as soon as we have further details to add.”

Instead, it sent a list of every person and company currently sanctioned by the UK, including people from Iran and North Korea. It shows that 15 individuals have been sanctioned in the past week.

When asked about this, the prime minister’s spokesman said there were 100 individuals and entities.

Sir Keir asked why Russia’s former deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov, who he said owns two flats in central London “worth over £11m”, was not on the UK sanctions list when he was being targeted by EU sanctions.

Shuvalov’s properties are registered under a company owned by the Russian politician and his wife, said Sir Keir.

“We only know which oligarch lurks beneath that shell company because of the information obtained and disclosed by Alexei Navalny. Navalny, of course, was poisoned by the Russian state and he now sits in a Putin jail,” added the Labour leader.

He said transparency was “essential to rooting out corruption”, adding: “I’m ashamed that we only know about Shuvalov’s Westminster flats because a dissident risked his life. Is the prime minister?”

Media caption,

Watch MPs in UK Parliament stand and clap for the Ukrainian ambassador, who was attending Prime Minister’s Questions

Mr Johnson said: “The UK of course is doing everything that we can to expose ill-gotten Russian loot and this has been something that we have been working on for a long time, and we actually were the first to impose sanctions on those who were guilty of the poisoning of Alexei Navalny.”

He told MPs measures being brought forward next week to expose the ownership of properties will “continue to tighten the noose around Putin’s regime”.

Boris Johnson is under pressure to punish more Russian oligarchs with sanctions.

The prime minister is now promising a “full list” of those associated with the Putin regime but in Whitehall there’s no clear sense yet of exactly how this will work. Labour and Conservative MPs are using Parliamentary privilege to name individuals but ministers have to be more careful.

UK officials say cases need to be built in a way that’s legally robust and it’s too simplistic to see this as a numbers games or a competition with the EU to see who can freeze the most assets.

The aim is to impose the highest economic cost on President Putin and his regime, which is more likely to come from restrictions on Russian defence companies and banks than individuals.

But they do want to identify those who have real influence and significance, a proven association with Putin – and they aren’t necessarily the names most familiar to the British public.

What everyone is keen to avoid is a situation where a list is published before sanctions are imposed and all it does is tip off individuals who then move quickly to protect their assets.

Under the government’s Economic Crime Bill, a register will force anonymous foreign owners of UK property to reveal their identities to prevent criminals hiding behind secretive shell companies.

Sir Keir said Labour would help vote through the long-awaited legislation on Monday “at speed”, but he said it would not come into force for existing property owners like Shuvalov for 18 months.

“At best, that’s Autumn 2023. Far too long for the Ukrainian people. Why are we giving Putin’s cronies 18 months to quietly launder their money out of the UK property market and into another safe haven?”

He also called for measures to be added to the bill to overhaul Companies House – where directors register companies – to deter criminals from setting up shell firms.

Mr Johnson said he was happy to work with Labour next week to “strengthen and accelerate the package of measures” in the bill.

He also suggested, in response to a question from Conservative MP Bob Seely, that law firms representing oligarchs with links to Putin could “face sanctions”.

Mr Seely claimed law firms “intimidate into silence” those who would investigate offshore money flows, including the media or “even the National Crime Agency”.

“Does the prime minister understand this is how state corruption happens and this is systemic, planned subversion?,” asked the Isle of Wight MP.

Mr Johnson said law firms were reminded on 23 February of the “need to comply with sanctions regulations and legislation,” adding: “Clearly they will face sanctions if they fail to do so.”

Labour MP Chris Bryant. who has led calls for Roman Abramovich to be sanctioned, also named a series of individuals at Prime Minister’s Questions.

“We are not even sanctioning Sergey Shoygu, the Russian defence minister, yet. Nor Igor Osipov, the commander of the Black Sea fleet,” said the chairman of the Commons standards committee.

He added: “Why don’t we use parliamentary privilege to get this out there so the lawyers can’t attack the sanctions that we must surely bring, rapidly, today?”