Putin’s old pal Sergei Pugachev flees London for France in £655m fraud case

James Nickerson
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Pugachev says he was fearful for his life (Source: Getty)

A once-close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin has gone on the run in the midst of a High Court case, saying his life is in danger.

Sergei Pugachev defied a court order by fleeing the to France after he was charged with stealing more than £655m.

The exiled Russian oligarch became a French citizen in 2009 and left Russia in 2011. He's been fighting a legal battle over claims he embezzled millions of dollars from Mezhprombank, the Moscow bank he co-founded.

Pugachev, once known as “Putin’s banker”, fled weeks after he said attempts had been made on his life. Russia last month demanded his extradition from the UK, and the UK High Court froze his assets last year in support of Russia’s claims.

Read more: Man once known as "Putin's banker" loses £1.3bn battle in UK high court

The Russian government’s Deposit Insurance Agency is trying to recover funds it claims he stole from the bank he founded after it was bailed out by taxpayers in the financial crisis.

Pugachev has always denied the claims, insisting they are politically motivated as part of a plan for the Kremlin to expropriate his business.

He had been told to remain in the UK and hand over his French passport to the DIA’s lawyers. But in a statement, he said he had to leave the UK because of “serious concerns regarding his personal safety and increasing harassment, as part of an unlawful seizure of his assets by the Russian state”.

The DIA raided his London homes and a yacht associated with him, seizing documents and computers. Hogan Lovells, the lawyer for the DIA, suggested Pugachev had gone on the run when they traced an email from him to a server in Paris.

The DIA denied it had made claims against his life, and criticised Pugachev for leaving for France as a break of the court order that was issued.

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