Detained Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has called for the UK to sanction Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and former Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov if he is not released from prison.
Navalny’s close associate Vladimir Ashurkov said today that Navalny had written up a list of eight Russian oligarchs that “he felt should be sanctioned if the West wanted to get serious about encouraging Russia to cease attacking human rights and to rein in corruption”.
Navalny was arrested at a Moscow airport on Sunday for missing a parole hearing, after arriving back in Russia for the first time since recovering from a near fatal Novichok poisoning.
A wide body evidence points to Russia’s FSB, a successor to the KGB, being behind the attack five months ago.
Abramovich was included on Navalny’s list and was described by Ashurkov as “one of the key enablers and beneficiaries of Russian kleptocracy”.
Chelsea denies the accusation.
Abramovich has poured more than £1bn into Chelsea since buying the club in 2003 and is known to be close with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Usmanov’s inclusion in the list of proposed sanctions also raises questions about his continuing involvement in English football.
The Russian billionaire, who has been accused of benefiting from rampant Russian corruption, was formerly a major Arsenal shareholder and currently has strong links to Merseyside club Everton.
Usmanov’s holding company USM has naming rights for Everton’s training ground and his business partner Farhad Moshiri is the club’s majority shareholder.
When asked today if the UK would sanction Abramovich or Usmanov, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “In October last year we froze assets and travel bans for those responsible for the positioning of Mr Navalny.
“We will continue to monitor the situation closely and continue to work with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and out international partners to hold Russia to account.”
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has not indicated if he will sanction any Russian oligarchs in light of Navalny’s arrest, but yesterday called for the immediate release of Putin’s most high-profile domestic critic.
“It is appalling that Alexei Navalny, the victim of a despicable crime, has been detained by Russian authorities,” he said.
“He must be immediately released. Rather than persecuting Mr Navalny Russia should explain how a chemical weapon came to be used on Russian soil.”
Navalny is facing a possible prison sentence for violating the terms of his 2014 suspended sentence for fraud – a charge he describes as false and politically motivated.
He said yesterday that the court was a “mockery of justice” and “lawlessness of the highest order”.