The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) is seeking to block sanctioned Russian billionaire Petr Aven from using £1.5m in frozen funds stored in bank accounts linked to two companies responsible for managing his central London properties and Surrey estate.
The £1.5m funds were frozen by the NCA in May after HSBC and Monzo Bank raised concerns about possible sanctions breaches regarding transactions from the two company accounts.
Aven was sanctioned by the EU on the 28th February and by the UK on the 15th March over EU claims the Russian billionaire is “one of Vladimir Putin’s closest oligarchs”
The NCA’s lawyers are now calling on the High Court to overturn a lower court’s ruling in July that lets Aven use more than £600,000 a year from the £1.5m funds to cover the costs of his “basic needs”.
The Westminster Magistrates Court ruling relaxed the NCA’s freezing order to let Aven use money in accounts run by the companies that manage his 88 St James’s Street apartments and Ingliston House country estate.
In seeking to overturn the lower court’s ruling, the NCA’s lawyers claimed Aven, who does not have a personal UK bank account himself, is using the frozen funds as a “piggybank,” after having previously claimed the oligarch used the £1.5m to pay for luxury cars.
The NCA warned the funds could be entirely dissipated if Aven is not blocked from using the frozen money. “Once that money’s gone it’s gone,” the NCA’s barrister said.
Campaigners said the High Court hearing shows the NCA, which has increasingly focused its efforts towards tackling oligarchs, is serious about enforcing the sanctions imposed on those with links to the Putin regime.
Aven, a Russo-Latvian dual national, was granted leave to remain in the UK in 2013. The EU claim Aven is a “key Putin ally” in claiming his “friendship with Vladmir Putin goes back to the early 1990s.”
Aven has previously denied claims he is close to Putin and has sought to challenge the UK and EU’s sanctions regimes.
The oligarch’s lawyers are calling on the court to dismiss the NCA’s request for a judicial review of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court ruling.
The former Alfa-Bank president reportedly owns a £300m art collection and is estimated to have a net worth of around $5bn (£4.6bn).
In March, Aven, and his business partner Mikhail Fridman, stepped down from the Luxembourg headquartered investment fund they set up in 2013 using proceeds from the sale of Russian oil company TNK-BP, in order to protect the multi-billion-pound fund from sanctions.