An MP has claimed that the Russian oligarch and Chelsea football club owner, Roman Abramovich, is hastily selling UK properties to avoid potential financial sanctions.
Chris Bryant, the Labour MP and head of the parliamentary standards committee, said the government was moving too slowly on imposing sanctions on those with alleged links to Vladimir Putin following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He told the Commons on Tuesday: “I think he [Abramovich] is terrified of being sanctioned, which is why he’s already going to sell his home tomorrow, and sell another flat as well. My anxiety is that we’re taking too long about these things.”
Announcing a package of measures in the wake of the conflict, the Foreign Office said “120 businesses and oligarchs” would be hit by swingeing new financial restrictions. Only a handful of individuals have so far been targeted, however.
Bryant used parliamentary privilege, which protects MPs from legal proceedings, to suggest that Abramovich was taking steps to avoid his assets being frozen. The 55-year-old is among Russia’s – and Britain’s – richest people and is believed to be close to Putin.
Over the weekend, the oligarch announced he would hand over the “stewardship and care” of Chelsea football club to the trustees of its charitable foundation, though the legal implications of that move remain unclear. On Monday, his spokesperson said he was “trying to help” in the Russia-Ukraine conflict after being “contacted by the Ukrainian side for support in achieving a peaceful resolution”.
The following day a number of reporters arrived outside Abramovich’s 15-bedroom mansion on Kensington Palace Gardens in west London after rumours that a potential buyer was due for a lunchtime tour of the property, which was bought for £90m in 2009.
There were no obvious signs that such a tour took place. A black cab pulled up outside at about noon and drove off again five minutes later without anyone exiting. There was plenty of activity at the house, with a workman saying decorators were “repainting all of the walls on the downstairs”.
The Russian embassy at the top of the street – nicknamed “Billionaires’ Row” as it is home to the most expensive houses in the UK – has been defaced with graffiti reading “stop killing our future”. A crowd of about 30 protesters were seen waving Ukraine flags outside.
Abramovich’s spokesperson was approached for comment on the claim he seeking to sell some of his properties.
Boris Johnson was forced to correct the parliamentary record last week after wrongly telling MPs that Abramovich was already subject to sanctions. In a written statement and a rare admission of an error by the prime minister, the government said: “Roman Abramovich has not been the subject of targeted measures.”
Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, Bryant said: “I fear that the government is frightened of lawyers’ letters from all these oligarchs’ friends.” The MP, who also chairs the all-party parliamentary group on Russia, has long called for tougher action against wealthy Russians accused of having close links to Putin’s regime.
He has rejected reports that Abramovich was involved in brokering peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, calling them “completely untrue” on Twitter. That was disputed by Abramovich’s spokesperson, who pointed to reports saying that the Russian had been asked for help by the Ukrainian side.
Abramovich has maintained that he is a non-political person and is not linked to Putin or the Russian state. It is unclear what his role is in peace talks or on whose behalf he is working. A source close to him stressed that the Chelsea owner had been asked to help because he is a respected figure in Russia and within the business community.
Earlier, the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that “nothing and no one is off the table”, when it came to sanctions against Russia. “We’re going after the highest echelons of the Russian elite, targeting President Putin personally and all of those complicit in his aggression,” she said.