UK allowed sanctioned Abramovich associate to sell £16m mansion


A close associate of Roman Abramovich was given permission by the Treasury to sell his Surrey mansion for £16m, a month after the government designated him for UK sanctions and froze all his assets.

The Guardian can reveal the government agreed to allow the former Chelsea Football Club director Eugene Tenenbaum to sell Park Hill, in Weybridge’s exclusive St George’s Hill estate, under a licence issued by sanctions officials on 12 May 2022. Tenenbaum was added to the UK sanctions list on 14 April last year.

The sale, to the chief executive of a Singapore hotels group, completed on 17 May 2022, according to Land Registry records.

Park Hill, an eight-bedroom mansion set in 1 hectare (2.6 acres) of grounds, was jointly owned by Tenenbaum and his former wife, a British citizen and who is not under UK sanctions.

Lawyers for Tenenbaum told the Guardian the sale of the property was completed in accordance with the law and with the consent of the UK government. They said “his proceeds of the sale were frozen on completion of the transaction in accordance with the sanctions regime”.

The transaction raises questions about the UK government’s approach to enforcing sanctions. Liz Truss, who was then foreign secretary, said last year that UK financial restrictions would “tighten the ratchet on Putin’s war machine and target the circle of people closest to the Kremlin”. Allies in the US and EU have also imposed similar sanctions.

Tenenbaum was Abramovich’s right-hand man as the billionaire oligarch built his empire, serving as the head of corporate finance at his oil company Sibneft, a director of Chelsea, and a board member at his mining group Evraz. Tenenbaum, a Canadian citizen born in 1964 in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union, helped him float the company on the London Stock Exchange where its shares were traded until shortly after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

A loan agreement seen by the Guardian suggests Tenenbaum and his then wife bought Park Hill in 2007 using a £12m loan from an offshore company connected to Abramovich. The agreement states the borrower cannot sell the property without agreement in writing from the lender, and that the loan was due for repayment in 2027. A document from September 2020, which named the couple, suggests the interest-bearing loan was still outstanding at that date, and that the amount borrowed had increased to £17m.

Lawyers for Tenenbaum indicated the couple have divorced. They confirmed a licence for the transaction was granted by Treasury’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI).

“As fully anticipated by Mr Tenenbaum,” they said, “his proceeds of the sale were frozen on completion of the transaction in accordance with the sanctions regime and the terms of the OFSI licence. They remain frozen to this date. We are instructed that the proceeds from the sale of the property are not, and will never be, for the benefit of Roman Abramovich.”

It is understood Tenenbaum’s former wife does not owe money to any sanctioned individual or any company connected to them, that she has not and will not send money to any sanctioned individual, and that she has fully abided by the UK sanctions regime.

A rear view of Park Hill in Surrey. The eight-bedroom home is set in 1 hectare (2.6 acres) of mature landscaped gardens. Photograph: Google Maps

The property has dedicated staff accommodation, a games room and an indoor swimming pool complex with a steam room, a gym and changing rooms. It is located in the gated estate of St George’s Hill, a popular choice for wealthy Russians looking to set up home near London, where the perimeter is guarded by private security contractors.

The UK designated Abramovich for sanctions on 10 March 2022, two weeks after the invasion began, adding Tenenbaum to the list a month later. In a press release, the government described Tenenbaum as a “key oligarch”, citing his links to Abramovich, and said freezes on his property and money would “prevent these assets from being repatriated to Russia and used to fund Putin’s war machine”.

Tenenbaum and his then wife had owned Park Hill in their own names, according to Land Registry records, and bought it on 17 July 2007 for £10.5m.

A loan agreement dated 29 June 2007, seen by the Guardian, names them both as the borrowers of £12m from Ovington Worldwide Ltd, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), in order to “purchase and make any additions” to Park Hill. Company paperwork appears to show Abramovich was the beneficiary of a trust that controlled Ovington. In September 2020 Ovington transferred the loan to Sonora Capital Investments Ltd, another BVI company, which was also owned by a trust of which Abramovich was a beneficiary.

Abramovich did not respond to a request for comment.

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Tenenbaum’s signature on the 2022 property transfer document was witnessed in Herzliya Pituach, a suburb of Tel Aviv, Israel. The mansion was sold to Anand Nadathur, the son of the Infosys co-founder Nadathur Raghavan and chief executive of the hotels company Next Story Group, and his wife.

Roman Abramovich (right) celebrating a Chelsea goal with Eugene Tenenbaum during a match in 2016.
Roman Abramovich (right) celebrating a Chelsea goal with Eugene Tenenbaum during a match in 2016. Photograph: Leicester/BPI/rex/Shutterstock

A lawyer for Anand said contracts for the sale of the property were exchanged on 6 April 2022, before Tenenbaum was added to the UK sanctions list. After the sanctions were imposed and the licence was granted, their legal advice was that they were bound to continue with the purchase, and the buyers acted entirely properly, the lawyer said.

Large transactions of any kind with individuals under sanctions are illegal unless the parties have obtained consent from OFSI. Permission for smaller transactions to allow for basic needs may also be allowed in some instances.

Ben Cowdock, the investigations lead at Transparency International UK, an anti-corruption campaign group, said: “At a time when the UK government was publicly taking a firmer stance on allies of the Kremlin and their assets here, it appears a sanctioned oligarch was quietly given permission to sell his mansion. This raises serious questions over why this sale was allowed, how the proceeds were distributed and the lack of transparency surrounding the licensing process.

“To avoid the perception that Britain is a soft touch when it comes to enforcing sanctions, the UK government should be more open about how licences are given and where the funds from these sales end up.”

The government has previously faced criticism for granting licences to other oligarchs under sanctions. It allowed the Russian mercenary warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin a licence to pursue legal action against a journalist, and it granted the London-based oligarch Petr Aven living expenses of £60,000 a month, a level consistent with a luxury lifestyle.

OFSI also granted Abramovich a licence for the sale of Chelsea Football Club, with an official saying allowing the deal to go ahead avoided an impact on the club, its employees and the “wider football community”. The £4.25bn proceeds were held in a UK bank account and frozen.

A spokesperson for the Treasury said: “We do not comment on specific licence applications. However, our sanctions system is robust and strictly enforced with financial penalties and criminal prosecutions for those who break the rules.

“Where someone is subject to an asset freeze it’s prohibited to make funds available to them through sales of assets, either directly or indirectly.”

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