Britain’s National Crime Agency dropped its investigation into alleged sanctions evasion by Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman after dramatically raiding his London home late last year.
(Bloomberg) — Britain’s National Crime Agency dropped its investigation into alleged sanctions evasion by Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman after dramatically raiding his London home late last year.
At the time of the raid, more than 50 officers descended on Fridman’s £65 million ($80.8 million) mansion in north London and arrested the 59 year-old businessmen, removing “digital devices and a significant quantity of cash,” the NCA said.
“The NCA can confirm that it will take no further action against Mikhail Fridman based on the warrant executed at Athlone House in December 2022,” a spokesman said in response to Bloomberg questions. “Inquiries are ongoing in relation to associated suspects who fall under the wider investigation.”
It’s a huge reversal for the NCA, with the billionaire the most high-profile target of a new unit targeting wealthy Russians that was set up after the invasion of Ukraine. It publicized the raid in December across social media with a statement and a picture of officers inside the tycoon’s home.
Fridman is one of Russia’s most prominent businessmen after making billions in banking, oil and retail. After he and his partners pocketed $14 billion from the sale of oil company TNK-BP to state-controlled Rosneft in 2013, he moved to the UK to set up a private equity firm investing in businesses around the world. The UK and the European Union slapped sanctions on Fridman and his partners soon after Russia invaded Ukraine, freezing his assets. He has remained in London, living under the restrictions. The US imposed sanctions last month.
The NCA, which started out as an agency focused on organized crime, has sought to retool to target the outsize influence of oligarchs and their enablers in the UK. The “combating kleptocracy cell” was announced with a mission to target those who have proximity to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his regime.
The agency had been investigating Fridman over an alleged loan payment from his Alfa Bank to his executive assistant before he was sanctioned. It had already accepted that the search warrant contained “technical errors.”
At a court hearing in July, Fridman claimed the raid was illegal and relied on “kompromat” including a 15-year-old report that made a series of unproven criminal allegations.
Fridman declined to comment on the NCA’s decision.
Still, the investigations aren’t over for Fridman. He faces a separate probe by Ukrainian authorities, who said this month they’d documented “criminal activity” by the businessman, including his involvement in financing Russia’s war through the investment consortium Alfa Group under his control.
While Britain’s courts have refused to lift sanctions against targets, there has been little progress by authorities to prosecute for sanctions breaches. Wise Plc faced censure for allowing a sanctioned customer to withdraw £250 while an unidentified company was fined £1 million for unlicensed trade of goods.
(Adds that Ukraine is investigating Fridman in penultimate paragraph. A previous version was corrected to say that Fridman was sanctioned by the US last month.)
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