Russian billionaire challenges UK over curbs to mansion upkeep

By Sam Tobin

LONDON (Reuters) – Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman said on Tuesday Britain’s sanctions office wrongly stopped him spending thousands of pounds a month on the upkeep of his multimillion-pound London mansion containing a sizeable art collection.

His lawyers told London’s High Court that Fridman needs to spend the money to prevent Athlone House, which he bought for 65 million pounds ($79 million), from falling into disrepair.

Fridman, 59, also wants to be allowed to spend money on non-security staff, including a driver – which he says he was refused on the grounds he can take public transport.

The Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) says Fridman cannot pay 30,000 pounds a month to a company which maintains Athlone House because its sole director, Fridman’s assistant Nigina Zairova, is also sanctioned.

It refused to allow Fridman to spend 1,850 pounds a month on communications systems, which Fridman says regulate the telephones, IT, lighting, heating and security at Athlone House.

OFSI also said that staff payments were not necessary but designed to allow Fridman to continue to enjoy his pre-sanctions lifestyle.

Fridman’s lawyer Rachel Barnes said in court filings that Athlone House is “a unique property with unique needs for communications, IT, lighting, heating and security, not least in light of its art collection”.

But OFSI argues it could not permit payments to Zairova and that Fridman failed to provide enough information about how much of the communications system related to his security.

Its lawyer Malcolm Birdling said OFSI already allowed Fridman to spend 26,000 pounds a month on security staff and the maintenance of a CCTV system.

Athlone House was raided by Britain’s National Crime Agency in December, which is the subject of a separate legal challenge by Fridman.

Fridman, whose net worth is estimated by Forbes magazine at $12.8 billion, has been subject to British sanctions since March 2022, a month after Russia invaded Ukraine.

His designation was updated in September to remove a reference to him being a “pro-Kremlin oligarch”.

(Reporting by Sam Tobin; Editing by Mark Potter)