Switzerland Abandons Neutrality & Seizes ‘Luxury Home’ From Oligarch

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The Swiss government has taken control of what Reuters describes as a “luxury mountain home” from the apparent possession of Russian oligarch Petr Aven amid the worldwide push to hold Russian leaders financially accountable for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As explained by Reuters in reference to the seized property, the “Bern canton’s property office said it believed the flat belonged to Petr Aven, identified by Switzerland as a close confidant of President Vladimir Putin and a major shareholder of the group that owns Russia’s biggest private bank, Alfa.” The residence is apparently on the fifth floor of a building at a golf resort surrounded by mountains in the Bernese Oberland region.

Reuters notes that Switzerland eventually adopted European Union sanctions regarding the war in Ukraine on February 28, days after the violence began. (Switzerland isn’t a member of the union.) Other European countries whose governments have seized high-dollar assets with believed ties to Russian oligarchs include Spain, Italy, and France — in Spain, one of the yachts that have come under the control of the government amid these efforts is the same yacht that was targeted in an infamous incident in which Ukrainian engineer Taras Ostapchuk attempted to sink a vessel owned by Russian arms exporter Alexander Mijeev, CEO of Rosoboronexport. That yacht is called the Lady Anastasia; as for Ostapchuk, he indicated he didn’t regret his actions, and he was released on bail and reportedly went back to Ukraine to join the fight against Russian invaders. (Many other Ukrainians also returned to join the defense.)

According to Reuters, Aven also had partial ownership of a building complex on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia that was recently seized by Italian authorities. Forbes recently noted that Aven “owns several homes in Europe, including a large house in Surrey in England and a villa on the Italian island of Sardinia. As recently as March 2022, he also lived in Latvia, an EU member state” — although Latvian authorities were apparently looking to strip Aven of his citizenship in their country. Both Aven and Mikhail Fridman, an apparent business partner, responded to European sanctions against them, insisting that they would “contest the spurious and unfounded basis for the imposition of these sanctions – vigorously and through all means available to them.” Meanwhile, the assets that have been seized by European governments responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been pricey. A remarkably high-dollar vessel that is apparently the world’s largest sailing yacht and is owned by Russian billionaire Andrey Igorevich Melnichenko was recently seized by the Italian government. It’s some 470 feet long and is worth around $578 million.

The U.S. Justice Department said U.S. authorities have provided information to partners outside the country that’s apparently assisted with the seizures of certain vessels, although the exact identities of these particular vessels weren’t immediately clear. Other facets of the effort to economically punish Putin’s regime include a recently announced ban on Russian energy imports into the United States. Providing an unsurprising look at what’s likely to be the world’s stance once the war in Ukraine eventually concludes, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently said that “to try to re-normalize relations with Putin after this, as we did in 2014, would be to make exactly the same mistake again,” referring to the time around the initial annexation by Russia of the Crimean peninsula, which was Ukrainian territory.