Manchester City owner could be investigated for ‘helping Roman Abramovich evade sanctions’

Sheikh Mansour bin Zaya Al Nahyan - AI Project/ Action Images
Sheikh Mansour bin Zaya Al Nahyan - AI Project/ Action Images

The owner of Manchester City Football Club could face a Foreign Office investigation for allegedly helping Roman Abramovich and other high-profile Russians evade sanctions.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan has been accused of allowing the United Arab Emirates, where he is deputy prime minister, to become flooded with superyachts and private jets belonging to oligarchs loyal to Vladimir Putin.

In a legal submission by international criminal lawyers to the Foreign Secretary, Sheikh Mansour is described as being “central” to the flow of sanctioned Russian assets to the middle eastern state since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.

The West responded to the war with an unprecedented package of sanctions targeted at oligarchs believed to be enablers of Putin’s regime.

The intention was that depriving his key supporters of access to their vast wealth would help pressure Moscow to change course.

Abramovich’s jet stationed in Dubai

However, the billionaire sheikh, who has owned Manchester City since 2008, was accused this week of helping numerous sanctioned individuals to “conspicuously enjoy their wealth” by transferring their assets.

Mr Abramovich’s Boeing Dreamliner, thought to be worth £320 million, has been stationed in Dubai for extended periods since the beginning of the war, one of several jets across the UAE belonging to sanctioned Russians.

In June a US court ordered the seizure of the aircraft as part of the sanctions framework.

Many of the biggest and most lavish superyachts in the world have also been transferred to the federation of Arab states since February.

Roman Abramovich was sanctioned in March - Andrew Winning/ REUTERS
Roman Abramovich was sanctioned in March - Andrew Winning/ REUTERS

These include The Madame Gu, a £140 million vessel belonging to Andrei Skoch, a steel billionaire and member of the State Duma who has been a cheerleader for Putin’s actions.

The 324-foot vessel has a helicopter pad, gym and a beach club.

Andrey Melnichenko’s £270 million Motor Yacht A which, decked out with Baccarat crystal furniture and a secret room hidden behind mirrored panels, is also reported to have docked in the UAE in March.

It subsequently turned off its location transmitter, but, according to YouTube channel eSysman SuperYachts, it was recently spotted in Dubai near the World Islands.

The influx of Russian money into the UAE this year has also reportedly bolstered some parts of the economy, with property prices inflating.

UAE ‘destination of choice for sanctioned Putin supporters’

The request for a Foreign Office investigation into Sheikh Mansour’s alleged role in facilitating sanction evasions has been made by barristers Rhys Davies and Ben Keith on behalf of a Ukrainian activist who is not being named for security reasons.

It says the UAE “is now widely perceived to be the destination of choice for sanctioned supporters of Putin”.

It quoted reports that Russians are “increasingly approaching Sheikh Mansour’s office” for help moving wealth into the country.

Sheikh Mansour (centre left) - ALI HAIDER/EPA-EFE/REX
Sheikh Mansour (centre left) - ALI HAIDER/EPA-EFE/REX

If he was in the UK at any point when alleged sanction evasions were taking place, those actions might fall within UK jurisdiction.

The submission asks James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, to investigate whether Sheikh Mansour has committed any offences and whether he should be sanctioned himself.

Sheikh Mansour is beloved by supporters of Manchester City for using his wealth to spur the best run of success in the club’s history, with six Premier League titles since 2008.

‘Undermining sanctions encourages further violence’

Mr Davies, from Temple Garden Chambers, said: “The UK Government has shown itself to be one of Ukraine’s strongest supporters in the West and it is imperative that the UK Government properly investigates anyone who they suspect might be supporting Russia’s unlawful invasion of Ukraine, however powerful they are and wherever they might be.”

Mr Keith said: “The sanctions over the war in Ukraine are meant to prevent further bloodshed by discouraging aggression and violence. Anything that undermines the sanctions regime encourages further violence and suffering.”

The submission quotes one report stating that at least 38 businessmen or officials linked to Putin own dozens of properties in Dubai, collectively valued at more than $314 million.

The UAE is a strategic ally of the UK. However, the country abstained from voting on a draft UN resolution condemning Russia for its aggression in Ukraine.

In March, Sheikh Mansour sparked consternation for meeting with Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator.

Asked for a response to the legal submission, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said it would not comment on specific cases.

It added that the Government was committed to ensuring compliance with sanctions.

Sheikh Mansour did not respond to a request to comment.

Neither did a representative of Mr Abramovich when asked to confirm the present location of his Dreamliner.