MOSCOW: Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich owns England’s Chelsea football club, a fleet of luxury cars, a collection of modern art, homes around the world and a 160-foot superyacht with room for three helicopters and its own submarine.
But he has now given up another of his prize assets, a seat in a Russian regional parliament, in time to comply with new laws that bar state officials, their spouses and children under 18 from holding bank accounts or other financial assets abroad.
“Much of his business interests are abroad and it just did not seem feasible to change that, especially under the short deadline given,” Abramovich’s Moscow spokesman John Mann said of the 46-year-old tycoon’s decision to step down as head of the legislature in the remote Chukotka region last month.
The laws, which have come into effect this month, are part of a campaign by President Vladimir Putin to force wealthy officials to keep their money in Russia. His supporters say the measures will help fight corruption and ensure officials have the country’s interests at heart.
“Those who consider themselves Russian politicians, not foreign or foreign-dependent politicians, will undoubtedly take action to transfer all their financial assets to Russia,” said Irina Yarovaya, a pro-Putin deputy who heads the parliamentary committee entrusted with fighting graft.
But Putin’s opponents say the laws, which also require officials to file extensive declarations of all foreign real estate they hold, give the president another tool to control Russia’s elite as he tries to tighten his hold on power following protests against his rule in 2011 and 2012.
Dmitry Gudkov, a lawmaker critical of the Kremlin, says he opted to give up a stake in a Bulgarian firm and declare two flats he owns there, in order to be in line with the laws. But he said he does not expect the measures will do much to fight corruption.
“In Russia, all the power is concentrated in one pair of hands; there is just nobody to fight graft as there are no independent institutions of power,” Gudkov said.
Abramovich is not the only billionaire to resign an official post since the laws were enacted. Two of Russia’s other richest men, Andrei Guriev and Dmitry Ananyev, were among those who quit the upper house of Russia’s parliament since June.
Guriev said in a statement he wanted to focus on his businesses, which include fertiliser company PhosAgro. An aide to Ananyev said the co-owner of Promsvyazbank wanted to pursue other projects, denying his resignation was connected to the restrictions on ownership of foreign assets.
The measures appear to limit the political careers of other tycoons with high-profile foreign business interests, like Brooklyn Nets basketball team owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who placed third as a challenger to Putin for the presidency last year. Reuters