With the crisis in Ukraine escalating, the United States and its allies are applying more economic pressure on key allies of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin: Russian oligarchs.
But as governments around the world try to seize or freeze these billionaires’ extensive and far-flung assets, they are finding that a comprehensive crackdown is not easy, the DealBook newsletter notes.
The Justice Department announced a new team, known as Task Force KleptoCapture, which Attorney General Merrick B. Garland says will pursue the assets of “those whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue this unjust war.” Other countries took new action as well:
France said it had seized a yacht belonging to Igor Sechin, the head of the Russian state oil giant Rosneft, while Germany has reportedly taken a yacht owned by the businessman Alisher Usmanov. (Maritime tracking now shows at least five oligarch-owned yachts around the Maldives, which doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the United States.)
Japan said on Thursday that it would freeze assets tied to oligarchs, matching Western actions.
Britain said it was exploring how to seize properties from oligarchs and would publish a list of people and groups tied to Mr. Putin, including those not under formal sanctions, with the aim of discouraging anyone from doing business with them.
Private groups are also applying pressure. Vladimir Potanin has stepped down as a trustee of the Guggenheim Museum, while some in the art world are calling for a boycott of the auction house Phillips, which is owned by Russia’s Mercury Group. The English soccer club Everton suspended sponsorship agreements with companies tied to Mr. Usmanov.
The sudden effort to sell Chelsea F.C. is a telling sign. The English professional soccer club’s owner, Roman Abramovich, confirmed on Wednesday that he was trying to sell the club, which he has owned since 2003, with a reported price tag of at least $2.5 billion, days after British lawmakers questioned whether he should face sanctions. (Mr. Abramovich, who made his fortune in the post-Communist privatizations of Russia’s oil and industrial sectors, has denied links to Mr. Putin. Israel’s Holocaust Museum is among those urging the United States not to impose sanctions on him.)
What price Mr. Abramovich and other oligarchs will get for their assets is unclear. One potential bidder for Chelsea, the Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss, said $2.5 billion was “far too much.” Another possible buyer of the club, the American investor Todd Boehly, reportedly offered $2.9 billion in 2019 — far higher than he would be likely to offer now. (Raine Group, the bank charged with selling Chelsea, has its work cut out.)
Mr. Abramovich said the sale of Chelsea “will not be fast-tracked but will follow due process.” As investors shun all things Russian, they appear to be thinking twice about even the most deeply discounted assets.