Britain imposes sanctions on Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, Rosneft chief executive Igor Sechin and five other Russian oligarchs

Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea football club Roman Abramovich arrives at a division of the High Court in central London, Britain.

Britain imposed sanctions on Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich and Igor Sechin, the chief executive of Russian oil giant Rosneft, hitting them with asset freezes and travel bans because of their links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The two billionaires plus Oleg Deripaska and four other Russian oligarchs are the most high-profile businessmen to be added to the British sanctions list since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The move follows criticism that Britain has been acting too slowly.

The action puts on ice Abramovich’s plans to sell the Premier League club, effectively placing the current European champions under government control. The team can carry on playing but the government said it was open to selling the club so long as Abramovich himself did not benefit.

“There can be no safe havens for those who have supported Putin’s vicious assault on Ukraine,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

“We will be ruthless in pursuing those who enable the killing of civilians, destruction of hospitals and illegal occupation of sovereign allies.”

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There had been loud calls from British lawmakers for action to be taken against Abramovich and other Russian oligarchs, with criticism that Johnson’s government was not moving fast enough compared to the European Union and the United States.

Sechin, who Britain described as Putin’s right-hand man, was already on the U.S. and EU sanctions lists and last week French authorities seized his yacht.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow describes as a “special military operation”, Britain has imposed sanctions on about 20 Russian-linked figures. The EU announced new sanctions on Wednesday against 14 more oligarchs, meaning its restrictions apply to 862 people and 53 entities.

The others added to the British list were Deripaska, who has stakes in En+ Group, Dmitri Lebedev, chairman of Bank Rossiya, Alexei Miller, the chief executive of energy company Gazprom, and Nikolai Tokarev, the president of the Russia state-owned pipeline company Transneft.

In total Britain said the seven figures, who with the exception of Abramovich had previously been sanctioned by the United States or the EU, had a collective net worth of 15 billion pounds (an equivalent of $19.74 billion).

Thursday’s action means Abramovich is banned from carrying out transactions with any British individuals and businesses, and cannot enter or stay in Britain. His spokeswoman declined comment.

The 55-year-old, who has Israeli and Portuguese citizenship, became one of Russia’s most powerful businessmen by earning fabulous fortunes after the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. Forbes has put his net worth at $13.3 billion.

He bought Chelsea in 2003 for a reported 140 million pounds and his investment contributed hugely to the most successful era in the team’s history as they won five Premier League titles, five FA Cups and the Champions League twice.

They beat Brazilian side Palmeiras in February to become FIFA Club World Cup champions for the first time, having defeated fellow English side Manchester City to become European champions last season.

Last week, Abramovich announced he would sell Chelsea and donate money from the sale to help victims of the war in Ukraine. Johnson’s spokesman said the government was open to selling the club but it would require another licence.

“If the club is sold, Abramovich will not benefit,” sports minister Nadine Dorries told reporters.

The government has issued a special licence to allow Chelsea to play fixtures and pay staff, but will limit the sale of tickets and merchandise.

Anita Clifford, a lawyer who specialises in asset freezing and sanctions matters, said the measures temporarily deprived Abramovich of his assets but Chelsea could be sold with his and the government’s agreement. The money could potentially go to help Ukrainian war victims.

“The proceeds…would be frozen too and would not simply flow to the designated person unless there was a licence or agreement in place to either cover this, or cover the proceeds going to a nominated beneficiary which both parties considered appropriate,” she said.

The entry on the British sanctions list described Abramovich, who Britain said was worth 9 billion pounds, as “a prominent Russian businessman and pro-Kremlin oligarch who had enjoyed “a close relationship for decades” with Putin.

This association had brought Abramovich financial or material benefit from either Putin directly or the Russian government, it said.

It said he was “involved in destabilising Ukraine” and undermining its sovereignty and independence via the London-listed Russian steelmaker Evraz in which he is the biggest shareholder.

Britain’s financial watchdog suspended trading of shares in Evraz, which plummeted 16% after the sanctions were announced.

Evraz has been involved in providing financial services, or funds, goods or technology that could damage Ukraine’s independence including providing steel that might be used to make Russian tanks, the British treasury said.

Abramovich could apply to the foreign office for an internal review of the asset freeze, or apply to the High Court in London for a review of the decision, a process that could take 18 months or longer, Clifford said.

London has long been a top destination for Russian money, with wealthy Russians using it as a luxury playground and educating their children at fee-paying schools. It has earned the nickname Londongrad.

Johnson’s critics, who point out his Conservative Party has close ties to Russian donors who have donated about 1.9 million pounds since he came to power, say the government has been slow to impose sanctions and asset freezes on the oligarchs and those close to Putin’s administration.

Opposition lawmakers said the news of the sanctions was welcome but they had taken far too long.

“This is the right decision. But it should not have taken the government weeks,” said David Lammy, foreign affairs spokesman for the Labour Party.

“Too few oligarchs linked to Putin’s rogue regime have so far faced sanctions from the UK government. We are lagging far behind allies in the EU and the US.”

The sanctions came as the first major mining company – Rio Tinto – joined the corporate exodus from Russia, and Japan’s Sony and Nintendo suspended deliveries of their gaming consoles.

Sony, whose movie studio had already stopped releases in Russia, suspended the launch of racing game “Gran Turismo 7”. Rival Nintendo said it was delaying the global release of “Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp”, a turn-based strategy game with a military theme.

Major fast-food, drinks and consumer goods companies, led by McDonalds and Coca-Cola, have stepped back from Russia following pressure from customers in the West.

Hotelier Marriott International closed its Moscow office and joined Hilton and Hyatt in suspending developments.

Japan’s Shiseido suspended exports of its cosmetics to Russia from Europe as well as advertising and promotions, and Mitsubishi Electric said it would stop exports to Russia, where operations were in a “difficult situation”.

Swiss bank Credit Suisse flagged a roughly $900 million Russian credit exposure, including lending to wealthy clients, following disclosures from Italy’s UniCredit and France’s BNP Paribas.

Japanese construction machinery supplier Hitachi said it would stop exports and cease most operations in Russia except for vital electrical power facilities, following similar exits by American industrial companies Caterpillar, 3M Co, Deere and Honeywell.

“We took multiple factors including the supply chain situation into account,” a spokesperson for Hitachi said, echoing a statement from Caterpillar.

While some companies such as Ford and Apple have condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, others including Japanese automaker Toyota have taken a more neutral stance, blaming a halt in production in Russia on logistical hurdles.

Suzuki’s Hungarian factory suspended car exports to Russia and Ukraine, about 10,000 vehicles a year, in one of the first signs of the conflict hitting the broader economy in the region.

Sweeping Western sanctions have isolated Russia, while shippers have suspended routes and European Union leaders plan to phase out buying Russian energy in a bid to be less dependent on the country.

The war, which entered its third week on Thursday, has killed thousands of people and rendered more than two million refugees.

It has decimated the Russian rouble, roiled stock markets and prices of oil and other commodities have skyrocketed, adding to global inflation that was surging even before the conflict began.

Alphabet Inc’s YouTube and Google Play store are suspending all payment-based services in Russia, including subscriptions, as sanctions start to pose banking challenges.

They had earlier stopped selling online ads in Russia.

Russia plans to order local airlines to pay for leased aircraft in roubles and bar them from returning planes to foreign companies if the latter cancel the lease, according to a draft law published on Thursday.

Lessor BOC Aviation said it had 18 planes worth $935 million leased to Russian airlines that could be affected by the sanctions and insurance policy cancellations.

Moscow, which calls the war a “special military operation,” has warned it might nationalise idled foreign assets in retaliation against Western sanctions.

Rio Tinto, which owns an 80% stake in a joint venture with Russian aluminium producer Rusal, said it was “in the process of terminating all commercial relationships it has with any Russian business.”

Italian energy group Eni suspended the purchase of oil from Russia and said it was watching developments closely with regards to gas procurement.

Eni, which had already frozen joint ventures with Rosneft following sanctions imposed in 2014, also has long-term take-or-pay gas contracts with Gazprom.

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