New cases of documented Czech business of Russian businessmen, which lead to clues to the Russian regime or people connected to it, revive the debate about the effectiveness of the Czech sanctions list. There are currently six people on it. Why isn’t the list more comprehensive after months of operation?
What you will also hear in today’s episode at 5:59
- Who are the Russian oligarchs Ivan Savvidis and Viktor Vekselberg.
- What happens to people and their property if the Czech authorities put them on the sanctions list.
- And why there are only six names on the domestic list so far.
Ivan Savvidis and Viktor Vekselberg. Two more Russian oligarchs with ties to Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin’s entourage, who control their companies in the Czech Republic even more than a year and a half after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They did not make it to the domestic sanctions list, nor to the European one.
“These are not completely identical cases,” says investigative reporter Seznam Zpráv Jiří Pšenička, who described the domestic traces of both Russian entrepreneurs. “With Mr. Savvidis, the ownership is undeniable, with Mr. Vekselberg, it’s a little hazy. But in my opinion, the main thing they have in common is that the European Union turns a blind eye to them,” explains the reporter. And he adds that the European sanctions list already has around 1,800 items.
According to Pšenička, in any case, both the Czech government and the European authorities should consider registering Savvidis and Vekselberg. Why?
Two stories, one conclusion
Let’s start with Ivan Savvidis. He controls a food packaging factory on the outskirts of Slané, belonging to his Agrokom holding, which has its headquarters in Rostov-on-Don. And besides, he is a close associate of Vladimir Putin. Several things indicate this – Savvidis became a member of one of Putin’s advisory bodies, the so-called Council for Inter-Ethnic Relations. And in addition, the Russian president awarded him a high state honor three years ago: the Order of Alexander Nevsky.
“After talking to people from diplomatic circles, I think the fundamental problem is that Mr. Savvidis has also had a Greek passport for 10 years. (…) This is probably what protects him from being added to the sanctions list today,” says Pšenička.
For the second man – Viktor Vekselberg – the story is less straightforward. The oligarch, sometimes called the aluminum baron, for several years directly controlled the company Safina, which owns a factory for the processing of precious and non-ferrous metals in Vestec near Prague. Shortly after Vekselberg was put on the US sanctions list in 2018, a certain Alexandr Okatov took over the company. Safina’s management began to claim that any link to the previous owner had disappeared.
But Okatov died in Russia this year. And around Safina, other threads leading to Vekselberg began to shine through. “Just a few days after Okatov’s death, a new owner appeared in Safina’s ownership structure – Brigita’s company. And as we have documented, a direct line from her leads back to Viktor Vekselberg. “And I think that today it is more obvious than maybe a year ago that Safina never stopped being controlled by Vekselberg,” the reporter describes.
Despite serious suspicions, neither of Ivan Savvidis and Viktor Vekselberg is on the Czech or European sanctions list. The reason is not clear, the authorities cannot comment on specific names. “Of course there are other candidates (for the sanction list). But I don’t understand that there are far smaller ‘fish’ than these two on the European list,” says Pšenička.
Czech sanctions list? “Shame”
Jiří Pšenička and other Seznam Zpráv reporters have already described similar cases since the beginning of the armed conflict in Ukraine around 20. At the very beginning of the war, for example, they drew attention to the case of the brothers Mavlit and Musa Bažajev. They had property in the vicinity of Prague’s Václav Havel Airport, and later the latter was even put on the European sanctions list by officials. It was also about the Russian oligarchs Andrei Kozytsyn and Dmitri Pumpyansky.
However, there are still only six names on the Czech sanctions list. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs listed Russian businessman Boris Obnosov with his daughter and son-in-law as the last. And according to reporter Pšenička, the resort is apparently not satisfied with that.
Six people on the Czech sanctions list
- Moscow was the first to be included on the national sanctions list in April orthodox patriarcha Kirillbut the decision actually did not affect him in any way, because he does not go to the Czech Republic and does not have any property here either.
- At the end of June, a Russian oligarch close to Putin was added to the list by the government’s decision Vladimir Yevtushenkov and his son Felix. The main part of their already frozen assets is the Savoy Westend hotel complex.
- In August, the cabinet expanded the list with three more names: a Russian businessman Boris Obnosov (head of the KRTV arms holding), his daughter Olga Zorikova and son-in-law Rostislav Zorikova. Obnosov’s relatives have real estate in the Czech Republic, and it appears that they are indirectly making money from Russian arms production.
“I think that the original ideas were much more ambitious. As far as I know, there was talk of an order of magnitude lower dozens of people who should appear there in the first year. The ministry does not officially comment on it,” the journalist explains, adding that according to his information, the department does not have enough experienced analysts with supporting analytical tools.
However, Pšenička considers the current state of the domestic sanctions list to be a “shame.” “The country that claims to be one of the leaders in supporting Ukraine has only six people on its sanctions list. While three of them – Mr. Obnosov and his relatives – were delivered to us on a silver platter by the associates of Alexei Navalny (Russian oppositionist – editor’s note). In fact, we only came up with three names. And that’s terribly little,” adds the reporter.
In the 5:59 podcast, you will also learn how the process of putting a specific person on the sanctions list looks like in the Czech Republic, or whether it necessarily means the end of their affected business. Listen in the player at the beginning of the article.
Editor a koeditor: Matěj Válek, Dominika Kubištová
Sound design and music: Martin Hůla
Sources of audio samples: Government of the Czech Republic (vlada.cz)
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