Sanctioned Russian oligarch wins rare legal battle over property searches

The Uzbek-Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov has won a rare legal victory after a court in Frankfurt ruled that a series of searches of his property in Germany last year were unlawful.

Usmanov was one of 26 Russians hit with EU sanctions in the days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year, with the bloc describing him as one of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “favourite oligarchs”.

His sister Gulbakhor Ismailova was also placed under sanctions, on the grounds that she was the legal owner of some of Usmanov’s assets, such as his $600mn yacht Dilbar.

Usmanov’s legal victory concerns a series of searches carried out by German law enforcement last year as part of a money-laundering investigation into the businessman, who is also being probed for tax evasion and sanctions violations.

Prosecutors searched three properties in Rottach-Egern, south of Munich, Usmanov’s yacht and a flat of another Uzbek citizen linked to Usmanov in Königstein, a small town near Frankfurt. According to German news magazine Der Spiegel they confiscated art objects as well as documents.

But the district court in Frankfurt ruled that there were no grounds to suspect Usmanov of money-laundering and so revoked all four search warrants.

The court said the rulings that prompted the searches “do not meet the minimum requirements the definition of the crime being investigated”.

Der Spiegel said the judges criticised the fact that investigators relied on a YouTube video by Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny and had failed to provide other evidence of irregular business practices.

A joint statement from Usmanov’s lawyers, Peter Gauweiler and Thomas Fischer, said the court’s statement confirmed that the proceedings against their client were “not objectively justified but . . . rather politically motivated”.

The two lawyers, who represent the Uzbek embassy in Germany, said they assumed that the German government would now “compensate for damage resulting from these unlawful investigative measures”.

The Financial Times reported in 2022 that Uzbekistan was lobbying the EU to lift sanctions on Usmanov and his sister. The businessman, who was worth about $20bn before Putin’s invasion last year, has maintained his close connections with Uzbekistan, where he has born.

Tashkent has argued that the sanctions against him, which include an asset freeze and travel ban, have restricted his ability to invest some of his fortune in the Central Asian country.

Usmanov started accumulating his wealth while a senior director at Russian state gas company Gazprom in the 1990s. He later built an industrial conglomerate involving steel, copper, telecoms, technology and media.

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