Mikhail Fridman, the Ukrainian-born Russian business magnate who had become the target of international sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine, appeared in a European court this week following a long-running investigation into movements of his personal wealth. Fridman’s representative told court officials in a statement the banking mogul’s life had been “destroyed” by policies aimed at his finances.
During a court hearing, Fridman’s legal representatives decried the European Union’s allegations that the tycoon was guilty of “serious crimes.” His legal team denied the government’s claims he was the beneficiary of an alliance with the Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and accusations that Fridman had financially supported the country’s military efforts in Ukraine.
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The 59-year-old’s attorney, Thierry Marembert described the EU’s evidence as “not trustworthy” and “based on nothing” during the hearing, according to Bloomberg.
Fridman built a fortune in post-Soviet Russia as the cofounder of Alfa Bank, the country’s largest private investment group. He was a stakeholder in the oil company TNK-BP that was sold for $14 billion to the state-backed company Rosneft in 2013.
An investigation into the embattled oligarch was scaled back in April after a raid was carried out at his London home by the EU’s National Crime Agency’s Combatting Kleptocracy Cell, an taskforce formed to target Russian elites with Kremlin ties after the war’s onset in February 2020. Fridman has denied allegations of sanction evasion or financial fraud.
The probe was carried out on charges of money laundering and sanctions evasion. In January, the agency dropped part of its investigation into Fridman after a search warrant was found to be legally invalid. After being detained in December in the UK, Fridman’s legal team has challenged UK and EU sanctions.
Fridman is one of a group of Russian elites, many of them arts patrons, who have faced heightened scrutiny following the invasion of Ukraine.
During his tenure at LetterOne, the firm served as a sponsor to museum exhibitions, including the Tate Modern’s 2019 retrospective on Natalia Goncharova. Fridman has in the past appeared at auctions and has reportedly been a client of Gagosian gallery. Through the mega-dealer, he bought a $38 million Warhol in 2013, according to the New York Post.
Sanctioned by the EU in February 2022 after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Fridman, alongside his business partners, German Khan, Alexey Kuzmichev and Andrei Kosogov, stepped down from the London-based private equity company LetterOne, where they served as board members. Fridman stopped receiving dividends from the company’s investments as a result of the sanctions. Fridman had been living off a UK government-issued stipend following sanctions leveraged against him in March 2022.
Fridman, alongside his business partner Petr Aven, is among a group of select Russian billionaires, including former soccer magnate Roman Abramovich, who are subject of legal battles in the EU amid sanctions targeting their assets and ability to travel internationally.