US senators are lobbying to sanction Putin’s top cop and Arsenal FC’s co-owner

Russian businessman Alisher Usmanov, with president Vladimir Putin, left.
Russian businessman Alisher Usmanov, with president Vladimir Putin, left.
Image: (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
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There’s a furious lobbying campaign going on in Washington over a blacklist of oligarchs close to Russian president Vladimir Putin, due to be published by the Treasury on Jan. 29.

A host of oligarchs are doing everything they can to avoid being named. As Quartz has reported, ex-officials and think tankers have been approached by lobbyists and oligarchs themselves for information and help staying off the list. Some are reportedly changing their schedules to avoid being seen with president Vladimir Putin. Others are liquidating holdings that might be exposed.

Top Republican senators are also getting in on the game. Noted Russia hawks Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio this week urged (pdf) treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin to consider Yuri Chaika, Putin’s attorney general, and Alisher Usmanov, an oligarch with reportedly close Kremlin ties. They said both men had been linked to “significant acts of corruption” and may have violated America’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, in a letter sent with senators Roger Wicker and Cory Gardner on Jan. 17. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates was cc’ed on the letter.

Usmanov, a metals magnate ranked by Forbes as the world’s 66th richest man with a $15.9 billion fortune, owns a large stake in Arsenal FC, one of Britain’s top soccer clubs, and was the subject of two embarrassing Paradise Papers reports. One reportedly saw him secretly buy a company that was supposed to be doing anti-money laundering due diligence on his own cash—a serious conflict of interest. Another suggested he may have broken Premier League rules by “gifting” his business partner a chunk of cash to invest in Everton FC, a rival English soccer club. (His business partner denied it was a gift.)

Chaika, who has been prosecutor general since 2006 and was earlier Putin’s justice minister, is known as the “master of kompromat” (paywall), a technique used in Russia to discredit an enemy by spreading scurrilous information about them. He is thought by some to be (paywall) the source of the emails about Hillary Clinton promised to Donald Trump Jr. in Trump Tower. Chaika has been a fervent opponent of the US Magnitsky sanctions and recently asked US attorney general Jeff Sessions to launch a criminal case against American-born businessman Bill Browder, who campaigned for the Magnitsky Act.

Both men have had run-ins with anti-corruption campaigner and lead opposition figure Alexei Navalny. Navalny has alleged that Chaika’s sons have developed a massive business empire during his time in power and cultivated close ties to organized crime. Chaika has called it a “hatchet job” with “no basis in fact.” Navalny has also alleged that Uzbekistan-born Usmanov was one of several businessmen to effectively bribe prime minister Dmitry Medvedev. Usmanov denies the allegations, sued Navalny to remove the video, and, in a 12-minute video rant that he posted online, told Navalny, “I spit on you.”

The Treasury’s list is an advisory document outlining oligarchs considered close to the Kremlin, those on it could later be sanctioned and will almost certainly find themselves the subjects of a host of new compliance checks when trying to work with Western companies.