Finland state

Russian sanctions: Finland seizes the assets of a billionaire “Maltese” citizen

Finnish authorities, acting on EU sanctions against Russian oligarchs and Kremlin friends in June, have seized the assets in Finland of Russian billionaire and Maltese citizen since 2016 Arkady Volozh.

The Finns were acting on EU sanctions against Yandex founder Arkady Volozh, who acquired Maltese citizenship in 2016 through the controversial individual investor scheme, known as the cash-for-passport scheme .

The Maltese-Russian oligarch, best known for co-founding Russia’s first Internet search engine, Yandex, is known to have close ties to the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin.

In fact, just two years after acquiring Maltese citizenship, Volozh appeared on the so-called “Kremlin list” released by the US government in January 2018. The list identified 96 Russian oligarchs and 114 senior politicians close to Putin who were somehow linked to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The EU then took its own action and last June sanctioned Volozh and two others for their actions related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Volozh resigned as chief executive of Yandex in June after being added to the EU list during the sixth round of sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

“As the founder and CEO of Yandex, he supports, materially or financially, the government of the Russian Federation and is responsible for supporting actions or policies that undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” the EU sanction quotes.

The EU also accuses Yandex of “promoting media and state narratives in its search results, and of downgrading and removing content critical of the Kremlin, such as content related to the war of aggression of Russia against Ukraine”.

In his noticethe EU notes that Russian state-owned banks such as Sberbank and VTB are shareholders and investors in Yandex.

In 2019, as Volozh was enjoying the fruits of Maltese and European Union citizenship, the EU sanction quotes how, “As the founder and CEO of Yandex, he supports, materially or financially, the government of the Russian Federation and is responsible for supporting actions or policies that undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.

“Volozh is a prominent businessman involved in economic sectors providing a substantial source of income to the government of the Russian Federation, which is responsible for the annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of Ukraine.”

Along with the EU’s decision to sanction the Maltese citizen, it also highlights how Yandex’s complex ownership structure means the Russian government can veto the company’s activities if they are deemed to be against the best interests of the company. national.

Yandex had agreed to a restructuring that gave a “privileged share” to a newly created public benefit foundation, which it said was “built to defend the interests of the Russian Federation”.

Through this public-benefit foundation, the EU says, the Russian government is able to exercise a right of veto over a defined list of issues, such as the sale of material intellectual property and the sale or transfer of data. of Russian users to foreign companies, both of which are considered to affect the “national interest” of Russia.

This aligns with a statement by the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, explaining how one of the objectives of the additional sanctions is “to ban more disinformation actors actively contributing to the war propaganda of the President Putin”.

According to reports in the Finnish media, the assets of the brothers Boris and Arkady Rotenberg, who hold important business interests in the country, were also seized.

This week’s confiscations come after Finnish authorities made decisions to seize assets in August and early September, acting on the EU sanctions list. They have now frozen the accounts of the Moscow-based local division of Yandex, as well as the Yango.Taxi service and a data center it operates in Finland.

Yandex, owned by Russian-Maltese Volozh, is Russia’s largest internet company and, known as “Google of Russia”, is the country’s most popular search engine. In addition to Yango.Taxi, Yandex also owns the online marketplace Yandex.Market and had an aggregate market value last November of 27 billion euros.

It is unclear what assets, if any, Volozh holds in Malta, or what shares in companies, fictitious or otherwise, he may have registered in Malta.

But there could very well be assets to confiscate in Malta. To have obtained his Maltese passport in 2016, Volozh would have had to spend at least one fiscal year residing in Malta and pay a lump sum of €650,000 for the privilege of Maltese and European Union citizenship.

Additionally, he is also said to have made investments in Malta as a precondition for the IIP, primarily an investment of €150,000 in government bonds and the purchase of property worth at least €350,000. €, unless the billionaire has chosen the most profitable solution in the short term. option and rented a property for a minimum of €16,000 per year for five years.

It is not publicly known which ownership option Volozh ultimately chose, and he could have disposed of these assets by becoming a Maltese citizen, but one would expect a move in the direction of Finland from Malta.