Sanctioned Russian billionaire Petr Aven is embroiled in a legal spat with UK authorities after they froze bank accounts used to pay expenses at his English mansion.
A London judge relaxed a freezing order on the accounts linked to Aven that were used to pay for bills and security, according to a ruling made public Monday. The court tussle is part of a wider probe over allegations the billionaire was evading sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — one of the first public investigations into suspected violations.
Officials at the National Crime Agency raided Aven’s home in May and have zeroed in on more than £3 million of funds, routed to the UK from Austria in the hours before sanctions were imposed. The estate, just outside London, has a £300 million art collection.
“This is a crucial test of whether the UK can effectively tackle sanctions evasion through criminal enforcement,” said Helen Taylor, a researcher at anticorruption campaigner Spotlight on Corruption.
Aven’s wife has been funding his basic needs since March 15, according to the ruling. The billionaire’s monthly expenditure is estimated to be £140,000 ($167,840), much of which is for the protection and insurance of the art collection, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Aven himself is worth $5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
The judge effectively eased restrictions on the estate accounts under a UK license that allowed for the billionaire to pay for “basic needs,” according to the ruling.
Lawyers for the two companies that managed his household argued that the freezing orders should be canceled due to the overlap of the license, while the NCA said the accounts needed to remain frozen to allow time for “complex investigations” both in the UK and other countries.
Aven declined to comment. The NCA didn’t immediately comment.