Friday 17 November 2017

Ex-oligarch can access €100m Irish-based funds as judge criticises gardaí

Former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky is pursuing billions seized from him after his arrest in 2003. Photo: Reuters
Former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky is pursuing billions seized from him after his arrest in 2003. Photo: Reuters
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A freezing order on almost €100m in Irish-based assets belonging to former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been lifted.

The decision was welcomed by the former billionaire, who is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's main critics.

He plans to use some of the money to fund his Open Russia organisation, which is campaigning for human rights and democracy.

But the Russian Federation said it was "surprised and disappointed" by the ruling.

Mr Khodorkovsky's Irish assets were frozen in 2011 when gardaí began investigating whether they were linked to money laundering.

At the time Mr Khodorkovsky (53) was imprisoned in Siberia for tax evasion, embezzlement and money laundering. But the charges were widely regarded as being politically motivated.

He was released in 2013.

Garda fraud officers had been obtaining renewable freezing orders every 28 days, but the latest of these was challenged by lawyers for Mr Khodorkovsky.

Revoking the order yesterday at Dublin District Court, Judge Timothy Lucey said that while he was satisfied a garda investigation was ongoing, the force had not shown there was reasonable grounds for maintaining the order.

He criticised gardaí for the lack of information provided about the investigation.

"The respondents have provided almost no evidence to the court," he said.

The judge said Mr Khodorkovsky had produced a substantial amount of evidence to demonstrate that he was the beneficial owner of the assets and that they were obtained as a result of his involvement with the former Yukos Oil company.

"He maintains his innocence and claims he has been persecuted for his political views and that the charges against him were false and were for the purpose of the Russian state getting control of Yukos oil assets," Judge Lucey said.

The judge noted there was a Russian warrant for Mr Khodorkovsky's arrest for murder, but he had been granted asylum in the UK and was not going to be extradited.

In a statement, the Russian Federation said it had not been notified of the proceedings by Irish authorities. Had it been, it would have provided "extensive" evidence to show "the money is the proceeds of crime".

The court heard a second Irish fund, understood to contain about €20m, was also frozen. This was for the benefit of six other former Yukos shareholders. Gardaí are to consider whether they will continue to seek to freeze those assets.

Irish Independent

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