Germany orders return of seized property after “unlawful” searches in billionaire Usmanov investigation

Germany orders return of seized property after “unlawful” searches in billionaire Usmanov investigation
Items seized during illegal searches in Germany during investigation into Alisher Usmanov must be returned to their owners, rules Frankfurt court. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews November 1, 2023

The Frankfurt am Main Court on October 26 ruled that all items seized during the 2022 illegal searches as part of an investigation against the Uzbek-Russian businessman Alisher Usmanov must be returned to their owners. The seized properties include documents as well as expensive pieces of art, including a painting by Marc Chagall.

In the fall of 2022, German prosecutors and the Federal Criminal Police Office carried out searches, involving armed special forces, in the Bavarian town of Rottach-Eggern on the Tegernsee, on the Dilbar yacht in Hamburg and in an apartment near Frankfurt belonging to Usmanov’s friend. Usmanov, whose net worth is $14.4bn, according to Forbes, making him Russia’s eighth richest individual, has denied ownership of the properties, including the luxury yacht, and maintained his innocence against money laundering charges. Through his USM Holdings Usmanov controls assets in various sectors, including telecommunications, metals and media. 

The new ruling comes after a May 2023 court decision that the searches by Germany’s General Prosecutor’s Office, conducted as part of a money laundering investigation against Usmanov, were unlawful and based on “vague suspicions”. Usmanov’s lawyers have labelled his prosecution “politically motivated” and have argued that the retention by the Prosecutor's Office of items seized during searches that were earlier recognised as illegal was a “deliberate action.” The court on October 26 ruled that the retention of seized property by German law enforcement authorities was unlawful and the items in question must be returned to their last known owners.

"The actions of the German investigative authorities against Alisher Usmanov can be characterised as a cascade of illegal actions that offend the notions of justice and legality,” lawyers Dr Peter Gauweiler and Dr Thomas Fischer, who represent the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Germany, said in statement commenting the decision. “The decision of the Frankfurt District Court once again reminds the German law enforcement authorities of the need to respect the laws of our country and of the inadmissibility of arbitrary behaviour, including in relation to foreign nationals.”

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