Sanctioned sister of billionaire Usmanov waives right to benefit from family trusts

Sanctioned sister of billionaire Usmanov waives right to benefit from family trusts
The sister of Russian billionaire Usmanov has waived her rights to receive benefits from a family trust that owns the Dilbar luxury yacht, seized by German authorities / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin March 28, 2024

The sanctioned sister of Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov has voluntarily and irrevocably waived her right to receive benefits from two family trusts set up years ago by the Uzbek-born tycoon, her representatives told bne IntelliNews, after earlier claims about her links to the trusts resulted in her being placed under Western sanctions.

The move comes as Usmanov and his sister continue to challenge their listings in an EU court.

Representatives of Gulbakhor Ismailova told bne IntelliNews she has signed deeds of exclusion that prevent her from receiving any future benefits from the Pauillac Trust and the Sister Trust, which were created by Usmanov in 2007 and 2016 for estate planning purposes. The trusts were created before any sanctioned were imposed on Russia for the annexations of Crimea in the first case and well before the war in Ukraine started and sanctioned started to be placed on Russia’s leading businessmen in the second case.

This means Ismailova – a gynaecologist who lives in Uzbekistan – will not be able to regain her rights to receive benefits from the trusts that hold the much-publicized Dilbar yacht that has been seized by the German authorities and other assets often attributed to Usmanov, even if sanctions against her are lifted.

Ismailova made the decision to exclude herself permanently from the family trusts during the month of Ramadan, her representatives stressed, as the Usmanov family are all practising Muslims. This prompted her to first consult with a local religious leader, or imam, before signing the deeds of exclusion on 12 March.

“Ismailova and her family are devout Muslims who take the subject of family inheritance very seriously, as there are strict tenets for passing down family wealth in accordance with Islam,” her representatives said. “But after nearly two years of being unjustifiably targeted by sanctions, she decided to take this serious step in order to clear her name once and for all. While it is unfortunate that sanctions are causing individuals to give up legitimate rights to family inheritance that exist around the world, we are hopeful that this move will lead to the recognition that there is no justification for maintaining sanctions against Ismailova.”

Ismailova was placed on the EU sanctions list in April 2022, followed by UK and US sanctions later that month. The restrictions came shortly after Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (the Bundeskriminalamt, or BKA) named her as the ultimate owner of assets that Western officials believe are tied to Usmanov, including the half-billion-euro Dilbar yacht.

The BKA has since deleted its post on X in which the agency publicized its claim about Ismailova’s ownership of the yacht. Earlier, German courts struck down a number of media claims that were found to wrongfully attribute ownership of assets in Europe to Usmanov.

Legal representatives for Ismailova say they have provided documentary evidence and expert evaluations showing that the Dilbar is owned by a trust, and that Ismailova has never had ownership or control over the yacht or the trusts’ other assets. This conclusion was upheld by the German sanctions regulator and was submitted to the EU Council to no effect, Ismailova’s representatives said.

After she was hit with EU sanctions, Ismailova was automatically excluded from among the individuals who could be considered recipients of benefit from the Pauillac Trust and the Sister Trust, in line with the trusts’ internal regulations. Her move to waive future beneficiary rights effectively guarantees that she will never be able to receive economic benefits from them.

Another sister of Usmanov’s, Saodat Narzieva, also a gynaecologist, was removed from the EU sanctions list in 2022 after information emerged that claims of her being the “beneficial owner” of bank accounts linked to the billionaire were inaccurate.

The EU General Court has recently issued a number of decisions clarifying the limits to the EU Council’s power to sanction family members of prominent businessmen.

On March 20, the EU General Court overturned sanctions against Russian former F1 racing driver Nikita Mazepin, the son of businessman Dmitry Mazepin, whom the EU considers to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Court ruled that, based on its previous judicial decisions, simple family ties are not sufficient grounds for imposing sanctions on family members of wealthy Russian individuals. Sanctions on the mother of the late Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin were likewise dropped a year ago on similar grounds.

In its ruling the Court stated that “the application of restrictive measures to natural persons irrespective of their personal conduct and on the sole ground of their family connection…must be regarded as at variance with the case-law of the Court of Justice.”

Last year, the EU General Court also annulled sanctions against Alexander Pumpyansky, the son of Russian billionaire Dmitry Pumpyansky, and Olga Ayziman, the ex-wife of Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman. In both cases, the Court found that a material change in these individual’s circumstances no longer justified their ongoing sanctions designation.

Usmanov was added to the EU sanctions list in February 2022 and has since been appealing the restrictions in court. In January 2024, the District Court of Hamburg ruled that allegations made about Usmanov by Forbes (US) magazine that were used to justify sanctions against him were false. Earlier, Usmanov’s lawyers obtained several injunctions prohibiting the dissemination of inaccurate information about him by European media following litigation. Despite this, the EU General Court in February dismissed Usmanov’s sanctions appeal. A group of legal experts criticised the ruling for lowering the bar of the European legal system to just “good enough.”