Uzbekistan is lobbying the EU to lift sanctions on Uzbek-Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, with the issue having been put on the agenda of recent meetings between Uzbek and EU officials, the Financial Times has reported, citing unnamed sources.
As followed by bne IntelliNews, Usmanov previously argued that the sanctions imposed by the US, EU, UK and Switzerland following Russia’s late February invasion of Ukraine were based on “unjust and unsubstantiated accusations”.
The EU claims he provided “direct and indirect support to the government of the Russian Federation through business empires, wealth and other resources”. Usmanov challenged the EU’s sanctions in court in July, claiming a threat of bankruptcy for his USM group structures, and the disruption to transactions and contracts.
According to the Financial Times, Uzbekistan is now also providing legal assistance to Usmanov for a potential court challenge against Brussels should the EU reject his demands to lift the sanctions.
Tashkent has argued that the sanctions restrict the billionaire’s ability to invest some of his fortune in Uzbekistan, with which he maintains close connections, according to the FT sources.
“I have not been involved in politics and I never received anything from the Russian state – not during the privatisation of state property in the 1990s, nor ever since,” Usmanov told Forbes in July. “Those who impose sanctions would do well to rely less on clichés. Contrary to popular stereotypes, there are people out there who have earned their fortunes through honest work and by using their own brain.”
In September, the EU dropped sanctions imposed on Usmanov’s sister Saodat Narzieva. A bne IntelliNews investigation into the case revealed that the sanctions were based on shares she was given in 2014 long before sanctions were imposed on her brother. They were shares that she only held for one year. Moreover, the accusation that she controlled bank accounts linked to her brother's companies was false.
Narzieva said in an opinion piece in bne IntelliNews that she was a simple, Tashkent-based gynaecologist and, while she admitted that she had benefited from the generosity of her billionaire brother, she said she had nothing to do with his business and did not control any banking accounts. An investigation by bne IntelliNews confirmed her claims.
Another sister of Usmanov, Gulbakhor Ismailova, was also sanctioned. The grounds given were that she was the legal owner of some of Usmanov’s assets, such as his $600mn yacht Dilbar, the FT reported. However, according to the bne IntelliNews investigation, the yacht was transferred to Ismailova in around 2014, well before the emergence of the sanctions regime, as part of Usmanov’s efforts to share some of his wealth with his family.
Usmanov now spends most of his time in Uzbekistan, where he is a major investor in the telecoms sector among other areas. He donated millions of dollars to the Uzbek government during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and to charitable projects.