Cyprus probes citizens named over Russian sanctions evasion

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) – Cyprus’ government said Thursday it’s looking into how a number of Cypriot nationals were included in a new round of U.S. and U.K. sanctions targeting the financial networks of Russian oligarchs Alisher Usmanov and Roman Abramovich who are close allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides called an emergency meeting of top officials to investigate the involvement of three Cypriot nationals, three executives holding dual Cypriot-Russian citizenship, a Russian Cypriot-Israeli national and another resident of Cyprus who were among executives running Cypriot-registered trusts and other businesses involved in alleged sanctions-busting for Usmanov.

In a statement, government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis said a number of decisions were taken “for the exclusive purpose of protecting Cyprus’ name as a reliable, financial and business center.”

“The president of the republic considers the entire matter as particularly serious and has issued instructions to thoroughly investigate it,” the statement said.

Cyprus has in recent years been at pains to shake off a reputation of being in the pockets of Russian oligarchs who have concealed their assets through a maze of Cyprus-registered trusts and brass-plate companies. Russian deposits in Cypriot banks have dropped precipitously since a 2013 financial crisis brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy.

Usmanov has been subject to U.S. and European Union sanctions since shortly after the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine last year.

Abramovich, who amassed a fortune in Russia’s oil and aluminum industries following the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, was forced to sell the Chelsea football club after he was cited last year.

U.S. officials said the new designations, which were coordinated with the British government, aim to reinforce existing penalties and further disrupt Russia’s importation of critical technologies used in its war against Ukraine.

The departments of State and Treasury announced sanctions on 120 entities and individuals, across more than 20 countries and jurisdictions, connected to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The United Kingdom named 14 individuals and entities.

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