"The Great Jewish Oligarchs' Escape": Russian Oligarchs Flee to Israel in Bid to Dodge Sanctions

Chris Menahan
Mar. 14, 2022

Russian-Jewish oligarchs have been fleeing to Israel en masse over the past few weeks in a last minute effort to dodge US and EU sanctions, according to Israeli media reports.

From Business Insider, "At least 14 private jets from Russia landed in Israel in the past 10 days amid the latest round of oligarch sanctions":
At least 14 private jets from Russia have landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, per a report by The Times of Israel.

The report cited a broadcast by Israel's Channel 12, which said that a number of rented private planes were coming from Russia and were landing in Israel.

The planes' owners were unidentified and this has led to speculation that oligarchs may be looking at ways to slip around sanctions.

[...] The UK, among others, recently sanctioned seven more Russian oligarchs, including Roman Abramovich as Insider's Kate Duffy reported. Other oligarchs had previously been sanctioned, including Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg, and Igor Rotenberg.
Haaretz has more...

From Haaretz, "The Great Jewish Oligarchs' Escape: 'The Ground Is Trembling. They Will Stream Into Israel'":
As Ukraine war rages and the West tightens the screws on Russian oligarchs, many of them look to Israel to escape ■ Some hold Israeli citizenship, exactly for these kinds of circumstances ■ Billionaires will benefit from Israeli law, allowing them to hide sources of income for a 10-year period

[...] Israel is not obligated to any Western recommendations and has not announced restrictions of any sort on Russian businesses – and in the meantime, private jets from Russia have continued to land at Ben-Gurion Airport. One jet owned by Roman Abramovich landed at Ben-Gurion on the day after Russia’s invasion began. Nevertheless, the prevailing assessment is that Israeli banks will adopt the European and American regulatory rules, as has already been happening in recent years. Since the crisis began, and all the more so since the full-scale fighting began, there has been a noticeable increase in interest by Jewish businesspeople operating in Russia in extracting their funds from the country.

“I am currently consulting for five businesspeople active in Russia,” says attorney Ram A. Gamliel. “There is a sense of panic. It is unclear where this is going. At the same time, you have to say the truth: if it were the opposite case – if the authorities in Russia were those who were acting against the businesspeople – they would be a great deal more frightened,”

Gamliel says that the period prior to the outbreak of the war, when harsh economic sanctions had not yet been imposed, gave the businesspeople a chance to properly prepare for the eventuality: “The cutoff from SWIFT does not automatically hurt everyone; it hurts the center of investment inside Russia. Mainly, it makes it difficult to bring in or send out money from the country. Anyone who is smart managed to transfer funds during the waiting period.”

The oligarchs are businesspeople who amassed their wealth following the collapse of the Soviet Union, during the process of privatization of the country’s natural resources, like coal, oil, gas and aluminum. “I have no proof of the source of the wealth of each and every one of them, but in the broad perspective – there is no clean money whose source is in Russia. They benefited from the fruits of public corruption,” says former Meretz lawmaker Roman Bronfman, a native of Ukraine. “This is money the source of which is in an act of robbery perpetrated against all of the citizens – of natural resources or of the state budget. The average [monthly] pension in Russia comes to $200, and the gaps between rich and poor are the highest in the world.”

At first, the oligarchs were aligned with Boris Yeltsin, who pinned his hopes on them, hoping they would help turn Russia into a liberal democracy. However, with the Putin’s rise to power in 1999, he began using the legal the system to persecute the three oligarchs of the Yukos oil conglomerate: Leonid Nevzlin (who has a 20 percent ownership stake in Haaretz), Vladimir Dubov and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The first two fled to Israel, whereas Khodorkovsky was given a 10-year prison sentence on charges of theft and tax evasion.

[...] Late last month, it was revealed on Israel’s Channel 12 that Yad Vashem had approached the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides, with a request that sanctions not be imposed on Abramovich. This news follows another bit of fresh information: that the oligarch has made a contribution to the museum amounting to tens of millions of dollars. “These contributions are the buying of connections – it is precisely for these events that the sanctions are happening now,” says Bronfman.

Another oligarch considered close to Putin and who contributes to Yad Vashem is the president of the0 European Jewish Congress, Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor. Kantor’s wealth was amassed following the breakup of the Soviet Union, thanks to his taking over of the extensive fertilizer industry. He has a controlling interest in Acron Group, which is traded on the London and Russian exchanges. Its share prices have been sharply down this month. Kantor is the head of a body called the World Holocaust Forum that underwrote the events marking 75 years since the end of World War II, which were held at Yad Vashem in January 2020. At the central event, Putin generated a public scandal by making incorrect statements that supported his own historical narrative of the war. Film clips with incorrect data were displayed on the screen, and it was unclear who was behind them. Yad Vashem Museum subsequently issued an official apology.
The US House and Senate just voted to give Israel another billion taxpayer dollars in addition to the nearly $40 billion they previously agreed to give them over the next decade.

After taking heat, Israel announced Monday "for the first time" that they'll comply with international sanctions against Russia.

"Israel will not be a route to bypass sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States & other western countries," Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid claimed.

We'll see what happens when this falls out of the news.

[Header image of Roman Abramovich's B787-8 Dreamliner P4-BDL by Stephan Tournay, CC BY-SA 4.0. Left overlay of Abramovich by Brian Minkoff-London Pixels, CC BY-SA 4.0.]

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