EU sanctions ‘failing’ as Kremlin wives live lavishly in Europe

Protesters in Paris urged Brussels to crack down on the wife of Russia’s deputy defence minister on Sunday, accusing her of conspicuously dodging the bloc’s sanctions over the Ukraine war.

Timur Ivanov, under EU sanctions since October, divorced his wife Svetlana Maniovich in the summer of 2022 to protect her from the punitive measures. 

That’s according to supporters of Russia’s imprisoned opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who led a rally outside the woman’s alleged home.

Before the divorce, Svetlana changed her surname to Ivanova and the deputy defence minister remains her only source of financial support, the demonstrators explained. 

Holding signs reading “Robberies in Russia. Killings in Ukraine. Wife in France”, they demanded the deputy minister’s wife be banned from Europe and her assets frozen. 

“This is a family of war criminals,” one activist Maria Pevchikh told AFP.

EU lagging behind in expanding sanctions list

Pevchikh said French authorities had been alerted to her case, but so far not responded. 

In December, Navalny supporters made public an investigation based on emails from Svetlana Maniovich, detailing her luxurious life in Europe with holidays in Saint-Tropez in southern France and the use of Rolls-Royce cars. 

The Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF), an investigative unit founded by Navalny, was behind these findings and organised the Paris protest. 

The team claims Maniovich’s lavish life is funded by Timur Ivanov’s illicit gains as a government minister “responsible for construction” in the Russian army.

But this is not an isolated case, with Russians continuing to circumvent EU sanctions.  

In April, Czech think-tank Datlab published a report showing that the number of EU public contracts won by Russian-linked firms did not decline in 2022, despite the West’s attempts to economically isolate Russia. 

Sanctions from the EU? Between challenges and frustration

Though EU sanctions expanded throughout last year, certain loopholes and oversights remain, creating complexity for all business entities across the bloc.  

The Datlab study mentions Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev and Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch with company contracts in seven EU countries, who are sanctioned in the US and Ukraine – but not in the EU.

Their analysis reveals high-risk companies (with hidden links to sanctioned individuals) won public contracts in the EU worth €2.5 billion in 2022. 

By mapping ownership ties of businesses linked with Russia, they found just under 10,000 companies across the EU are co-owned by sanctioned persons — and more than 30,000 are Russian-controlled without ties to a sanctioned person. 

“We expected a drop in the tender awards to the potentially sanctioned companies. In 2022, this did not happen”, said Jiří Skuhrovec, Director of Datlab.

According to the European Commission, 70% of assets in the Russian banking system are under sanctions. 

But business transactions through intermediaries seem to remain possible — whether through an ex-wife, or a screen company. 

“Authorities and companies do not have the capacity to investigate ownership links in depth. In the Czech Republic, we have launched a functional solution to assist them in this regard”, adds Skuhrovec in the report. 

Datalab, alongside the anti-corruption organisation ‘Reconstruction of the State’, has developed a tool to more easily track oligarchs’ assets and their links to Europe.

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