Activists in London have briefly seized a multimillion-dollar mansion linked to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch subject to sanctions, saying they want to use it to house refugees fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The group broke into the property at 5 Belgrave Square – one of the most exclusive addresses in the centre of the United Kingdom’s capital – and hung the Ukrainian flag outside alongside banners, one of which read: “This property has been liberated.”
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Police, who were called out in the early hours of Monday, arrived and set up a cordon before later using a drill to break open the front door and a crane to access the balcony. Four people who had gained entry to the building’s balcony “have come down and been arrested”, police said, adding that they would maintain a presence after ending the protest.
Al Jazeera’s Sonia Gallego, reporting from outside the mansion, said the protesters were unhappy with the UK government’s efforts to help those escaping the war in Ukraine.
“The group that took over the seven-bedroom property said they want to give it over to Ukrainian refugees,” Gallego said.
“They also criticised the government for not doing enough to help people fleeing the war and they say the UK government is doing more to protect the interest of those oligarchs,” she added.
One of those inside the mansion told AFP news agency earlier by telephone: “We are a property liberation front. That’s what we do. It’s not really squatting, it’s liberating.”
Another said: “Our intention is to use it to house [Ukrainian] refugees.”
The activists criticised the length of time it could take to implement British sanctions against those identified by the government as being part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
“They say it might take up to six months to seize their property. Come on, it’s ridiculous,” one said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said on Monday that “we are working to identify the appropriate use for seized property while owners are subject to sanctions.”
In 2007, a High Court judgement said Deripaska “beneficially owns” the house in the upmarket Belgravia area, near Hyde Park and Queen Elizabeth II’s Buckingham Palace.
But he is not listed on UK Land Registry records.
Instead, the owners are listed as Ravellot Limited, based in the British Virgin Islands, managed by Graham Bonham Carter.
On March 4, the UK’s National Crime Agency said it had secured two account-freezing orders for five bank accounts held by Bonham Carter, a British businessman.
“The orders were obtained on the basis that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the money in the accounts was derived from the laundering of funds of an individual subject to sanctions in the United States, namely Oleg Deripaska,” it added in a statement.
“The accounts contain funds of a value totalling approximately £110,000 ($144,000).”
Deripaska was last week hit with an assets freeze and travel ban alongside six other Russian billionaires, including his former business associate and owner of the Chelsea football club, Roman Abramovich.
The US Treasury designated him in 2018 as part of moves against a number of Russian oligarchs and the companies they own or control, Russian officials, and businesses.
In France, three men were questioned by police on Monday after they broke into a villa owned by Putin’s former son-in-law and unfurled a Ukrainian flag in the southern French city of Biarritz.
A YouTube video showed one of those arrested waving a Ukrainian flag from one of the villa’s balconies.
A message read, “The house of the people is ready to host refugees from the Putin regime.”
The three were questioned then released with a warning.