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Sunday, August 9, 2020

Russian billionaire evades extradition to UK with legal loophole

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Sergei Pugachev was sentenced to two years in his absence by a High Court judge in 2016 for breaching court orders relating to hundreds of millions in allegedly stolen cash. He is pictured above with Countess Alexandra Tolstoy

Sergei Pugachev was sentenced to two years in his absence by a High Court judge in 2016 for breaching court orders relating to hundreds of millions in allegedly stolen cash. He is pictured above with Countess Alexandra Tolstoy

A fugitive Russian oligarch once nicknamed ‘Putin’s banker’ is using a legal loophole to evade extradition to the UK where he faces jail.

Sergei Pugachev was sentenced to two years in his absence by a High Court judge in 2016 for breaching court orders relating to hundreds of millions in allegedly stolen cash.

But the billionaire remains in his chateau in France because the British authorities have failed to haul him back amid apparent confusion over using the European Arrest Warrant.

Details have just emerged a week after his estranged partner Countess Alexandra Tolstoy was evicted with their three children from the £9million family home in Chelsea where he lived before fleeing in 2015.

The couple appeared in a recent BBC documentary, The Countess and the Russian Billionaire, largely shot at his opulent chateau near Nice.

Pugachev, 57, built up a Russian business empire worth a reputed £11.5billion, including the world’s largest mine, two shipyards and valuable properties in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Also once known as ‘the Kremlin’s banker’, he was previously close to Vladimir Putin but fell into disfavour and was labelled a ‘traitor’ by the Russian president.

After arriving in the UK in 2011, he was accused of siphoning a fortune out of his finance house Mezhprombank. State creditors in Moscow pursued him in the British courts, claiming he embezzled hundreds of millions.

Pugachev fled to France before the High Court ruling in a case brought by Russia’s Deposit Insurance Agency, in which he was sentenced for 12 breaches of court orders connected to a freezing order imposed on him over attempts to recover the cash.

Also once known as ¿the Kremlin¿s banker¿, he was previously close to Vladimir Putin but fell into disfavour and was labelled a ¿traitor¿ by the Russian president

Also once known as ‘the Kremlin’s banker’, he was previously close to Vladimir Putin but fell into disfavour and was labelled a ‘traitor’ by the Russian president

In unrelated previous cases, High Court judges have said the European Arrest Warrant cannot be used to extradite someone back to the UK if they have been sentenced for contempt of court in a civil case. This would suggest Pugachev could not be extradited.

But the Home Office insisted this week there was nothing legally to stop him being extradited from France using the warrant.

In the meantime, the frustrated creditors of the Russian bank pursuing Pugachev for the missing cash have criticised the muddle.

A source close to the creditors said: ‘It is remarkable that tactical moves across jurisdictions, even in illegal flight, should still be able to frustrate European national authorities in their co-operation against theft on a grand scale.’

In the BBC documentary, Miss Tolstoy – a distant relative of the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy – described her life of luxury when she first met Pugachev.

As well as the French chateau and Chelsea townhouse, they owned an estate in Herefordshire, a £32million villa in St Bart’s, a yacht in Monaco, a private jet and a suite on standby at Claridge’s – as well as a shoe collection worth ‘thousands and thousands’.

In the February 2016 High Court judgment, no ruling was made on the allegations of embezzled cash and Pugachev told the court he had ‘not stolen any money’. In her judgment jailing him, Mrs Justice Rose noted he ‘does have a genuine fear that his life is in danger from agents of the Russian state’.

Anne-Jessica Faure, a lawyer for Mr Pugachev, said there has been no court decision establishing financial wrongdoing by him.

She added he cannot be extradited to the UK because he is a French citizen and because he was jailed for a civil contempt of court, claims the Home Office denies.

Opulent: Pugachev¿s chateau near Nice in France. As well as the French chateau and Chelsea townhouse, they owned an estate in Herefordshire, a £32million villa in St Bart¿s, a yacht in Monaco, a private jet and a suite on standby at Claridge¿s ¿ as well as a shoe collection worth ¿thousands and thousands¿

Opulent: Pugachev’s chateau near Nice in France. As well as the French chateau and Chelsea townhouse, they owned an estate in Herefordshire, a £32million villa in St Bart’s, a yacht in Monaco, a private jet and a suite on standby at Claridge’s – as well as a shoe collection worth ‘thousands and thousands’

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