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tv   Roman Abramovichs Dirty Money...  BBC News  March 16, 2022 3:30am-4:01am GMT

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and charged with organising an unauthorised public event. now on bbc news, it's time for panorama. cheering super rich russians like roman abramovich have become part of british life. explosions but the war in ukraine has ended the uk's love affair with wealthy russians and their cash. explosion it's absolutely preposterous that we're only tackling this now. we've been investigating how britain's most famous russian made his money. roman abramovich has stolen money from russians, billions of dollars, of money of russian taxpayers. we uncover new details about roman abramovich�*s murky past...
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it reeks of illegality. ..and we reveal how he really made his fortune. chelsea is a football club in crisis. its billionaire russian owner has been sanctioned by the british government. roman abramovich�*s money is no longer welcome and he's been disqualified as a director of the club. get one while you still can! what do you think of roman abramovich? get rid of abramovich by all means, but why make the fans and the football club suffer? i feel sorry for the fans, what they're going through right now, but i think in football, it's all too common for... ignore where the money is coming from, and ijust
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think it's interesting now there's morality involved and it should've been there from the start, really. what do you think about the money that's being used at chelsea from him? the fact is we've won - 19 trophies over the years, so, you know, - we've been quite happy. but the reality. is kicking in now. he's too closely tied to putin for us to really- ignore it anymore. chelsea can't even sell match day tickets or scarves — only fans who'd already paid are here today. roman abramovich has pumped £1.5 billion of his own cash into chelsea, buying success on the pitch. he was one of the super—rich russians who were welcomed into the uk. explosions the war in ukraine has changed all that.
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roman abramovich and 400 other russians have been sanctioned because of their relationship to president putin. mr abramovich denies he has close links, but the uk government says he's destabilising and threatening ukraine, and that one of his companies may be supplying steel for russian tanks. for a long time, abramovich and many of the other billionaires have been seen as the acceptable face of putin's russia. since putin, in broad daylight, rolled into ukraine with tanks, anyone who has benefited from or been a close part of that system is now facing
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much greater scrutiny. i think what the criminal and barbaric invasion of ukraine has done is that it's made an awful lot of people think twice about the connections that they've had over the last few years with russian money. we've prostituted ourselves as a nation, because we were kind of mesmerised by russian bling. it's been going on for years under labour and conservative governments. if you had enough cash, the uk rolled out the red carpet. roman abramovich had a so—called �*golden visa', allowing him to live here until 2018. wealthy people, like mr abramovich, were given the right to live here in return for investing in the uk. more than 2,500 russians were allowed in. but there were few checks on where their cash comes from.
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the golden visa scheme is appalling. what it's done is it's invited an awful lot of people with dirty money to come to the uk, have all the advantages that a western society provides, without ever having to bear accountability for where the money has come from and that has left us terribly, terribly vulnerable. the golden visa scheme was finally closed last month. but there have been warnings for years that oligarchs were laundering dirty money through london. it's taken a war for the government to go after their wealth. roman abramovich owns this £150 million mansion in london. now, he doesn't live there, and he's not allowed to sell it. roman abramovich also bought a three—storey penthouse
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at the top of the tower behind me. it's close to chelsea football club and it cost him £30 million. he also owns two yachts and a boeing 787 dreamliner, reputed to be the most expensive private jet in the world. we started investigating roman abramovich four years ago. a confidential source passed us information about how he made his billions in russia. the source says the details were secretly copied and translated from files held on mr abramovich by russian law enforcement agencies. we can't verify that. but we have been able to investigate the claims in the document.
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this secret document contains details of corrupt deals and political protection from the kremlin. now, we've made extensive checks and they back up many of the details in these five typed pages. it goes back to the start of his career. the document contains new details about an incident that happened when roman abramovich was just 25. deputy city prosecutor of moscow _ authorised the imprisonment . of abramovich under article 90 of the criminal procedure code. it's 1992. russian detectives are investigating the alleged theft of a train—load of diesel. roman abramovich
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is the main suspect. abramovich personally met the shipment, - and using forged documents, had it re—routed to riga, - where the diesel oil was sold. mr abramovich was arrested, but never charged. his lawyers have told us it was all a misunderstanding and the matter was resolved. but the secret document suggests he was detained in police custody. when we put this to mr abramovich, he didn't deny it. translation: mr abramovich already had — a big conflict with the law. a criminal case was launched. the deputy prosecutor of moscow issued a warrant to arrest abramovich. but later, this case disappeared without a trace.
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this is siberia, 1,500 miles east of moscow. it's where roman abramovich made his serious money. in the mid—1990s, russia was a pretty lawless place. the government owned the vast oil industry here. but roman abramovich came up with a plan to get control of it himself. the idea was simple — persuade the russian government to combine some of the vast state oil facilities, create a giant new company, and then sell it off. the price — and the sale — would be agreed in advance. and the lucky buyer
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would be roman abramovich. it would be a multibillion—dollar rip—off and make his fortune. but roman abramovich wasn't a big political player back then. he was an oil trader. he needed help to make his plan work. he was just an ordinary guy from the crowd. this is how he looked like. nothing special in him. he didn't look like someone with a lot of money — and i know that he didn't have any political influence at the time. roman abramovich teamed up with someone who did have political influence. boris berezovsky was one of russia's first oligarchs. he was well connected.
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to kick—start roman abramovich�*s plan, berezovsky wanted to pay off a top kremlin official. and it was mr abramovich who would provide the money — $10 million. i'm on my way to meet the government official who was supposed to get roman abramovich�*s cash. he's agreed to meet me at his home, deep in the woods east of moscow. the man we're going to meet was a general and he was boris yeltsin�*s chief protection officer, so this was a man at the heart of power. he saw the president every day. alexander korzhakov is part of russian history. this is him, on the right,
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protecting president yeltsin when communist hard—liners attempted a coup. and he was there when world leaders came to visit. translation: everyone was afraid of me. - i was the bogeyman for many people. he denies being bribed with $10 million. but he says berezovsky and a local politician did try to buy his support for roman abramovich�*s plan. translation: then they tell me, "what percentage do you want? we'll give it to you." were they trying to bribe you then, do you think? translation: yeah, - because they were afraid that i would block the way for them. wherever mr abramovich�*s $10 million ended up, it seems to have worked.
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the kremlin agreed to support his plan and combined the valuable oil facilities. a giant oil company called sibneft was formed. it was then auctioned off. but the auction was rigged so roman abramovich would win. was this an auction in any real sense? absolutely not, no, absolutely not. it was like a pre—arranged deal which was dressed up as an auction. but nobody else really was allowed to participate. that's corruption. this is what you call corruption. this is where the bidding for sibneft took place. by the time the auction had begun, the opposition had been neutralised and the price had been fixed. it was a complete stitch—up. and the main beneficiary? roman abramovich.
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and there's more. it looks like most of the money borrowed by roman abramovich to buy the new oil company came from the russian government. the secret document says: "shortly before the auction, a government minister deposited "$137 million of the budget money —" that's russian taxpayers' cash — "ina bank." that bank then lent mr abramovich the money to buy sibneft. russia's former chief prosecutor, yuri skuratov, doesn't know about the document. but he also says that roman abramovich�*s bid was funded by the russian state. translation: basically, the government financed | the participation of this bank in the auction where sibneft was purchased. in a normal country,
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that doesn't make any sense. that's like the theatre of the absurd. but, nevertheless, this scheme was implemented. the corrupt auction meant roman abramovich was eventually able to buy the whole company at a knock—down price — around $250 million. it was russian people who were ripped off by the rigged sibneft auction. 0ur dossier on roman abramovich says the government was cheated out of $2.7 billion. the secret document also says the police wanted to charge mr abramovich with fraud. it's one of the most damning sentences in the file.
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once again, the allegation in the document is independently supported by yuri skuratov. translation: basically, | it was a fraudulent scheme where those who took part in privatisation formed one criminal group that allowed abramovich and berezovsky to trick the government and not pay the money that this company was really worth. roman abramovich did modernise and improve sibneft. just ten years after taking control, he sold the company back to the russian state for a staggering £13 billion. the corrupt sibneft deal is where his fortune comes from.
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translation: the controlling stake was returned to - the government for $13 billion. i think the numbers speak for themselves. that's the crooked cash that made him super rich. what's extraordinary is that roman abramovich has already confirmed some of the allegations in a uk court. he was being sued for $6 billion by his former business associate boris berezovsky. abramovich�*s testimony to the court here in london, it's pretty staggering to read, because he effectively admits that his vast wealth is based on corruption.
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roman abramovich gave evidence about how the sibneft auction was rigged. he also talked about that $10 million payment to the russian general. he says it wasn't a bribe. but in court, he admitted making the corrupt payment. he said... roman abramovich won the case in 2012, but the judge said...
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those admissions in court didn't do roman abramovich any harm in the uk. and he got away with it in russia too. the secret documents suggest that at the time of the sibneft deal, roman abramovich was protected by president yeltsin. it says documents related to abramovich were moved from the files of the law enforcement agencies to the kremlin. the document also says the president then stopped an investigation by yury skuratov into roman abramovich�*s rigged oil deal. actor's vows: skuratov - was preparing a criminal case for the confiscation of sibneft on the basis of the investigation of its privatisation. the investigation was stopped by president yeltsin. skuratov was dismissed from his office.
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yury skuratov was sacked after the release of this sex tape. he says it was a stitch—up to discredit him and his investigation. translation: the whole thing was obviously political, - because in my investigations, i came very close to the family of boris yeltsin, including via this investigation of the sibneft privatisation. roman abramovich remained in the kremlin inner circle when vladimir putin came to power. he worked as one of putin's regional governors for eight years. we've seen another document that suggests a darker link. it comes from a spanish law enforcement investigation 12 years ago into russian
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organised crime. it says mr abramovich is thought to be vladimir putin's money man. the allegation has also been made in parliament. speaker: david davies... according to the spanish national intelligence committee, he is the man, or at least one of the men, who manages putin's business affairs. that is a really important issue about whether he should be on our target list. it's a claim we've heard repeatedly, that vladimir putin's wealth is linked to oligarchs like roman abramovich. i think there are certain vested interests involved, and, er, abramovich may be sharing the wealth. with whom? with putin. putin would never, ever give
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away anything to anyone without having direct financial interest involved. mr abramovich�*s lawyers told us he denies he's been protected by president putin or president yeltsin, and that he denies he is a money man for president putin. but business is done differently in russia, and roman abramovich has profited from corrupt deals under both presidents. take the sale in 2002 of another big russian energy company, slavneft. different factions had been fighting for control of the company. there were armed raids and a bomb scare. when the russian state decided to auction slavneft off, roman abramovich formed a partnership with another firm to buy it.
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but representatives from a chinese company were heading to moscow, they were bidding almost twice as much. vladimir milov was the deputy energy minister in the run—up to the auction. he says senior political figures had already decided who'd win. i said, look, the chinese want to come in and they want to pay a much bigger price. they say, doesn't matter, shut up, none of your business. it's already decided. slavneft goes to abramovich, the price is agreed. chinese will be dragged out somehow. from the kremlin to the russian parliament, there was widespread opposition to the chinese bid. many powerful people would lose out if the chinese won the auction. but the chinese didn't get to take part.
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just before the auction, one of the chinese negotiators was kidnapped as he arrived at moscow airport. now, the message to the chinese company was quite clear — if you want your negotiator back unharmed, then withdraw from the auction. the secret document says the russian authorities noted some suspicious facts about the auction. actor's vows: cnpc, - chinese company, a very strong competitor, had to withdraw from the auction after one of its representatives was kidnapped upon arrival at moscow airport and was released only after the company declared its withdrawal. the kidnapping story is backed up by independent sources. this oil industry expert has worked as an advisor for the chinese company.
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when i heard this kidnapping story, it was very shocking. what did the chinese camp think of that tactic? they don't want to make any fuss on this matter, they just want to be very silent on this matter. what was the message to the chinese? you are not welcome to take part in this auction. there's no suggestion that roman abramovich knew anything about the kidnapping plot, or played any part in it. his lawyers told us that the kidnap claim "is entirely unsubsta ntiated" and he has "no knowledge of such incident." whatever the reason for the chinese withdrawal, roman abramovich�*s partnership had the only bid left on the table. and they bought slavneft at a knockdown price. it was a prearranged sale,
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a deal between government and abramovich, where they secretly behind doors agreed on a price, agreed who buys the assets, agreed that there will be no risk of competitive bids. is that corruption? absolutely corruption. roman abramovich has stolen money from russians, billions of dollars, er, of money of russian taxpayers. we asked a leading expert on dirty money for his view. roman abramovich�*s lawyers say there's no basis for alleging he has amassed very substantial wealth through criminality. they say he denies being involved in corruption in the slavneft and sibneft deals. we spoke to a leading expert on dirty money. this isn't people doing deals in a commercial and sensible way.
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it reeks of illegality. andrew mitchell looked at evidence from that london court case and the secret document. the material that i've seen suggests that the whole of the acquisition of, or the creation of sibneft wealth in, in the hands of abramovich, is as a result of corruption. roman abramovich has now been sanctioned. but there are plenty like him who have been allowed to bring dirty money to the uk. there comes a point when as a matter of principle we have to make a stand. britain is not open for business to corrupt people. the government says it is enforcing the uk's toughest ever sanctions, and that russian oligarchs have
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no place in our society. it's absolutely preposterous that we're only tackling this now — i don't understand why people have just been putting their fingers in their ears and shouting la—la, la—la, la, when we have all been saying russian money in the uk is a problem. the uk is at last asking questions about the super—rich who've made britain their home. and that means roman abramovich�*s secret past is finally catching up with him.
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this is bbc news. welcome if you're watching here in the uk or around the globe. i'm david eades. our top stories: a 35—hour curfew under way in ukraine's capital as the mayor warns kyiv�*s at a difficult and dangerous moment. there is a real sense that the danger, the conflict, is coming closer, and a feeling now that nowhere is safe. amid the bombardment, a symbolic success as three eu leaders visit kyiv in a show of solidarity with president zelensky. you are fighting for your lives, yourfreedom, but we know you are also fighting for our lives and our freedom. the journalist arrested for her protest on russian state tv endures 1a hours of questioning — but is freed after receiving a fine.


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