Skip to main content

UK politics

Why Putin’s mafia love London

Abramovich: using London as a “laundromat”?

Roman Abramovich might have ceded his stewardship of Chelsea Football Club, says Matthew Syed in The Sunday Times, but why was he allowed to get his hands on it in the first place? It’s a textbook example of “Putin’s mafia” using London as a “laundromat” for cash plundered from the Russian people. Despite his “sportswashed” reputation, Abramovich is just as bad as the rest of them. Back in the 1990s, when Russia’s then president, Boris Yeltsin, was trailing in the polls, he struck a deal with Abramovich and his fellow oligarchs. He offered them the mineral wealth of Russia “at a fraction of its true price”, in exchange for a $100m loan and access to private TV channels. The stitch-up worked: “a tiny coterie of men emerged with the riches of Croesus” and Yeltsin won the 1996 election. The economist Paul Gregory called it “the single largest heist in corporate history”.

When a legal battle brought this story to light in 2011, the UK should have moved against the oligarchs. Instead, we welcomed them with open arms “in the deluded belief that it would boost our economy”. David Cameron and William Hague even convinced themselves that the Russians might absorb our values if we “hugged” them tight enough. In fact, Russia saw us as “craven and decadent”. Rightly, America found this extraordinary, and “consistently challenged the UK over its addiction to Russian money”. We should have listened. “Appeasement rarely happens in a single act.” More often, it emerges from a steady stream of political complicity. And we are learning yet again that appeasement only ends one way: “with democracy itself under threat”.