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  • Louise Wagon

How Russian Roman Abramovich's collection is safe from sanctions

Together with his ex-wife, the Russian oligarch owns a private collection of over 360 works of art worth close to a billion dollars. He had to maneuver to ensure that these pieces escaped the freeze on Russian assets imposed by Europe. These are the findings of the Oligarch Files.

Roman Abramovich
Roman Abramovich

An investigation by The Guardian has revealed the extent and value of the private art collection of Russian businessman Roman Abramovich and his ex-wife, American art collector Dasha Zhukova. It is said to be one of the most important private collections of modern art ever assembled, comprising 367 works valued at $963 million.

The collection includes masterpieces by Monet, Matisse, Picasso, Magritte, as well as Russian modernist artists such as Natalia Goncharova and Véra Rockline, and contemporary British artists such as Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and David Hockney. Highlights include Lucian Freud's nude Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995), bought by Roman Abramovich for $33.6 million in 2008, and Bacon's triptych, acquired the following day for over $86 million. These two works made auction history: Freud became the most expensive living artist, dethroning Jeff Koons, while the Bacon achieved the highest price ever recorded for a post-war work of art.

Tableau de Lucian Freud acheté par Roman Abramovich
Lucien Freud, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, 1995, sold to Abramovich in 2008. © Martin Godwin/The Guardian

Details of Roman Abramovich's art collection have been revealed thanks to the Oligarch Files, a leak from offshore financial services provider MeritServus. According to The Guardian, the files show that a company called Seline-Invest, originally based in the British Virgin Islands and redomiciled to Jersey in 2017, owns the works. They were acquired from the Harmony Trust, of which Roman Abramovich was the sole beneficiary, in eleven successive transactions between 2017 and 2018.

Seline-Invest is controlled by Emis Trust Settlement, a trust created in Cyprus in 2010 for the exclusive benefit of the Russian oligarch. In January 2021, Dasha Zhukova was named as an "additional" beneficiary of Seline-Invest, meaning that the couple, divorced since 2016, each owned a 50% beneficial interest in the trust.

However, in February 2022, as Vladimir Putin's allies were threatened with sanctions from the West, significant changes were made to the trust's beneficiaries. Dasha Zhukova became "irrevocably entitled to 51%" of the trust's distributions, while another deed prohibited Roman Abramovich from increasing his stake. The Guardian points out that the changes did not require Dasha Zhukova's knowledge or consent, and that she has no decision-making powers within the trust.

Less than a month later, on March 10, the Russian collector was slapped with sanctions by the British government, followed shortly afterwards by the European Union (EU). Under EU, UK and US rules, any assets more than 50% owned by a sanctioned person can be frozen.

Thanks to this restructuring, the two collectors can continue to access their art collection despite the sanctions imposed in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.


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