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Squatters have taken over the London mansion believed to belong to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire sanctioned by both the US and the UK.
Riot police arrived at the luxury property in Belgrave Square on Monday after squatters entered the mansion and draped it in flags. Footage from the scene shows a Ukrainian flag hanging from a window and handwritten banners reading “This property has been liberated” and “Putin fuck you.”
Westminster Police said on Twitter that officers arrived at the property around 1 a.m. local time after being called, and made contact with “a small number of people inside.” He added that specialist officers were on the scene and would determine the appropriate next steps based on “the safety of the officers and those inside and … the large and complex nature of this property”.
“Officers have completed a search of the property in Belgrave Square and are satisfied there are no protesters inside,” the department said two hours later. “We continue to engage with those on the balcony as we balance the need for enforcement with the safety of everyone involved.”
The BBC identified the squatters as belonging to a group called the London Makhnovists. The name refers to the Ukrainian anarchist Nestor Makhno, who revolted against the Russian White Army in 1917-1923.
“By occupying this mansion, we want to show our solidarity with the Ukrainian people, but also with the Russian people who have never accepted this madness,” they said in a statement reported by Reuters and other media. “You occupy Ukraine, we occupy you.”
The group added that the mansion would “serve as a support center for refugees” and would also target other properties.
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Reuters reports that London High Court documents from 2007 identified Deripaska as the beneficial owner of the Belgrave Square mansion. The previous year, a judge said the property – along with another home he owned outside London – was worth the equivalent of $52million.
The squatter occupation comes less than a week after the British government targeted Deripaska and six other Russian oligarchs with a series of sanctions including an asset freeze and a travel ban.
Deripaska holds stakes in EN+ Group, a major mining and energy company that owns UC Rusal, one of the largest aluminum producers in the world. British officials said he had an estimated net worth of around $2.6 billion and a “multi-million pound property portfolio” in the UK.
The United States sanctioned Deripaska in 2018 for operating in the energy sector of the Russian economy and “acting or purporting to act for or on behalf, directly or indirectly, of a senior official of the government of the Russian Federation” .
US officials said at the time that he was also under investigation for money laundering and accused of “threatening the lives of business rivals, unlawfully wiretapping a government official and of having participated in acts of extortion and racketeering”.
“There are also allegations that Deripaska bribed a government official, ordered the murder of a businessman and had ties to a Russian organized crime group,” he added.
Deripaska sued for the sanctions in 2019, but a U.S. judge dismissed the suit last June.
According to Reuters, Deripaska said before the UK imposed its sanctions that peace was needed as soon as possible in Ukraine and that Russia would be different after the conflict.
This story originally appeared in the morning edition live blog.