‘If my £6.5m Kent mansion is sold now it could help fund Putin’s war’

Russian state-linked bank pursuing financier for millions over alleged fraud is not on UK sanctions list

It is one of Britain’s most controversial property sales. A former multimillionaire banker warns that proceeds from the disposal of his £6.5m Kent country estate risk being sent to help fund Vladimir Putin’s war machine.

Ilya Yurov, 50, who is originally from Moscow, is being pursued with two former colleagues for $900m (£720m) from the National Bank Trust in Russia after losing a high court case.

National Bank Trust is tasked with recovering billions of pounds from around the world to send back to Russia, but to date has escaped the UK sanctions list. As revealed by the Observer last week, it is majority owned by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation and was once promoted by the actor Bruce Willis.

Yurov bought Oxney Court in Kent, a 17th-century gothic-style mansion with crenellated walls and towers, in 2012. The property was destroyed by a blaze during the first world war when it was commandeered as an operation headquarters and place of recuperation for soldiers returning from the front. It was meticulously rebuilt in 1998. The 14-hectare (35-acre) estate, with tennis court and pool, has been put on the market for £6.5m to help pay his debt.

Speaking at the Grade II-listed building last week, he accepted that the property needed to be sold and money recovered, but said National Bank Trust should urgently be put on the sanctions list.

Ilya Yurov standing in doorway
Ilya Yurov says proceeds from the mansion’s sale should not be allowed to be taken to Russia. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

He said: “I can’t accept that this money can go back to the Russian state. I feel sick that it could be used to support horrible atrocities. The west can’t turn a blind eye to this. It’s illogical that the bank is not sanctioned.”

Yurov, a father of six, said the funds returned to the Russian state could be used to support the war. He said state-controlled banks were providing loans and finance for defence contractors in the face of global sanctions.

Ministers announced sanctions targeting the central bank in February, but face questions over concerns that National Bank Trust may be a conduit for funds going to Putin. The Foreign Office declined to comment last week.

The Observer understands lawyers in the case have said that National Bank Trust is not a sanctioned entity, so funds can be transferred.

Executives at National Bank Trust have said they are tasked with recovering £6bn of global assets by 2023. This includes debts such as those owed by Yurov and colleagues, Nikolay Fetisov, a former president of the bank, and Sergey Belyaev.

National Trust Bank alleges the three former shareholders fraudulently used offshore companies to conceal bad debts and extract millions of dollars. The bank had a state bailout after it collapsed in 2014.

Bruce Willis as the face of National Bank Trust in 2010.
Bruce Willis as the face of National Bank Trust in 2010. Photograph: WENN Rights Ltd/Alamy

Yurov and Fetisov said they properly used offshore companies to manage bad debts. Belyaev said he had no knowledge of the scheme.

The high court ruled in January 2020 that the three men owed the bank compensation. The judge ruled that the three former owners had evaded banking standards. He found Yurov to be a “dishonest and untruthful witness”. Yurov said he considered the judgment unfair, but has exhausted all avenues of appeal. He was bankrupted by the case.

Yurov’s family estate is in the name of his wife, Nataliya, but the court ruled that he owned half of the property. The trustees acting for Yurov’s creditors will be entitled to half of the estate when it is sold.

The main creditor is National Bank Trust, but trustees have said no transactions will occur with sanctioned entities, or their subsidiaries, without permission of the courts.

Russia tried to extradite Yurov in 2018, but the request was refused on the grounds that he would not get a fair trial. He was sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison for organising theft of funds from a credit institution. He denies the charge.


Jon Ungoed-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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