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Abramovich hides $1 billion art collection from sanctions via Cyprus-based trust, IStories reports

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Oligarch Roman Abramovich and his ex-wife Darya Zhukova own a collection of paintings through a Cypriot trust, as revealed in a report published by independent investigative outlet IStories in collaboration with The Guardian and several other publications. The collection includes dozens of renowned artworks by Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, Lucien Freud, Alberto Giacometti, Claude Monet, René Magritte and others. The details have come to light following a study of leaked documents from the Cypriot offshore financial services provider MeritServus.

The collection of paintings is registered to Seline-Invest, an entity originally founded in the British Virgin Islands and subsequently relocated to Jersey. Seline-Invest is in turn controlled by Ermis Trust Settlement, a Cyprus-based trust initially set up in 2010 for the sole benefit of Abramovich.

The collection includes Suprematist Composition, a piece by Russian avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich which was bought at an auction for $17 million by an unidentified buyer in 2000. Ownership of this artwork by Abramovich was previously undisclosed, but the inventory suggests that he has owned it since 2013. As of 2018, Abramovich was estimated to own 367 artworks valued at $963 million, according to estimates by The Guardian.

The investigation revealed that in early 2021, Abramovich and Zhukova equally divided their interests in the trust. On February 4, 2022, just three weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Abramovich transferred 1% to Zhukova, reducing his share to 49%.

According to experts interviewed by IStories, this decision may have been driven by a desire to reduce exposure to potential sanctions. In certain legal jurisdictions, having a 49% stake as a beneficiary could offer safeguards against asset seizure. After Russia’s invasion, Abramovich faced sanctions imposed by the EU and UK, which resulted in the freezing of his assets, including his ownership of Chelsea F.C.

The exact location where Abramovich and Zhukova store these artworks remains undisclosed. These valuable pieces of art have rarely been exhibited publicly in the past, and it is likely they will remain inaccessible to the public for a long time.

“It is regrettable that the trust that holds these works seems unable to lend them,” the author and art market expert Georgina Adam told IStories. “These sanctions were imposed for good reason. Now, the consequence of Mr Abramovich’s investment in art is that the public are deprived of the opportunity to enjoy some of the greatest modern and contemporary works.”

When the first Lucian Freud exhibition in a decade opened at the British National Gallery in October 2022, several of his iconic paintings from the Abramovich and Zhukova trust were notably missing.

“You could fill a museum with it; this is a stupendous collection,” said Andrew Renton, the professor of curating at Goldsmiths, University of London.

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