The Premier League has been asked to confirm whether it has investigated the billionaire owner of Manchester City Football Club under its “fit and proper” owners’ test, over allegations of helping Russian oligarchs avoid western sanctions after the invasion of Ukraine.
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the deputy prime minister of the UAE and a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, has been accused in media reports of helping to allow rich Russians to evade sanctions by moving their assets, including superyachts and private jets, to the Emirates.
A Ukrainian human rights activist, who has chosen to remain anonymous, has hired UK lawyers to inquire whether the Premier League and the Football Association have taken any steps to ascertain whether Mansour “remains a person suitable to be an owner of a football club”. Mansour bought the club in 2008 and has invested billions into transforming it into one of the world’s most successful teams.
In a letter, the lawyers cite media reports that the UAE has emerged as one of the top destinations for oligarchs – including the former Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich – seeking to avoid sanctions in the west.
“Many Russian oligarchs and prominent wealthy supporters of President Putin’s regime have continued to conspicuously enjoy their wealth by transferring assets from the UK, US, EU and other jurisdictions in which sanctions are in place, to third-party states without any sanctions regime or any appetite to oppose the Putin regime,” the letter states.
“One of the most high-profile destinations for the assets of sanctioned Russian individuals is the United Arab Emirates, with Dubai and Abu Dhabi apparently being particularly attractive to those individuals.”
The lawyers have also called on the UK government to investigate press reports that Mansour has been “central to the flow of Russian assets to the UAE in the period after the Russian invasion”.
However, they added: “For the avoidance of doubt, we do not positively aver that Sheikh Mansour has undertaken any such conduct which may bring him within the scope of the UK sanctions regime”.
Abramovich’s $350m (£310m) Boeing 787 Dreamliner private jet has been in Dubai since 4 March, just weeks after Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. A US federal judge in June signed a warrant authorising the seizure of the jet, which the US Department of Justice says last flew from Moscow to Dubai on 4 March.
Several sanctioned oligarchs have also moved their superyachts to the Emirates. They include the nickel tycoon Vladimir Potanin, whose $300m vessel Nirvana was seen in Dubai in June. Potanin had an estimated $30bn fortune before the war.
The UAE was put on a “grey list” by the global watchdog the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in March because of deficiencies in its measures to combat money laundering and other financial crimes.
The letter from the British barristers Rhys Davies of Temple Garden Chambers and Ben Keith, of 5 St Andrew’s Hill, draws attention to reports related to 15 sanctioned individuals who are said to have transferred or moved assets via the UAE.
The lawyers say that the UK government should investigate any “legitimate concerns that Sheikh Mansour or any other individual may have provided support to sanctioned individuals” and request information from the Premier League and FA on whether Mansour’s standing as a “fit and proper” owner has been reviewed in light of recent reports.
“We write to you to regarding any steps the Premier League and/or the Football Association may have taken to ascertain whether Sheikh Mansour remains a person suitable to be an owner and/or director of a football club within the owners’ and directors’ tests of both the Football Association and the Premier League,” the letter states. “We further write regarding steps the Football Association and the Premier League may have taken in response to the illegal invasion of Ukraine in order to ensure that any owners and directors of relevant football clubs uphold basic human standards, rights, and values.”
Mansour’s deputy prime minister office in the UAE did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Manchester City refused to comment. A spokesperson for the Premier League declined to comment. The FA advised that the fit and proper test is the responsibility of the league and not the FA.
A government spokesperson said it had brought in the “most severe and far-reaching economic sanctions Russia has ever faced”, adding: “OFSI [the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation] takes enforcement action in every reported case of suspected financial sanctions breach.”