Sanctions urged against Russian figures in English football

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Roman Abramovich and Alisher UsmanovImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Roman Abramovich (L) and Alisher Usmanov are both involved with Premier League clubs.

The UK government has been challenged by opposition MPs to impose sanctions on two billionaire oligarchs linked to English football clubs.

It comes after Russia's detained opposition figure Alexei Navalny called for action to be taken against Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov, who has ties with Everton.

The government said it was "considering all options for further action".

Mr Navalny has been detained since 17 January, after returning to Moscow for the first time since he was poisoned last year.

The UK has urged Russia to release him.

The dissident has blamed the nerve agent attack that almost killed him on Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin denies involvement.

An associate of Mr Navalny's has released a list of eight individuals drawn up by the opposition leader whom he says should face sanctions in order to put pressure on President Putin.

Mr Abramovich, who bought Chelsea in 2003, and former Arsenal shareholder Mr Usmanov, who owns a company that sponsors Everton, and who has links with the club's majority shareholder, were both included.

They were described in the list as being among "key enablers and beneficiaries of Russian kleptocracy, with significant ties/assets in the West".

During an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge said: "The best way we can show our support for Alexei Navalny is not by words but by actions."

"Navalny himself has said he wants the international community to use sanctions against complicit Russian kleptocrats who live outside Russia.

"He has named Abramovich and Usmanov, both of whom have significant wealth, property and links to English football clubs.

"But on Facebook Navalny has said that the sanctions haven't worked, because the West has refrained from sanctioning the people with the money."

Asked to comment, a spokesman for Mr Abramovich said there was "no foundation" to Mr Navalny's claims.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Alexei Navalny was arrested earlier this month, when he flew back to Moscow from Berlin.

Foreign Office Minister Wendy Morton said: "We continue to work and protect human rights and civil society in Russia. We are considering all options for further action... it would be inappropriate for me to speculate on any future listings."

The Liberal Democrats have urged the government to consider sanctions.

Layla Moran, the party's foreign affairs spokesperson, said: "Navalny's team have released a list of names drawn up by Navalny just days before his return and arrest, which included Abramovich and Usmanov."

"Both individuals were described as key enablers with significant ties and assets in the West."

Representatives for Mr Usmanov declined to comment.

Both men have always insisted their businesses are legitimate.