Russian oligarch hid his US$1 billion art collection from sanctions before full-scale invasion

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Russian businessman Roman Abramovich hid his art collection worth about US$1 billion from sanctions three weeks before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Source: Investigation of The Guardian, Russian media outlet Vazhnye Istorii (Important Stories), and other media outlets with reference to data from the leaked files of the Cyprus business registrar MeritServus

Details: The MeritServus files describe the collection and its ownership structure. It is reported that as of 2018, the collection contained at least 369 art objects with a total value of US$962 million – this is how much Abramovich's managers estimated it to be worth.

The list includes dozens of masterpieces: Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, Lucian Freud, Alberto Giacometti, Claude Monet, René Magritte and others.

The purchase of some of these works of art was previously known. For example, the purchase in 2008 of Francis Bacon's Triptychs (the most expensive object in the collection) cost US$86.3 million.

However, the fate of many paintings remained a mystery for many years. So, the painting Suprematist Composition by Kazimir Malevich (1919–1920) was only known until 2000, when the artist's heirs put it up for auction, where it was sold for US$17 million. The buyer's name was not disclosed. From the MeritServus files, it follows that in 2013, the painting belonged to Abramovich.

Казимир Малевич,
Казимир Малевич,

Kazimir Malevich, "Suprematist Composition", 1919-1920. Estimated value in offshore documents - 54.6 million dollars

Photo: website Vazhnye Istorii (Important Stories)

The collection was recorded for the Virgin Islands company Seline-Invest, which then moved to the island of Jersey. It is controlled by the Cyprus Endis Trust Settlement, founded in 2010 when Abramovich was the sole beneficiary.

In early 2021, after the divorce of Abramovich and his wife, Daria Zhukova, the beneficial shares in the trust were divided in half between the former spouses.

However, on 4 February 2022, three weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Abramovich's appointed trust managers made a decision that experts interviewed by the publications believe was probably taken to protect the collection from possible sanctions. Abramovich lost 1% to Zhukova, and the share ratio was 51% to 49%.

Journalists report that, in several countries, such a situation can significantly reduce the risks of the asset being seized. Abramovich was under EU and UK sanctions a month after these changes were made. His assets, in particular the Chelsea Football Club, were frozen.

The sanctions have not yet affected the art collection. Journalists report that the Ukrainian authorities are now compiling a list of works of art belonging to oligarchs from Putin's entourage.

Where the collection is located is unknown. Abramovich did not answer questions from journalists, and Zhukova declined to comment.

For reference: Abramovich and his ex-wife are the founders of the Moscow-based Garage Museum of Contemporary Art.


  • Russian businessman Roman Abramovich was initially involved in the organisation of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine; this was confirmed by both Moscow and Kyiv.

  • Later, he was involved in the prisoner exchange; he communicated with Russian FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov and Andrii Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine.

  • In October 2022, Ukraine imposed sanctions on Abramovich, with a delay until the exchange of prisoners and bodies of those killed in the war was completed.

  • In early 2023, it became known that three weeks before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Abramovich had transferred billions of dollars in trusts to his children.

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