Billionaire football club owner Roman Abramovich has been forced to deny allegations of money laundering and contact with criminal organisations.
It came amid claims that police in Switzerland feared he ‘posed a threat to public security’ if he became a resident of the country.
A leaked report from Swiss federal police is said to have declared that the Russian tycoon was known for ‘a suspicion of money laundering and presumed contacts with criminal organisations’.
There was reason to believe the oligarch’s assets were ‘at least partially of illegal origin’, they allegedly added. Their confidential assessment – made public yesterday after Mr Abramovich, 51, lost a legal battle to suppress it – apparently scuppered his application for Swiss residency, which he withdrew.
Mr Abramovich strenuously denies any connection to money laundering or underworld groups. Police have not officially confirmed the leaked assessment – which did not result in charges.
The Russian, who had problems renewing his UK visa earlier this year, wanted to set up home near the exclusive Swiss ski resort of Verbier in Canton Valais.
Billionaire football club owner Roman Abramovich (pictured) has been forced to deny allegations of money laundering and contact with criminal organisations
The Russian, who had problems renewing his UK visa earlier this year, wanted to set up home near the exclusive Swiss ski resort of Verbier (pictured) in Canton Valais
But the Federal Office of Police (Fedpol) advised immigration officials to reject his application.
Journalists from Tamedia, Switzerland’s largest media group, obtained this secret Fedpol file and fought for the right to publish the assessment on Abramovich.
His lawyer Daniel Glasl said: ‘We are extremely disappointed by the release and publication of confidential information from Swiss government files regarding Mr Abramovich, which occurred in clear violation of Swiss criminal law and Swiss data protection laws.
‘We have filed a request for correction of facts to the Swiss Federal Police and will be filing a criminal complaint against unknown persons responsible for dissemination of this confidential information.
‘Any suggestion that Mr Abramovich has been involved in money laundering or has contacts with criminal organisations is entirely false.’
The extraordinary case began in July 2016 when Abramovich applied for a permit to settle in Valais, including transfer of his tax residency.
The Canton’s immigration services were delighted.
The Canton’s head of immigration services Jacques de Lavallaz said at the time: ‘In view of his financial background, Roman Abramovich would be a very interesting taxpayer for the commune and the canton and we gave a positive decision.’
Wealthy foreigners can apply for residency citing ‘major public interest’ which, in most cases, means a very significant tax burden.
The dossier was passed to Bern to the Swiss State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) for approval.
As usual, the officials consulted the Federal Office of Police (Fedpol) for advice.
But by January 2017, police had advised immigration officials to reject the case.
This was not made public. A few months later, Abramovich inquired about his application and he was told it was due to be rejected.
In June 2017, he withdrew his residency request before rejection was official.
By November, he had learned about Fedpol’s assessment of him. His lawyers immediately wrote to the head of Fedpol Nicoletta della Valle demanding a correction. This was rejected.
On January 31, 2018, Tamedia prepared to publish their dossier.
Investigative journalists Oliver Zihlmann and Knellwolf had obtained Fedpol’s assessment of the allegations.
The extraordinary case began in July 2016 when Abramovich (pictured) applied for a permit to settle in Valais, including transfer of his tax residency
But a court order was obtained by Abramovich banning publication.
A judge at the Tribunal cantonal in Zurich issued an order on February 2 preventing the press from publishing any details.
The Swiss press appealed the decision.
In April the courts ruled against Abramovich but he immediately appealed and the case was sent to the federal court in Lausanne.
Finally, on September 21 the court rejected the case and Tamedia was free to report on the background to the case.
The journalists quoted extracts from the private Fedpol documents they had obtained.
They said that the objection to residency centred around ‘suspicion of money laundering’ and alleged ‘contacts to criminal organisations’.
Mr Abramovich’s lawyer Dr Glasl said: ‘Mr Abramovich has never been charged with participating in money laundering and does not have a criminal record. He has never had, or been alleged to have, connections with criminal organisations.
‘Fedpol has failed to provide any evidence of criminality whatsoever.
‘Mr Abramovich has submitted to numerous, thorough background checks by governments and business partners over the years and such unsubstantiated allegations have never been at issue.’
A spokesman for Fedpol refused to be drawn on the specific accusations referred to by the Swiss press and Abramovich’s lawyer.
Thomas Dayer said: ‘In the process of granting residence permits, fedpol can provide assistance to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) based on the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals.
‘Based on informations from various sources, fedpol assesses whether a residence permit endangers Switzerland’s internal or external security.
‘The decision on the granting of a residence permit is the responsibility of the SEM. There are several cases in which the SEM has refused to issue a residence permit after evaluating the safety assessment of fedpol.’
According to Forbes 2016 billionaire list, Abramovich’s net worth was US$7.6 billion, making him the 13th-richest person in Russia, and the 151st-richest person in the world.
The case highlights a particular type of residence permit.
SEM can grant a foreigner a special permit if by doing so Switzerland stands to benefit significantly.
Switzerland can grant such permits in rare cases considered ‘of major public interest’ – generally, their potential tax contributions.
In the last ten years 578 people have been awarded such permits.
The objection to Abramovich raises the question whether Switzerland has changed its practice toward rich Russians.
Earlier this year, it was reported that the Russian withdrew an application for a British visa at the start of June following reported delays in his application. Instead he secured an Israeli passport.
Israeli citizens may visit the UK as a visitor for a ‘maximum period of six months’ but are required to obtain a UK visa if they want to ‘live, work or study’ in the UK.
The Home Office declined to comment this afternoon.