Ukraine: Eight arrests at oligarch's London mansion after balcony protest

By Jennifer McKiernan
BBC News

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Met Police watch protesters occupying a building in Belgravia
Image caption,
Protesters have draped Ukrainian flags over the property, which is believed to be owned by Oleg Deripaska

A demonstration at a mansion linked to Vladimir Putin ally Oleg Deripaska has ended with eight arrests, police said.

Protesters occupied the balcony of 5 Belgrave Square, in central London, about midnight, and stayed most of the day, despite police efforts to remove them.

The squatters said they were reclaiming the property for Ukrainian refugees.

Just before 20:00 GMT the Met tweeted the protests were over and that eight people had been arrested in total.

A spokesman said four were arrested inside the building, and four more outside.

Police said they have searched the property and are satisfied there is no-one left inside, although a presence will be kept at the scene overnight.

Billionaire energy tycoon Mr Deripaska is one of the oligarchs sanctioned by the UK government following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Image caption,
Met police make arrests close to the building in Belgravia, central London

A Met Police spokesman said four arrests were made about 18:00 GMT, for trespass, after protesters had tried to climb the back of the building, which is the Romanian consulate.

Earlier in the day riot police had entered and searched the property but found nobody inside.

Four people remained on the balcony, despite police negotiators' attempts to talk them down, and the spokesman said they would be monitored overnight.

The group called themselves the London Makhnovists, after the Ukrainian anarchist Nestor Makhno, who revolted against the Russian White Army in 1918-21.

Image caption,
There are links between Russian political donors and the war in Ukraine, the protesters claimed

Standing on the balcony, one of the protesters told journalists they were doing the government's work for them by reclaiming the building for refugees fleeing their homes.

He said: "[Home secretary] Priti Patel, don't worry, we did your job - we did the housing, just send them here, we did the housing. Refugees welcome!

"We're demanding this property belong to Ukrainian refugees. Their houses have been destroyed and this guy [Deripaska] supported the war."

The group said there were about 200 rooms in the "ridiculous" mansion, which was "filthy fancy" and had "so much stuff a normal human being would never need", including a home cinema and works of art.

Image caption,
The protesters said there were about 200 rooms in the mansion

"It is massive," one of the protesters said. "I got lost I don't know how many times. There are so many unnecessary rooms."

Another added: "[Michael Gove] said oligarchs' homes should be expropriated to house Ukrainian refugees.

"We're doing the government's work for them and we're doing it for free, so I expect a significant rebate on my tax bill later on in April."

Speaking about the possibility of arrest, one said the group has "made peace" with the option and added "I'm ready to take the consequences for something I believe".

In response, the prime minister's official spokesman said he thought new legislation would be needed to use seized property to house refugees.

He added: "Squatting in residential buildings is illegal, but we are working to identify the appropriate use for seized properties while owners are subject to sanctions."

Image caption,
Police remain outside the Belgravia mansion

Ivan, who was passing by, said he was originally from Lviv in western Ukraine and fully supported the protest.

"I think it's very good," he said, adding he believed the mansion belonged to Mr Deripaska, who is "a friend of Putin".

"My people are suffering and they need help," he said.

Other passers-by were supportive of the occupation, saying they were unable to protest themselves but the action would make a difference.

Image caption,
Ivan, from Lviv in Ukraine, supports the protest

One man said: "We need to protest in every way we can because this war is not right. A lot of civilians and women and children are dying every day for Putin and it's unbelievable."

Charles Delingpole, who said he works in the field of sanctions, said he supported the protest but it was important to uphold the rule of law.

He said: "I think the UK has been too slow to sanction Russian oligarchs based on an abundance of caution as opposed to due process.

"However, this is the breakdown of law and just because we fight with monsters doesn't mean we need to turn into them ourselves."

Image caption,
The government has been too slow to sanction oligarchs, said Charles Delingpole

Mr Deripaska, founder of metals and hydropower company EN+, has been under US sanctions since 2018 as a result of his alleged close relationship with the Kremlin.

A 2006 High Court judgement revealed Mr Deripaska was the beneficial owner of Five Belgrave Square.

The seven-bedroom house, in one of London's most expensive neighbourhoods, also has a home cinema, a gym and a Turkish steam bath.

The property had been bought through Ravellot Limited, an offshore company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, and the business still owns the property.

Image source, REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
Image caption,
Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska attends a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, June 3, 2021

Land Registry documents give Graham Bonham Carter as the contact for Ravellot.

The bank accounts were frozen because of suspected links to Mr Deripaska, the NCA said.