How sanctions could break the network of Russian influence in the City

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City repairmen

In NBT’s case, Yurov, Fetisov and Belyaev hired a London-based “fixer” to run an offshore scheme on their behalf, which they then used to hide the bad assets from Russia’s central bank.

Benedict Worsley, who was introduced to NBT management through London-based headhunter Central Search, which he founded in 2000, created a network of Cyprus-based front companies, the High Court has heard in 2019.

Central Search was dissolved in May 2011, according to documents filed by Companies House.

Lawyers for Steptoe & Johnson, who previously represented the new owners of NBT and now represent Mazars, said Worsley employed a team in Cyprus which “produced false documents in what can only be described as a document factory”.

Hollywood star Bruce Willis was unwittingly hired by Yurov and Fetisov to run an advertising campaign as part of an attempted turnaround. One of the campaign slogans was: “When I need money, I take it.”

When NBT collapsed, it was the 27th largest bank in Russia with 400 branches across the country, requiring a $1 billion bailout from the state.

Worsley, who attended a British public school, allegedly arranged for bankers and their families to charter superyachts and private jets using NBT funds, according to the Times.

He also helped Nataliya Yurov secure a UK investor visa, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

During the trial, Worsley was said to be “something of a fantasy” and “enjoyed acting like James Bond”. He cooperated with the investigation into the bank’s collapse and was not charged with any crime.

He could not be reached for comment, but a statement on his website regarding NBT reads: “In 2009, one of my company’s clients, a Russian bank, asked me to help to administer its companies. All financial decisions regarding these companies were made by the owners and/or managers of the bank. My role was in administration rather than decision-making.

Mazars investigators are also looking for the assets of Yurov’s co-defendant, Nikolay Fetisov, who was the former chairman of NBT.

In 2012, Fetisov and his wife bought a Surrey mansion for £4.25million, complete with an indoor swimming pool and cinema. Both men were declared the second biggest bankruptcies in British history following the High Court ruling.

The Telegraph understands the process of collecting the families’ assets has not been straightforward, with investigators frustrated by an apparent lack of cooperation.

Both families still reside in their respective mansions in Kent and Surrey.

As Mazars continues to hunt down the two men’s wealth and trace NBT’s offshore network, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has shone a spotlight on the City’s ties to wealthy Russians.

Repression against Russian elites

On Thursday, Johnson announced a new round of sanctions following criticism that the initial batch was too low.

He announced the freezing of all major Russian banks; legislation prohibiting Russian companies from raising capital in UK markets and sanctions against more than 100 individuals, entities and their subsidiaries.

Russian nationals will also not be allowed to hold more than £50,000 in deposits in UK banks.

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