It is one of Britain’s most controversial property sales. A multi-millionaire former banker is warning that proceeds from the disposal of his £6.5million estate in Kent are at risk of being sent to help fund Vladimir Putin’s war machine.
Ilya Yurov, 50, from Moscow, is being sued along with two former colleagues for $900m (£720m) from the National Bank Trust in Russia after losing a High Court case.
National Bank Trust is tasked with recovering billions of pounds from around the world to send back to Russia, but so far has escaped the UK sanctions list. As revealed by Observer as of last week, it is majority-owned by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation and was once promoted by actor Bruce Willis.
Yurov bought Oxney Court in Kent, a 17th-century Gothic-style mansion with crenellated walls and towers, in 2012. The property was destroyed by fire during the First World War when it was requisitioned as headquarters of operation and place of recovery for the soldiers. returning from the front. It was meticulously rebuilt in 1998. The 14-hectare (35-acre) estate, complete with tennis court and swimming pool, was put on the market for £6.5million to help pay off its debt.
Speaking outside the Grade II listed building last week, he agreed the property needed to be sold and the money recovered, but said National Bank Trust should be placed on the sanctions list as a matter of urgency.
He said: “I cannot accept that this money can go back to the Russian state. I feel sick that it could be used to support horrible atrocities. The West cannot turn a blind eye to this. It is illogical that the bank is not sanctioned.
Yurov, a father of six, said funds returned to the Russian state could be used to support the war. He said state-controlled banks were providing loans and funding to defense contractors in the face of global sanctions.
Ministers announced central bank sanctions in February but face concerns that National Bank Trust could be a conduit for funds going to Putin. The Foreign Office declined to comment last week.
the Observer understands that the lawyers in the case have stated that National Bank Trust is not a sanctioned entity, so the funds can be transferred.
National Bank Trust executives said they were tasked with recovering £6bn of global assets by 2023. This includes debts such as those owed by Yurov and his colleagues, Nikolay Fetisov, former chairman of the bank, and Sergey Belyaev.
The National Trust Bank alleges the three former shareholders fraudulently used offshore companies to conceal bad debts and extract millions of dollars. The bank benefited from a state bailout after its collapse in 2014.
Yurov and Fetisov said they successfully used offshore companies to handle bad debts. Belyaev said he had no knowledge of the scheme.
The High Court ruled in January 2020 that the three men owed compensation to the bank. The judge ruled that the three former owners had evaded banking standards. He concluded that Yurov was a “dishonest and lying witness”. Yurov said he considered the judgment unfair, but had exhausted all avenues of appeal. He was bankrupted by the case.
Yurov’s family estate is in the name of his wife, Nataliya, but the court ruled that he owned half the property. Trustees acting for Yurov’s creditors will be entitled to half of the estate when it is sold.
The main creditor is National Bank Trust, but the trustees have said that no transactions will take place with sanctioned entities or their subsidiaries without the authorization of the courts.
Russia attempted to extradite Yurov in 2018, but the request was denied on the grounds that he would not get a fair trial. He was sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison for organizing the theft of funds from a credit institution. He denies the charge.