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Russia oligarch Roman Abramovich files lawsuit against Israel bank for blocking transaction

December 29, 2023 at 11:27 am

Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich. [Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images]

A Russian-Israeli oligarch has filed a lawsuit against an Israeli bank over its refusal to transfer his funds to an Israeli NGO, marking the ongoing effect of European sanctions imposed on the billionaire.

Roman Abramovich – former owner of the UK’s Chelsea football club and notorious oligarch with extensive ties to Russian and Israeli authorities – and the Israeli NGO Zaka are reported to have filed a lawsuit against Israel’s Bank Mizrahi after it rejected Abramovich’s request to transfer a donation of eight million shekels ($2.2 million) to Zaka.

The bank reportedly cited the reason for its refusal being sanctions imposed on Abramovich by the European Union (EU) and Britain in February 2022, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that month. Those sanctions, which were imposed on entities and individuals like Abramovich who had close business ties to Moscow and its authorities, caused the bank to block his account and disable its financial transactions.

The lawsuit against Bank Mizrahi asserted that the funds were intended to support Zaka’s activities as an NGO in Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza, including the provision and distribution of aid in preparing for future conflicts and disasters in northern Israel. The suit especially highlighted Zaka’s supposed role as a prominent rescue and recovery organisation, operating domestically and internationally in disaster zones and to provide emergency assistance.

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According to the authors of the lawsuit, attorneys Shmulik Cassouto and Bella Peled, the move taken by Bank Mizrahi contradicts the purpose of its establishment a century ago “to support the establishment and strengthening of the State of Israel. It is ludicrous that during one of the state’s most difficult times when the entire nation is united and fighting, Bank Mizrahi would block such a vital donation to one of Israel’s most important organizations.”

The attorneys added: “It is puzzling that a bank which invests millions in advertising under the slogan ‘A bank of people, for the people’ would prevent such an important donation meant to help the Israeli people. If the money is good enough to remain in the bank and inflate its balance, it would certainly be good enough to be donated to charity and to a cause that will keep our country prepared for additional challenges in the years to come.”

Arguing that the Israeli government has not imposed sanctions against Abramovich, his lawyers assert that the bank’s blocking of his account is wrong and lacks any legal basis, resulting in their demand for an immediate release of the blocked funds.

READ: Israeli groups urge US not to sanction Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich