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Italy has confiscated luxury yachts and homes worth $156 million from Russian oligarchs, adding to mounting pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his ruthless invasion of Ukraine.
Several European nations are taking action against Russian oligarchs, confiscating superyachts and other properties from sanctioned billionaires.
Italian officials have confiscated 143 million euros (£118 million) in luxury yachts and homes in some of the country's most beautiful locations, including Sardinia, the Ligurian coast, and Lake Como, since Friday.
'We must be able to stop Putin's offensive, bringing him to the table, and he will not go with pleasantries,' said Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio on Friday, revealing Italy's plans to begin seizing property belonging to oligarchs close to Putin.
The superyacht Lena, owned by Gennady Timchenko, an oligarch close to Putin, was seized in the port of San Remo by Italian financial police.
According to government sources, the 215ft Lady M, owned by Alexei Mordashov in neighboring Imperia and having six suites and believed to be worth 65 million euros (£53 million), was also seized, as were homes in Tuscany and Como.
The mansion of Russian-Uzbek business magnate Alisher Usmanov was seized along northern Sardinia's Emerald Coast, which has long been a playground for the world's wealthiest.
This comes after German officials denied earlier this week that they had confiscated Usmanov's yacht in Hamburg's harbour.
He also owns Beechwood House in Highgate, which is believed to be worth £48 million, and the 16th-century Sutton Place estate in Surrey, according to the UK Government.
According to The Guardian, Italian officials also seized a home on Lake Como owned by Vladimir Soloviev, a Russian state TV broadcaster.
According to activists, going for the oligarchs is the same as going after Putin.
'Vladimir Putin keeps all his money with the oligarchs,' said William Browder, a US-born and London-based financier and human rights activist who was once a major investor in Russia but ran afoul of the government in the late 2000s.
'And this is a very effective psychological warfare, to start seizing yachts.
'I think it's demoralising for the oligarchs, and it's demoralising for Vladimir Putin.
'And he's a guy who ... rules by image, you know, is the person who has pictures of himself with the shirt off on a horse.
'And so it's a bad image to have one of his best friends' yacht seized in the south of France,' Browder said.
The Daily Beast reported that Vladimir Soloviev bemoaned the fact that he might lose his Italian assets while speaking on live TV.
'Suddenly someone makes a decision that this journalist is now on the list of sanctions. And right away it affects your real estate. Wait a minute. But you told us that Europe has sacred property rights,' he said, the news outlet reported.
Germany's economy ministry said it was'swiftly and effectively executing the Russia sanctions,' but it would not identify which assets had been confiscated, if any.
So far, French police have confiscated a boat associated with Igor Sechin, a Putin friend who controls the Russian oil firm Rosneft, in the Mediterranean resort of La Ciotat, where it had landed for repairs in January.
Even though the repairs were still underway, French officials stated Thursday that the crew was prepared for an urgent departure when they arrived.
Meanwhile, Britain is planning to make it simpler to sanction Russian oligarchs and match those measures with those of the European Union and the United States in response to the invasion of Ukraine, the government announced on Saturday.
The United Kingdom has been chastised for not doing enough to curb oligarchs' ill-gotten fortunes, which are commonly invested in luxury real estate in London, a popular tourist destination.
Amendments will be proposed to the Economic Crimes Bill, which the government now hopes to approve in the lower House of Commons on Monday.
According to a statement, the bill will "crack down on corrupt elites and increase pressure on (President Vladimir) Putin's regime."
Moscow, for its part, has threatened punitive steps against "the sanctions hysteria in which London has played one of the key, if not the primary, roles."
John Glen, the British Economic Secretary to the Treasury, stated on Saturday that the UK revisions will "enable us to go tougher and faster" with sanctions.
'What we're attempting to do is make it easier to obtain a legal foundation to go against these people.' 'We feel these reforms will make a difference,' Glen said on BBC radio.
'We need to think about how we can make these judgments more quickly.'
After concerns that sanctions lists were not always synchronized, the government claimed the modifications 'would allow the UK to align more quickly with the specific designations imposed by our allies such as the US, Canada, and the EU via an urgent designation procedure.'
They would also shorten the time it takes for foreign firms to register their beneficial owners from 18 to six months in order to 'help clamp down on money laundering through UK property.'
The administration stated that the bill would be 'accelerated' through the Commons on Monday in order for it to become law 'as quickly as feasible.'
The United Kingdom has already imposed a slew of sanctions on Russian oligarchs, banks, and enterprises, as well as a ban on Russian planes and boats, in response to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
The British sanctions regime 'leaves us with no alternative but to take retaliation proportionately tough measures,' said Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova on Saturday.
'London has made a definitive decision to engage in open conflict with Russia.' Such a development reinforces our belief that Russophobia and the desire to destabilize the Russian state are essential components of British foreign strategy.'
The Italian measures were announced after British dockers refused to unload Russian oil from a tanker on Saturday, urging the government to plug a "loophole" in sanctions that allows foreign-flagged ships to deliver the fuel.
The Seacod is presently parked near the Stanlow refinery in northwest England, and unions claim that because it is German flagged, its cargo is not protected by a Russian vessel ban.
UK sanctions imposed in response to Ukraine's invasion prohibit all ships owned, operated, controlled, registered, or flagged by Russia from entering British ports.
According to Sharon Graham, general secretary of the Unite union, "because to the current crisis in Ukraine, Unite workers at the (Stanlow) plant will under no circumstances unload any Russian oil regardless of the nationality of the vessel."
'Unite calls on Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to eliminate this loophole as soon as possible.'
The refinery's operator, India's Essar, stated that it is "extremely concerned by the humanitarian catastrophe occurring in Ukraine and is fully compliant with the regulatory framework set by the UK government with regard to Russia-related enterprises."
The United Kingdom is less reliant on Russian energy than many other European countries.
The Boris Vilkitsky and Fedor Litke, two other Cyprus-flagged tankers carrying Russian gas, were turned away from the Isle of Grain in Kent, southern England, according to the Unison union.
'While it appears that our involvement was successful in diverting these ships, a more basic problem remains,' said Unison national officer for energy Matt Lay in a statement.
'The government must act swiftly to remove the loophole that does not cover the origin of boats' cargo and prevent Russian goods from entering the UK under the guise of another country.'