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GERMANY AND RUSSIA

Germany raids Russian oligarch’s yacht in tax probe

German investigators on Tuesday raided a yacht belonging to a Russian oligarch suspected of evading taxes, laundering money and violating EU sanctions, prosecutors said.

Luxury yacht Dilbar
The luxury yacht 'Dilbar', which is currently moored in Bremen harbour. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

The public prosecutor’s office in the western city of Frankfurt said more than 60 officers searched the vessel belonging to a “69-year-old businessman from the Russian Federation”.

They did not name the suspect, but he is thought to be billionaire Alisher Usmanov, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and former president of the International Fencing Federation.

Between 2017 and 2022, the suspect is accused of funnelling several million euros acquired in illegal activities, including tax evasion, through an “extensive and complex network of companies and corporations”, prosecutors said in a statement.

They added that the search was also carried out to comply with a request for assistance from the US Justice Department on its own probe.

READ ALSO: Germany seizes world’s largest yacht owned by Russian oligarch

German investigators had already raided two properties belonging to Usmanov last week in the Bavarian district of Miesbach, as part of searches targeting a total of 24 properties linked to the Russian oligarch and four other people.

Tuesday’s raid had zeroed in on the “Dilbar”, the world’s biggest yacht by tonnage owned by Usmanov.

The 155-metre (500-foot) vessel, named for Usmanov’s mother and valued at around $600 million, had been docked in a Hamburg shipyard since October 2021 for repairs. It is now moored in the northern port city of Bremen.

Usmanov was ranked at number six in the Sunday Times list of the world’s richest people in 2021.

He is one of dozens of Russian billionaires hit by Western sanctions following the start of the invasion of Ukraine.

Usmanov is currently believed to be residing in Uzbekistan, according to Der Spiegel, which said he is accused of evading at least €555 million ($534 million) in German taxes since 2014.

The magazine said complications in enforcing economic sanctions in Germany had led investigators to rely heavily on tax law to try to bring suspected violators — including Russian oligarchs — to book.

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GERMANY AND RUSSIA

Scholz urges Putin to withdraw troops for ‘diplomatic’ end to war

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday pressed Russia's President Vladimir Putin to seek a diplomatic solution to end his war in Ukraine, including troop withdrawals, Berlin said following a call between the two.

Scholz urges Putin to withdraw troops for 'diplomatic' end to war

“The chancellor urged the Russian president to come as quickly as possible to a diplomatic solution including the withdrawal of Russian troops,” according to the German leader’s spokesman Steffen Hebestreit.

During the one-hour call, Scholz “condemned in particular the Russian airstrikes against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and stressed Germany’s determination to support Ukraine in ensuring the defence capability against Russian aggression”.

On Russia’s end, Vladimir Putin told Scholz that Moscow’s attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure were “inevitable” and accused the West of pursuing “destructive” policies. 

“It was noted that the Russian Armed Forces had long refrained from precision missile strikes against certain targets on the territory of Ukraine,” the Kremlin said in a statement following the discussion. 

The leaders also discussed the issue of global food security, which is under pressure because of the war.

They also agreed to “remain in contact”, said Hebestreit.

Scholz and Putin have been in regular phone contact through the war.

The previous call between them took place in September and lasted 90 minutes, with Scholz then also urging Putin to “come to a diplomatic solution as possible, based on a ceasefire”.

‘Return to the pre-war peace order’

Despite his firm line on the war in Ukraine, the Chancellor drew sideways glances this week after telling the Berlin Security Conference there was a “willingness” to solve common security issues with Russia. 

“We can come back to a peace order that worked and make it safe again if there is a willingness in Russia to go back to this peace order,” Scholz said, according to reports by Times correspondent Oliver Moody. 

Scholz had prefaced his comments with a reference to Russia’s “imperialist” tendencies, which he said reflected the approach of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, “where a stronger country just thinks it can take the territory of a neighbour, understanding neighbours as just hinterland, and some place they can give rules to be followed.”

“That can never be accepted,” he added. 

He also blamed Russia for destroying the European peace order that countries had worked on “for decades”. 

Nevertheless, commentators accused the SPD politician of stubbornly sticking to Germany’s historical appeasement of Russia rather than recognising the realities of the present day. 

On Wednesday, German MPs also passed a motion to recognise the starvation of millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s under Russian dictator Joseph Stalin as ‘genocide’. 

Parliamentarians described the move as a “warning” to Russia as Ukraine faces a potential hunger crisis this winter due to Moscow’s invasion.

READ ALSO: Germany recognises Stalin famine in Ukraine as ‘genocide’

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