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Avens sankciju listē: parasts baņķieris vai Putina emisārs?

Latvian citizen Aven remains on EU sanctions list

Take note – story published 1 year and 2 months ago

At the beginning of last week, European Union member states extended sanctions against more than 1,500 individuals and organizations responsible for undermining Ukraine's independence. 

Among these persons is Latvian citizen, billionaire Pjotr Aven (a.k.a Peter Aven/Petr Aven/Pyotr Aven/Pjotrs Avens). He was among those Russian oligarchs whose removal from the list was sought by several Hugarian and Russian opposition activists.  The LTV program "De facto" investigated why Aven is on the sanctions list.  

In the sanctions table, the section on Aven states that he is one of the oligarchs closest to Vladimir Putin. The friendship between the two began in the early 90s. Then, as the Minister of Foreign Economic Relations of Russia in the reformist government, Aven helped Putin, who was working in the St. Petersburg City Hall.


EU sanctions list entry for Pjotr Aven
EU sanctions list entry for Pjotr Aven


In 2007, Pyotr Aven, already one of Russia's richest and most influential businessmen, gave an interview to the LTV program "De facto", in which he talked about his relationship with Putin.

"I have a good relationship with President Putin, but, you know, being friends with the president, I think, is simply impossible. When a person is in such a position, everything personal disappears to a large extent. We have known each other for many years – since 1991. 'Known' is okay but the word 'friend' is not appropriate. I like President Putin very much," Aven said at the time. 

Aven was very active in the development of bilateral relations between Russia and Latvia. He always explained his interest in Latvia with his family roots – Aven's grandfather was born in Jaunpiebalga. In the interview, Aven revealed that he had an informal conversation with the then State President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga about the signing of the border agreement between the two countries. 

The former president remembered such a meeting and commented as follows: "There was a meeting with Aven. In it he expressed his interest in starting a project in Latvia and asked if he could help me in any way. I thanked him for his kindness and replied that I had no desire for help at that time."

Avens also spoke about the border agreement with the then Prime Minister Aigars Kalvītis.

"The conclusion of the border agreement was a rather confidential matter, and only a few state officials, the government, the presidential institution, various of our NATO partner countries were involved. People who did not have access to state secrets could not participate there. What I remember historically is that Aven and Mr. Melnik headed the Russian-Latvian Council of Business Entrepreneurs. In this way, he was connected with various activities of entrepreneurs," Kalvītis told the program.

Aven owns "Alfa-Bank" together with another oligarch on the sanctions list, Mikhail Fridman. It is the only private bank among the largest Russian banks. The sanctions document mentions that Aven and Friedman have been involved in the Kremlin's efforts to lift sanctions against Russia in recent years. 

Aven was also questioned in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. In 2018, he candidly stated in his testimony that he is one of the approximately 50 richest Russian businessmen who regularly meet with Putin at the Kremlin, according to a publicly available report. 

Aven met with Putin once a quarter and understood that Putin's suggestions or criticisms were "indirect indications" or orders. At the end of 2016, Putin personally warned Aven that the USA could introduce sanctions against Aven and "Alfa-Bank". Putin also talked about the Russian government having difficulty communicating with the newly elected Donald Trump administration. 

"Aven (..) told Putin that he would act to protect himself and the shareholders of Alfa-Bank from possible sanctions, and one of these steps would be to try to reach the incoming administration to establish a communication channel," the US Department of Justice report said.

Aven tried but told Putin in their next conversation that he had not been able to establish communication with the Trump administration. Putin is said to have been interested in Aven's efforts in future meetings. 

In 2021, in a interview with Russian media, Aven replied that it was "pure nonsense" when he and Fridman were called "Putin's emissaries". They represent only themselves in negotiations, he said. 

Aven was included in the European Union's sanctions list immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. His assets in Latvia have been frozen. Therefore, in February, the news that an exhibition of Aven's porcelain collection was planned to be held in the Ogre Museum caused quite a stir.  

The museum staff refused to hold the exhibition at the last moment. Its initiator, the chairman of the city council, Egils Helmanis (National Alliance), justified himself by saying that he wanted to exhibit the works of Latvian old masters and that no sanctions would be violated, because Aven would not be paid.

The State Security Service and did not see grounds for starting criminal proceedings over the exhibition of a very valuable collection owned by a sactioned individual, provided no money was changing hands.

A request for a fresh interview with Aven by "De Facto" did not get a positive response. Instead, Igors Bass, head of the Aven charity foundation "Paaudze", sent a written comment: "I believe that by making this collection available for viewing by citizens of Latvia, the sanctions are not being circumvented in any way.

"Pjotr Aven and the charity foundation "Paaudze" respect the sanctions, despite not agreeing with them. (..) Mr. Avea has not done anything that would be a reason to subject him personally to sanctions, therefore he has challenged this decision in the European Court."

Aven's representative said that Aven had already expressed his position on the war in Ukraine last year. In a statement at the time, Aven called for an end to violence and claimed he was providing aid to Ukrainian civilians. Russia was not even mentioned in the statement. 

Since 2016, Aven has been a citizen of Latvia, but question marks remain over how he obtained his citizenship. An investigation was carried out by KNAB: the office did not reveal the payment of bribes, but found that Aven was treated with special favor. Last year, the Saeima adopted amendments to the law, which allows the revocation of citizenship for supporters of war crimes. They are also popularly called the "Aven amendments". But citizenship can be revoked only after a decision of the security authorities. No such decision has yet been made with regard to Aven, though he has been stripped of a state award he received and had his private helicopter auctioned off. 

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