Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich "could face sanctions," despite his claims of being a peace-broker between Ukraine and Russia.
Abramovich, the highest profile oligarch in the West, has been sanctioned by the U.K., European Union and Canada. But questions have swirled around why the U.S. has been slow to act. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky advised President Biden to hold off sanctioning Abramovich, who he said could act as a go-between with Russia to negotiate peace, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The article said the Treasury Department had prepared sanctions against Abramovich, but the White House National Security Council requested a delay.
Secretary Yellen told CNBC Friday that Abramovich could still face sanctions.
"I would hold open the possibility that — certainly not take off the table the possibility — he or other individuals could face sanctions in the future," she said.
Yellen declined to comment on the Wall Street Journal report or Abramovich's effectiveness as a peace-broker. The Financial Times reported today that Vladimir Putin personally approved Abramovich's involvement in Russia's peace talks.
"I am not going to comment on the calculus about exactly what determines if he is or isn't sanctioned," Yellen said. "I'm just saying that it remains a possibility."
The debate over Abramovich has only added to his highly controversial and highly public profile in the West. With his fleet of yachts, private jets, ownership of Chelsea FC and trophy real-estate in London, Aspen, St. Bart's, France and other countries, Abramovich became the face of Russian mega-wealthy in the U.S. and Europe.
Abramovich is racing to sell Chelsea for a reported $4 billion, which has come down to two leading bidding groups — one led by Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner and investor Todd Boehly and the other led by private-equity chiefs Josh Harris and David Blitzer. He is also trying to sell his London mansion. A property near Aspen, which remains in his name, could be among the first U.S. asset to be frozen if he's sanctioned by the Biden administration.
Abramovich's two mega-yachts — Eclipse and Solaris — have sailed to Turkey, which has so far refused to sanction or freeze oligarch assets. While it's unclear where Abramovich is currently residing, private jets linked to him have been tracked from Israel to Turkey and he is reportedly eying real-estate in Dubai.
Abramovich's role as a mediator and advisor to Putin contradicts one of his long-held claims. His legal and PR teams have for years disputed the label of "oligarch," arguing that Abramovich doesn't have any influence on Putin or policies.
After buying Chelsea in 2003, he told the Financial Times that he had "no special relationship" with the Russian president.
Yellen said the U.S. may sanction more oligarchs, since they are both a source of influence and money for Putin.
"I think the oligarchs probably have some influence on the thinking of President Putin," she said. "And they have provided resources to enable Putin to carry out a war like this. So influencing, you know, the sanctions that we've put on them I think are appropriate and hopefully will matter."