By Maayan Lubell
JERUSALEM/ISTANBUL -Sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich was seen in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on Monday shortly before a jet linked to him took off for Istanbul, where his yacht was spotted sailing, data showed.
A photograph obtained by Reuters showed Abramovich, owner of Britain’s Chelsea soccer club, sitting in the airport’s VIP lounge with a face mask pulled down over his chin. Reuters could not verify whether he boarded the flight.
Abramovich, who also holds Israeli and Portuguese citizenship, was among seven Russian billionaires added to the British sanctions list on Thursday as part of efforts to isolate President Vladimir Putin over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
According to data from Marine Traffic website, Abramovich’s yacht, called My Solaris, was headed for Istanbul. His jet had earlier landed in Istanbul.
Top envoys for the 27-nation European Union agreed to add Abramovich to the bloc’s list of sanctioned Russian oligarchs, diplomatic sources said on Monday.
Abramovich has denied having close ties to Putin.
A person with knowledge of the matter told Reuters the plane used by Abramovich flew into Ben Gurion late on Sunday from Moscow. Flight-tracking website FLIGHTRADAR24 said the aircraft, which has the tail number LX-RAY and is a large Gulfstream business jet, landed in Istanbul after leaving Israel.
Tracking websites showed the jet had arrived in Israel from Moscow late on Sunday. Israeli restrictions imposed on private jets since the invasion meant it could not remain on the ground for more than 24 hours.
A British transport ministry source said on Friday that Britain was searching out helicopters and jets belonging to the sanctioned oligarchs.
Multiple properties including opulent yachts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been seized by authorities in Europe in recent days. One of Abramovich’s own yachts, the $600 million, arrived in Montenegro’s territorial waters on Sunday.
In Slovakia, which borders Ukraine, visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Israel “will not be a route to bypass sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and other Western countries”.
In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 on Friday, Victoria Nuland, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, said Washington was asking Israel to join in financial and export sanctions against Russia.
Lapid did not say directly whether Israel was considering its own sanctions. But he said the foreign ministry was “coordinating the issue together with partners including the Bank of Israel, the Finance Ministry, the Economy Ministry, the Airports Authority, the Energy Ministry, and others”.
Asked for further details, the Bank of Israel said in a statement to Reuters that it was “constantly monitoring developments in the payments systems, the markets, and the financial system.”
Any Israeli sanctions could complicate efforts by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to mediate the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. He held talks in Moscow with Putin on March 5 and has spoken several times by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
A senior Israeli official said Abramovich was not involved in Israel’s mediation efforts.
Sympathy for Ukraine strong in Israel. The country’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem said on Thursday that it had suspended a strategic partnership with Abramovich, after Britain’s move against him.