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What would you do if lady luck smiled and you found yourself in possession of several billion dollars? Buy a football club, a yacht, some expensive real estate and – that most desirable of all status symbols – a personal jet perhaps?
Russia's oligarchs have a particular fondness for personal jets and Jack Sweeney, a college kid at the University of Central Florida, has been tracking them on a Twitter feed, Russian Oligarch Jets (@RUOligarchJets).
Tracking them is one thing, finding anything out about these oligarchs' aircraft is another. Photos of their interiors and first-hand reports are almost non-existent. Pilots, cabin crew and even guests with a fondness for Instagram are keeping silent, and considering how their owners have got to where they are today, silence is prudent. (Though you can take a look at Boeing's own interior designs for the 787 Dreamliner in the photo gallery above)
So far it appears that none of their aircraft have been seized. Several oligarchs have multiple citizenships and that complicates the sequestration of their property. Most have cultivated personal relationships and contributed lavishly to various Western politicians. Some might suggest they've bought political protection, and unlike a fancy yacht or a London mansion, a jet aircraft is a swift target. Many have been relocated to Russia or less fussy jurisdictions, such as the Gulf States.
Several oligarchs have taken pains to cloud the actual ownership of the aircraft they fly. Some are owned by the corporations that the oligarchs themselves own, some are leased, some are held in an aircraft trust. But for the time being, at least some members of the oligarchy are going to be restricted in where they can go as they come to terms with the fact that nobody really likes them.
Roman Abramovich, the man with the most
Why stop with just one personal jet aircraft? That seems to be the thinking of Roman Abramovich, the most visible of the Russian oligarchs thanks to his controlling interest in Chelsea Football Club, although the club is currently up for sale due to the invasion of Ukraine.
According to Forbes, Abramovich owns a Boeing 767-33A/ER, valued at $US180 million ($A240 million), a Boeing 787 Dreamliner worth around $US250 million , a Gulfstream G650, the same model as Kim Kardashian's, and a Bombardier BD700 valued at $US40 million.
His workhorse for several years has been the Boeing 767, complete with a gold banquet hall that seats 30 and an anti-missile system the same as that used aboard Air Force One. Late in 2021 it was offered up for sale, asking price $US100 million, after Abramovich acquired his own Dreamliner. The Gulfstream G650 has been on an intriguing jaunt lately, tracked from Tel Aviv – Abramovich is Jewish with Israeli citizenship - to Istanbul, on to Luxembourg and finally Moscow. The Bombardier was last seen at the end of February in Latvia's Riga.
After cutting his entrepreneurial teeth as a street-trader and a factory mechanic, Abramovich capitalised on the opportunities that presented themselves in the meltdown of the Soviet Union, gaining control of oil producer Sibneft, paying a fraction of its real value in a bogus auction.
Ten years after he bought a half-share in Sibneft for $US100 million, he sold it to the Russian government for $US13 billion. A subsequent interest in Russia's aluminium industry has been only slightly less lucrative. According to US intelligence, Abramovich is the bagman for Vladimir Putin. He owns No 16 Kensington Palace Gardens, estimated value £125 million and a mansion in Manhattan's Upper East Side created from four townhouses. Abramovich's net wealth has halved in 2022 to $US7.1 billion
Alisher Usmanov, the Metalloinvest mogul
Alisher Usmanov's quad-engine Airbus A340-300 private jet is worth somewhere north of $US400 million, said to be the world's second most expensive private jet. Known as the Bourkhan after his father, and a regular fixture at German and Swiss airports, the aircraft departed European territory in late February in favour of Tashkent in Usmanov's home state of Uzbekistan, where he has a modern palace.
Described by the EU as "one of Vladmir Putin's favourite oligarchs", with a net worth just short of $US20b, the Uzbek businessman made his money in metals and mining with some shrewd investments along the way including a majority shareholding in Russia's second-largest mobile telephone operator. He owns Beechwood House, a sprawling villa set in 4.5 hectares in London's Highgate, bought for or £48 million in 2008, now valued at £82 million.
Vagit Alekperov, the billionaire from Baku
Nominally owned by Lukoil, the Russian oil and gas producer, Alekperov gets about in a Dassault Falcon 900EX, a tri-engine executive jet. The aircraft has a sticker price of around $US40 million. Most recently the aircraft has been tracked flying between Moscow and Kogalym, a Lukoil company town.
After working on an oil rig in the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan-born Alekperov rose rapidly to become deputy minister of the Oil and Gas Industry of the USSR in 1990. In 1993, Lukoil was born, with Alekperov as its president and chairman. Within a decade he owned over 10 per cent of the company. As well as mansions in Moscow and Ukraine, Alekperov also has a home in Switzerland but it's not going well. His net worth, estimated at $US26 billion just months ago, took a massive hit in the sanctions announced following the invasion of Ukraine and Alekperov is down to his last $US7.19 billion.
Sir Leonard Blavatnik – call me "Len"
Blavatnik's people mover is a Boeing 777-212ER, nominally owned by his company, Access Industries, and formerly flying in the livery of Singapore Airlines. For those personal and family occasions he jets around in a small but sleek Gulfstream G600. Said to be kitted out in a 9-seater configuration, the aircraft has a maximum range of 12,223kms and a list price just short of $US60 million. GlobalAir has a 2019 model for sale at $US54.7 million. In late March the G600 has been tracked to New York, London and Palm Beach.
Sir Leonard Valentinovich Blavatnik is a Ukrainian-born American–British businessman, founder of Access Industries and current holder of the title, "richest chap in the UK". Following the implosion of the Soviet Union he bought up state-owned enterprises at bargain basement prices, with more recent investments in the entertainment industry and biotech. Knighted in 2017 for services to philanthropy, his net worth is estimated at £23bn and his house at 5 Kensington Palace Gardens is valued at £200 million. His Manhattan residence is valued at $US200 million. Although his planes are being tracked on the Russian Oligarch Jets Twitter account, Blavatnik has always rejected being referred to as an "oligarch" on the basis that his personal and commercial activities are not connected to the Russian government.