Former Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich played an “important role” in the release of five men held by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, British media reported on Friday.
John Harding – one of five men freed in a prisoner swap earlier this week – said the Russian oligarch introduced himself to another freed prisoner, Shaun Pinner, as they boarded the the plane before their flight to Riyadh.
Mr Harding said he himself had spoken to Mr Abramovich’s aide, who said the oligarch had played a “significant role” in their release, The Sun newspaper reported.
The released Britons were flown to Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh on Wednesday after the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman brokered the talks.
On March 10, the British government announced sanctions against R. Abramovich, 55, citing his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. R. Abramović is also subject to European Union sanctions.
“Shaun had a long chat with him (Abramovich) about football and I had a chat with his assistant,” Mr Harding told The Sun.
“She said that Roman was a big part of our comeback,” he said, adding, “He’s highly respected by Ukrainians and now by us – he’s done a lot for us.”
Five Britons – Mr Harding, Mr Pinner, Aiden Aslin, Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill – have been freed in a record prisoner swap. During it, citizens of the United States, Morocco, Sweden and Croatia, Ukrainian and separatist fighters and a prominent pro-Moscow politician were also released.
British POWs who joined the war as volunteer fighters and aid workers have been held in Donetsk, controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
Aslin and Pinner were sentenced to death in June, while three other men were tried in August on the same mercenary charge.
A Briton, Paul Urey, arrested in April, died in captivity.
Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny called last month for more systematic prosecutions of Russian oligarchs who support Putin and the war in Ukraine.
He said Abramovich had so far evaded US sanctions, even though his companies “supplied metal to the Russian Defense Ministry”.
Ukraine announced on Wednesday that it had taken back a record 215 prisoners in a prisoner swap with Russia, including soldiers leading the defense of the Azovstal metallurgical plant in Mariupol, a symbol of resistance Ukrainian.
10 POWs from other countries were handed over to Saudi Arabia.
55 captive soldiers and Viktor Medvedchuk, a former Ukrainian lawmaker and ally of V. Putin, have been handed over to Russia and are charged with treason.
Source: The Delfi