Sanctioned Russian billionaire loses appeal against squatters living in his building in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Appeal Court upheld a decision that allows squatters to reside in the building owned by Arkady Volozh, a Russian billionaire whose assets are frozen in Europe.

Building owned by Arkady Volozh
A building in Amsterdam owned by Arkady Volozh and occupied by squatters who hung “Against war and capitalism” and “Yandex+FSB=❤️” on the facade.

Squatters in Amsterdam living in the building of a Russian billionaire can stay put. The eviction would lead to unjustified vacancy, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal ruled on May 16.

The building is located in Vossiusstraat next to Vondelpark, the largest city park in Amsterdam and the most famous park in the Netherlands. The house belongs to Arkady Volozh via Paraseven Ltd, an offshore company registered in the British Virgin Islands.

The founder of the search engine Yandex has been sanctioned and saw all his assets frozen by the European Commission on June 2022 for spreading misinformation and manipulating search results about the war in Ukraine through the so-called Russian Google.

Officially, the holding company Yandex N.V. has its head office registered in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

As first revealed by the Dutch daily NRC, two floors were bought in 2018, followed by the upper apartments and the attic in 2019 for a total of 3.4 million euros (3.76 million dollars).

Dutch authorities didn’t notice the six-story building when they first looked for Russian-owned assets in the Netherlands for the sanctions, despite a letter sent by a Yandex commissioner, and accessed by public broadcaster NOS, reporting the property to the Ministry of Finance.

The high-end building has been in renovation work since 2020, adding a rooftop terrace and installing a sauna among other upgrades. According to the contractor’s report of the squat to the police, the renovation was 85 percent done when people started occupying the place without authorization in October 2022.

They hung a banner with the text “Against war and capitalism” written in English from the 19th-century facade. Another banner, written in Russian, said “Yandex + FSB = ❤️”. FSB stands for the Federal Security Service of Russia, the successor of the Soviet Union’s KGB.

Paraseven seized the Amsterdam District Court in November, seeking the eviction of the people.

The plaintiff argued Mr. Volozh, the ultimate beneficial owner, and his family intended to use the building for personal use and that he stepped down from his position as CEO of Yandex after the sanctions. Moreover, they argued the mansion was not empty since the contractor renovated it.

But the Amsterdam Court rejected the claims. It considered the renovation conflicted with the current sanctions, especially since the configuration of the building in several apartments could suggest some would be rented or sold at a premium inducing financial benefits from frozen assets.

Furthermore, the Court found it was not plausible that Mr. Volozh and his family would reside in the property for the foreseeable future because of the sanctions. Since Mr. Volozh is no longer the CEO of Yandex, he no longer has economic ties to come to Amsterdam.

But Paraseven appealed the decision. The plaintiff’s lawyer pushed back with further evidence that the building was meant for residential use and that Mr. Volozh’s family could use the house whenever they wanted since they were not included in the sanction list.

However, the Appeal Court upheld the lower court decision because there was nothing to indicate the family could come to Amsterdam anytime soon, the renovations being halted and all economic resources frozen. “There is no urgent interest in the claimed eviction,” according to the appeal’s ruling.

In a nutshell, squatters can live in the building since the owners can’t enjoy it.

The company’s lawyer said they would bring the decision to the Supreme Court, the highest jurisdiction of the Netherlands, still claiming the decision is a misapplication of European sanctions and a violation of the family’s property rights.

The squatters use the building to organize parties and events attracting many people, which can cause nuisances to the neighborhood. Events go from workshops and a public kitchen to film screenings and parties with bars and DJ.

The Court then recalled that they should be aware that they can still be evicted if they act contrary to the residential purpose of the building or cause nuisances regularly.

Up to ten people can live in the building, which has no electricity or heating, for the time being.

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