Dutch court backs squatters in Russian tycoon's mansion

Dutch court backs squatters in Russian tycoon's mansion

Head of Yandex was planning to sell property, which would have been illegal under sanctions

Yandex founder Arkady Volozh was targeted by EU sanctions. (AFP Photo)
Yandex founder Arkady Volozh was targeted by EU sanctions. (AFP Photo)

AMSTERDAM: The elegant house overlooking Amsterdam's iconic Vondelpark would fit in nicely with its neighbouring dwellings, were it not for the huge anti-war banners draped down the outside.

Since last month a group of squatters have occupied the luxurious five-storey building belonging to Arkady Volozh, the sanctioned co-founder of the Russian search engine giant Yandex.

A court has now authorised the squatters to stay, after they argued that the house was currently empty and that he planned to rent or sell it in breach of EU sanctions, instead of living there himself.

"Without the sanctions, the squatters would certainly have lost," one of their lawyers, Heleen over de Linden, told AFP. "So, this is a very special case, yes."

The squatters have made their message very clear to the rest of the world with three banners.

The first referred to the close relationship between Yandex and FSB, Russia's security service. Two others read "Against war", followed by "and capitalism".

AFP was denied access to the property Thursday by a young woman who opened the door to a visitor who had given a password, which referred to a statement published Wednesday on the website "Anarchist Federation".

"WE HAVE WON", the squatters said in capital letters in the statement, hailing a victory "for the whole movement of squatters and for all those who like to watch the (Russian) billionaires have their property confiscated".

'Enjoy the beautiful city'

On a piece of paper hung near the entrance shortly after their arrival, the squatters introduce themselves as a group of young people affected by a shortage of housing in the Netherlands — and invite neighbours for a drink.

The note explains why they occupied the house belonging to 58-year-old Volozh, who resigned from the board of the Netherlands-registered Yandex in June to avoid the firm also being hit by sanctions.

Yandex is registered in the Netherlands and has European, UK and US subsidiaries, but the bulk of its business is in Russia and other Russian-speaking countries.

The EU said Volozh was "supporting, materially or financially" the Russian government in its war on Ukraine.

The squatters said that as Volozh is under sanctions, including an asset freeze and an EU travel ban, the house would have remained empty.

Squatting has been a crime under Dutch law since 2010, but "respect for one's home is a human right... that can stand in the way of eviction", explained Juanita van Lunen, who also defended the squatters.

And in the event of an eviction request, when an unjustified vacancy threatens, the interests of the residents are decisive, she told AFP.

But lawyers for Paraseven, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands which officially owns the premises, took the squatters to court in late October, demanding they be evicted from premises they were illegally occupying.

The lawyers said the house on Vossiusstraat, a street close to Amsterdam's top museums, was to be available to be lived in by Volozh or his family, including his wife, his six children and two grandchildren.

The EU sanctions allow people under sanctions to use their property for personal use — even if Volozh himself is subject to an asset freeze and travel ban.

"Occasionally they will stay there to enjoy the beautiful city of Amsterdam," the lawyer said in court.

Six bathtubs

But the squatters argued that the fact that the house had been split into several apartments, suggested that they were probably intended to be sold or rented.

"Why did they divide the building into three different addresses? Why are there SIX bathtubs? Why does each floor have its own locks?" the squatters said in a statement.

The Amsterdam court said that while the renovation was likely to justify the property remaining empty, it was "not sufficiently plausible" that Volozh and his family would use the property "for the foreseeable future".

The division into three apartments was a giveaway for the court.

"Rental or sale is not permitted under the sanctions," the judgement adds, adding that the renovation would also likely to lead to a "considerable" increase in the value of the house.

Over de Linden said the case would go to appeal but the squatters were "not worried".

In the meantime, they have promised to use the Russian tycoon's mansion to organise political and social events — to support anti-war protesters and to support people "left behind by war or by capitalism".


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