British-Russian man to fight charge of illegally flying drone in Norway | world news

The British-Russian son of a longtime ally of Vladimir Putin is to fight charges of flying a drone illegally in Norway, in contravention of laws introduced in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Andrey Yakunin, who founded a private equity fund in London in 2006, was arrested in Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, in October under the law. Norwegian police brought criminal charges this month but Yakunin has said he will plead not guilty.

Yakunin, 47, was filming with the drone while mountaineering, glacier walking and sailing, his lawyer Bernt Heiberg said. Heiberg confirmed that Yakunin’s yacht, named Firebird, was raided in Hammerfest, northern Norway, by Norwegian police who seized “drones and electronic devices” on 17 October. A court hearing is scheduled for 29 November to 2 December. Yakunin remains in custody pending a hearing.

Norway banned Russian citizens or companies from flying drones or other aircraft in the country on 28 February, four days after Putin ordered his forces to invade Ukraine.

Yakunin is the son of Vladimir Yakunin, who is considered by the UK government a close ally of Putin. Vladimir Yakunin, who has denied being a close adviser of Putin, ran Russian Railways, the country’s largest employer, for a decade until 2015. He was designated for sanctions by the US in 2014 following Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas and southern Crimea regions , and the UK followed suit in April after Putin’s forces invaded the rest of the country.

Heiberg said Andrey Yakunin does not plead guilty, since he was flying drones for purely recreational purposes. Yakunin received British citizenship in 2015.

Heiberg said: “For Mr Yakunin’s case it is clear and undisputed by the prosecutor that his use of drones was purely recreational. He was merely filming while mountaineering, glacier walking and sailing.

“This case is not about Norway’s national security. This is not about actions by the Russian regime against Norway. This is about a tourist who is passionate about extreme sports and nature.”

In a parliamentary debate over fresh UK sanctions for Russians on British soil on 1 March, Labor MP Dame Margaret Hodge used the Yakunin family as an example of a Russian family with obvious links to the UK, saying Vladimir Yakunin “extracted nearly $4bn [£3.3bn] in assets and commissions from Russian Railways” and that “most of those assets are now administered by his London-based son via a Luxembourg registered investment fund”. Yakunin’s lawyer denied that Vladimir Yakunin had amassed a $4bn fortune and said the business and economic activities of Andrey were separate from his father’s.

Andrey Yakunin founded his private equity firm Venture Investments and Yield Management in London in 2006. Andrey Yakunin resigned from the management of VIYM and ceased to be its majority owner in March 2021, according to company filings. In 2020, VIYM’s investments in Russia were estimated to be valued at $300m, according to a Russian media report. “VIYM or any other businesses Andrey is involved in do not receive any benefits from Vladimir Yakunin and do not transfer any money or assets to Vladimir Yakunin,” the lawyer said.

The company has an extensive range of investments listed on its website including:

  • A luxury hotel in the center of St Petersburg that was the first of the prominent Four Seasons franchise to open in Russia.

  • A luxury cottage village near St Petersburg on the shore of the Gulf of Finland that boasts 52 houses and a landscaped park.

  • The Radisson Blu Royal Palace Hotel in Vienna.

  • The Hard Rock Hotel in Davos, a Swiss ski resort that hosts an influential annual gathering of world leaders and business people.

  • A full-scale reconstruction of a medieval estate in Umbria, southern Italy.

At least four Russians have been instructed for flying drones in Norway since the country introduced the controls in February, according to a police spokesperson.

Jonas Gahr Støre, the Norwegian president, has blamed foreign intelligence services for drone sightings at offshore oil and gas fields and Norwegian airports. “It is not acceptable that foreign intelligence is flying drones over Norwegian airports and defences. Russians are not allowed to fly drones in Norway,” he told a trade union meeting last month.