Dutch court backs squatters in Russian tycoon’s mansion

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Amsterdam (AFP) – Overlooking Amsterdam’s iconic Vondelpark, the elegant home would look great on neighboring residences if it weren’t for the huge anti-war banners hanging from the outside.

Since last month, a group of slums has occupied the luxury five-story building owned by Arkady Volozh, the sanctioned co-founder of Russian search engine giant Yandex.

A court granted the occupants permission to stay after claiming that the house is now vacant and that instead of living there, he plans to rent or sell it, in violation of EU sanctions.

“Without the sanctions, the occupiers would certainly have lost,” one of his lawyers, Helen over de Linden, told AFP. “So it’s a very special case, yes.”

The slums conveyed their message very clearly to the rest of the world with three banners.

The first referred to the close relationship between Yandex and Russia’s security service, the FSB. The other two write “against war” followed by “and capitalism”.

Citing a statement posted on the “Anarchist Federation” website on Wednesday, a young woman who opened the door to a visitor who gave a password denied entry to the property on Thursday, AFP reported.

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The squatters capitalized “WE” in the statement and hailed the victory of “the entire slum movement and those who want to watch the (Russian) billionaires’ property be confiscated”.

‘Enjoy the beautiful city’

In a piece of paper hung near the entrance shortly after arriving, the occupants present themselves as a group of young people affected by the housing shortage in the Netherlands and invite their neighbors for a drink.

The note explains why they occupied the house of Volozh, 58, who resigned from the board of directors of Netherlands-based Yandex in June, so that the firm would not be affected by the sanctions.

Yandex is registered in the Netherlands and has branches in Europe, the UK and the USA, but the bulk of its business is in Russia and other Russian-speaking countries.

The EU said Volozh “supported financially or financially” the Russian government in its war against Ukraine.

Residents of the slum said the house will remain empty as Volozh is under sanctions, including asset freeze and an EU travel ban.

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Defending the occupiers, Juanita van Lunen said it has been a crime under Dutch law since 2010, but “respect for one’s home is a human right … this can stand in the way of eviction.”

He told AFP that the interests of residents are decisive when there is an unjustified threat of vacancy in the case of an eviction request.

But lawyers for Paraseven, registered in the British Virgin Islands and the official owner of the property, took the occupants to court in late October, demanding that they be evicted from the buildings they illegally occupied.

The house on Vossiusstraat, a street close to Amsterdam’s best museums, could be inhabited by Volozh or his family, including his wife, six children and two grandchildren, lawyers said.

EU sanctions allow sanctioned persons to use their property for personal use – even if Volozh itself is subject to asset freeze and travel ban.

“Sometimes they will stay there to enjoy the beautiful city of Amsterdam,” the lawyer said in court.

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six tubs

But the squatters argued that the fact that the house was divided into several flats 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 lock?” The invaders made a statement.

The Amsterdam court said the renovation would justify keeping the property vacant, but it was “not reasonable enough” for Volozh and his family to use the property “in the near future”.

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

“Leasing or selling is not allowed under sanctions,” the decision said, adding that the renovation is likely to result in a “significant” increase in the value of the home as well.

Over de Linden said the case would be appealed, but the occupants were “not worried”.

Meanwhile, they have pledged to use the Russian businessman’s estate to hold political and social events to support anti-war protesters and support people “left behind by war or capitalism.”

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