Irish investors looking to Crimea draw ire of Ukraine government

Kiev threatens legal action over potential property deals in Russian-annexed region

Billboard with an image of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and the words “Strong president –  Strong Russia!” in Simferopol, Crimea, on January 18th, 2018.

Billboard with an image of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and the words “Strong president – Strong Russia!” in Simferopol, Crimea, on January 18th, 2018.

 

Ukraine’s government is threatening to prosecute a group of Irish businesspeople if they invest in real estate in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula subject to international sanctions since Russian annexation in 2014.

Paddy Duffy, previously a senior adviser to former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, and Conor Martin, chief executive of property investor Marcon Capital, travelled to Moscow in December.

There, they met with a senior Russian figure, Andrey Nazarov, co-chairman of the influential business lobby group Delovaya Rossiya, to discuss investing in hotels in Crimea.

However, European Union companies and citizens have been banned from investing in Crimea, or supplying services since Russian military forces seized control in March 2014.

Ukraine and our partners will use all legal and political instruments to prosecute individuals or companies who try to circumvent sanctions,” Oleksii Makeiev of Ukraine’s ministry of foreign affairs said.

“We hope that no Irish individuals or companies would travel illegally to Crimea or engage in illicit business activities on the peninsula,” Mr Makeiev told The Irish Times.

“By its attempted annexation and illegal occupation of Crimea and invasion of Donbas in the east of my country, Russia committed one of the gravest international crimes since the second World War,” he went on.

The embassy of Ukraine in Ireland called on Irish nationals and institutions to refrain from “illegally visiting Crimea” without Ukraine’s official permission, or else “bear responsibility in accordance with the Ukrainian legislation”.

International law

In a statement to The Irish Times, Mr Duffy and Mr Martin, who have previously said that all rules would be abided by, said they “will always conduct their businesses within the parameters of national and international law”.

The two men met with Mr Nazarov on the margins of an Irish-Russian conference in Moscow in December, which was attended by Mr Ahern. Mr Ahern did not, however, take part in the Crimean talks.

Under Ukrainian law, it is illegal to enter Crimea without the permission of the Ukrainian government, even though it no longer controls the territory since the annexation ordered by President Vladimir Putin.

Kateryna Yushchenko said international deals in 'occupied Crimea' display 'shameful disrespect' for international and European law

“We look to Ireland to show the type of responsibility and leadership in respect to Ukraine that they have again and again demonstrated over the years, as a state that so often punches above its weight in the pursuit of peace, justice and human rights on the international stage,” he said.

However, Maya Lester, a London-based barrister, made clear that simply travelling to Crimea is not banned by the sanctions rules, which can be broken only if banned investments are made.

Kateryna Yushchenko, the wife of the former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yuschenko, said international deals in “occupied Crimea” display “shameful disrespect” for international and European law.

“We would expect the Irish to be particularly sensitive to foreign intervention, and not place their business interests above legal and moral considerations,” she declared.

Senior Ukrainian MP Lev Pidlisetskyy asked who would visit Crimea currently: “Mainly Russian tourists or Russians on the sanctions list that can’t travel to the West.”

Yalta conference

Mr Nazarov said the negotiations with the Irish delegation touched on construction and hotels in Crimea, but they also discussed a far wider range of projects in Russia and in Ireland. The Irish group saw “great potential” in Crimea, he said, adding he is optimistic that €100 million worth of international investment will be agreed at the Yalta conference.

Mr Duffy said he and two others may travel to Yalta for the April gathering, though Mr Martin, who is interested in setting up a fund to invest in both Russia and Ireland, said he had no plans to travel there.

Now in its fourth year, the Yalta gathering is the main showcase event for investment opportunities in Crimea. Last year, it attracted 200 delegates from 46 countries – including 40 from Italy.

French and Italian wine producers are inspecting Crimean vineyards, while Turkish hoteliers, who are considering $12 billion worth of deals, have already committed to building a five-star hotel in Simferopol, Crimea’s capital.

Oksana Haltby, head of the Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce in Ireland, warned that Irish investors could be used as propaganda tools by Russia Today, the Kremlin’s English-language news channel also known as RT.

“[They] will definitely use the fact that some Irish businessmen came to visit to discuss possible investments to try to convince people in the West that sanctions should be lifted and Crimea be recognised as a part of Russia,” she said.