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Russian tourists lead the way in Sri Lanka, including an oligarch or two

As Sri Lanka’s economic crisis continues to worsen amidst staggeringly low tourist numbers, visitors from Russia remain the islands highest source of tourists.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, an estimated 200,000 visitors would visit Sri Lanka in February. This year, the number was just 96,507. Leading the way, however were Russian tourists, who made up 15,340 arrivals followed by India with 12,744, UK 10,642, Germany 7,740 and Ukraine 5,620.

However, at least one of those Russian arrivals has caught international attention.

Oleg Deripaska, founder of the Russian aluminium group Rusal, is one of several Russian oligarchs under the global spotlight and at risk of facing Western sanctions given the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The tycoon was already sanctioned by the US in 2018, with the US Treasury stating “Deripaska has said that he does not separate himself from the Russian state”.

“He has also acknowledged possessing a Russian diplomatic passport, and claims to have represented the Russian government in other countries.  Deripaska has been investigated for money laundering, and has been accused of threatening the lives of business rivals, illegally wiretapping a government official, and taking part in extortion and racketeering,” it added. “There are also allegations that Deripaska bribed a government official, ordered the murder of a businessman, and had links to a Russian organized crime group.”

With assets of Russia’s ultra-elite being seized around the world, Deripaska’s superyacht – the Clio – which was docked in Sri Lanka in February, is reportedly on the move.

The 73-metre long multimillion dollar vessel reportedly left Sri Lanka where it was anchored a few weeks ago to the Maldives in a reported scramble to move ships to safe havens to prevent them being confiscated.

Last night, a US$ 600 million superyacht owed by Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov was seized by German authorities in Hamburg

Read more from The Times here and The Guardian here.

Last week, as states around the world announced a host of wide-ranging sanctions on Russia, in Sri Lanka a different set of discussions was taking place in Colombo, with deepening trade links on the agenda a ministerial meeting as Russia’s Alexey Gruzdev, Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade, met with the regime’s State Minister for Regional Co-Operation Tharaka Balasuriya in Colombo.

On Wednesday, as the UN General Assembly voted fo a resolution that condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier, Sri Lanka was one of a handful of countries to abstain.

The resolution was supported by 141 of the assembly's 193 members. Thirty-five members, including Sri Lanka, India and China, abstained. Russia, Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea and Syria voted against the resolution.

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