Canada’s former Green party leader says the federal government should seize a Vancouver Island property linked to a Russian oligarch that served as a refuge for Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle in late 2019, and early 2020, if certain conditions are met.
“If he is a beneficial owner of this property, then using (sanctions under the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, a.k.a. the Sergei Magnitsky Law), we should seize it,” Saanich—Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May said in an interview with Black Press Media.
“If there is anything that is going to stop (Russian president) Vladimir Putin from an illegal war against Ukraine and potentially other countries in the region, only those with power in and around him can stop him.”
Her comments follow a published investigative report that found an offshore trust owned by Yuri Milner had purchased the so-called Mille Fleurs North Saanich property in her riding for $18 million in 2013. According to that account, Milner is no longer the official owner of that property, but Milner is described as the exclusive beneficiary of the property.
According to previously published accounts, Victoria-raised music mogul David Foster helped arrange the royals’ stay, along with then first child, Archie.
Forbes estimates the worth of Milner, who also holds Israeli citizenship, at US $7.3 billion. He is said to have made his fortunes by investing early in Facebook and Twitter through his venture fund, DST Global. Both DST Global and the Milner-founded Breakthrough Prize Foundation, a non-profit that is dedicated to scientific research, have released statements denouncing Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
Published reports, however, have also identified state-controlled VTB Bank PJSC and now-sanctioned Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov as early backers of Milner’s business ventures, while acknowledging his attempts to distance himself – “very carefully” as Business Week put it – from Putin.
Milner has complained in the past that others have tried to find him guilty by association with figures like Usmanov.
May’s appeal is not the first of its kind.
According to Hansard, she asked on Feb. 28 – shortly after the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – in the House of Commons whether the federal government would consider going after what she called the personal assets of Russian oligarchs, including what she called massive mansions and yachts.
“I know where one mansion is,” she said. “It is in my riding and I would like it to be seized.”
Hours earlier, she called for the seizure of such property without mentioning the North Saanich estate.
May told Black Press Media she did not know the identity of the owner at the time and never revealed it is where Prince Harry and Markle stayed, out of a concern for their privacy. “But we knew that there was a Russian oligarch who owned the property,” May said. “I didn’t know the name.”
This lack of transparency is a problem, she said, pointing to a 2022 report by International Transparency Canada that lamented the problem of “snow-washing.”
“Canada enjoys a positive global reputation as a stable, affluent democracy with strong rule of law,” the report reads. “Yet it is also among the most opaque jurisdictions when it comes to the ownership of companies and partnerships.”
While critical of past failures, May also acknowledged recent improvements, including steps by the federal Liberals under their supply-and-confidence agreements with the New Democrats to translate promises for the creation of a registry of beneficial ownership.
“The publishable, searchable public registry of beneficial ownership is now moving ahead,” she said. “It’s in the budget. It was part of a range of measures that were also referenced in terms of keeping money laundering from inflating and distorting our real estate markets, which God knows, British Columbians know more about than many.”
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.