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Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 turned the spotlight on the Russian President’s inner circle. Many of his family and the network of oligarchs with links to him have been sanctioned over Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. One of Putin’s formerly close confidantes was Sergei Pugachev, the businessman and Russian senator who helped finance the former KGB agent as he came to power.
One known as ‘Putin’s banker’, the oligarch controlled a vast empire of shipyards, a coal mine and luxury brands.
However, Pugachev suffered a dramatic fall from grace after he was accused by the Kremlin of enriching himself from his lender Mezhprombank before it collapsed.
The oligarch’s life in exile and his marriage to London socialite Countess Alexandra Tolstoy were profiled for a fly-on-the-wall BBC Two documentary, released in 2020.
Shot over five years, ‘The Countess and the Russian Billionaire’ catches up with Pugachev at his château near Nice in the south of France.
The businessman was asked how it felt for him to be in France, separated from his family in London.
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He replied: “Horrible of course. We have to be together.”
Pugachev’s interview for the film came around the same time he was sentenced to two years in prison at the high court in the UK after being found guilty of contempt of court.
The oligarch, who had £1billion of his assets frozen at the time, fled to France.
He claimed his life was in danger as he was being hunted down by the Kremlin.
The case was brought by Russia’s Deposit Insurance Agency, which liquidated his failed Mezhprombank.
During the documentary, Alexandra, who lives in London, travels to France to see Pugachev, along with their children.
She claims the situation is “stressful” as the fallen oligarch is forced to remain separated from his family but that she will not move to France to be with him.
She says: “It has become clear I can’t live here.
“I have to think about it a lot. I just would feel too claustrophobic and enclosed.
“And isolated. It is about being isolated. And I just could not do it.
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“The whole situation is very stressful really. Sergei wanted us to live here but I just do not think I can do that really.
“Everything in life you are able to cope with if you have an idea of what will happen, but I just have no idea and I find that very stressful.”
Soon after the interview, Alexandra left France in the spring of 2016 and took the children with her, never to return.
She and the children were later evicted from her and Pugachev’s home in Chelsea, where he lived before he fled.
The billionaire is understood to still be living in France, where French law stops its citizens from being extradited to Russia.
Pugachev gained citizenship in France in 2009, two years before he was accused of embezzling a fortune from Mezhprombank.
‘The Countess and the Russian Billionaire’ is available on Netflix.
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