Top university and business school paid over £700,000 through Russian banks after Ukraine invasion

One of the country’s leading universities and a top business school received nearly £15million through a Kremlin-controlled bank in less than a decade, including more than £700,000 as a result of the invasion Russian from Ukraine.

As part of efforts to cut off the Russian economy, the UK sanctioned Sberbank – whose CEO has been described as a close ally of Vladimir Putin – on March 1.

But a survey of The Independent found that Imperial College London and London Business School (LBS) have collectively been paid more than £740,000 by Sberbank Corporate University – funded by the Kremlin-controlled bank – since then.

Although there is no suggestion that the payments are in breach of sanctions, they raise ethical questions about the institutions’ financial dealings – with a leading campaigner condemning them for receiving the money. LBS entered into business with SCU following the annexation of Crimea, while Imperial set up its partnership with the university after the Salisbury poisonings.

In total, Imperial College and LBS received £14.8 million from Sberbank Corporate University to deliver training in less than a decade.

Imperial College said its partnership with Sberbank Corporate University “ended in February”. He received a payout of £484,500 on March 17 – more than two weeks after Sberbank was sanctioned following the invasion.

LBS said it ‘ceased all association with Russian organisations’ on March 4 and three days later received a payment of £255,938 from Sberbank Corporate University ‘via Sberbank’. The payment was, LBS said, “authorized through a general license… [which] enabled organizations to settle their financial affairs in the UK through Sberbank until 31 March 2022”.

Established in 2012, Sberbank Corporate University describes itself as an “autonomous non-commercial organization”. However, Sberbank CEO Herman Gref is also chairman of the board of Sberbank Corporate University, according to his website. Gref was personally sanctioned by the UK on March 24.

Meanwhile, a document in Russian available on the Sberbank Corporate University website states that it is funded by Sberbank. According to a translation from Russian, it says: “The activities of the Corporate University are carried out with the funding of the targeted financing of Sberbank PJSC”.

On February 28, days after Russia invaded Ukraine, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced that Sberbank would not be allowed to make payments in sterling. On March 1, PJSC Sberbank was placed on the UK sanctions list, banned from correspondent banking and sterling clearing. Sberbank was then designated with an asset freeze on April 6.

The UK sanctions list says the bank “is involved in obtaining a benefit or support from the Russian government”, adding: “The Russian government has a majority stake in PJSC Sberbank, which means that PJSC Sberbank also conducts business as a government. of an entity affiliated with Russia.

Respond to an Access to Information request from The Independent Asking about funding received since 2013/4, Imperial College said it had not received any from Sberbank during the period.

But, after being challenged, the university revealed it had received £2.4m from Sberbank Corporate University since December 2019, meaning payments began more than a year after the attack from Salisbury in March 2018.

Connected: Sberbank CEO Herman Gref, pictured with President Putin, is also Chairman of the Board of Sberbank Corporate University


Imperial College said its “partnership” with Sberbank Corporate University “ended in February when we reviewed all relations with Russia after the invasion of Ukraine”. He also revealed his last payment was received on March 17 this year and was worth £484,500. The payment was for work delivered in January, the university added.

The Independent discovered that Imperial’s website had been altered to remove references to the management program. An archived version of the university’s website from December last year said its “Digital Technology Executive Program was delivered in partnership with Sberbank Corporate University to a diverse cohort of senior executives from a wide range of specialties. According to the university, she was removed from the website when she said she had ended the partnership in February.

Respond to a request for access to information by The Independent requesting information on whether it had received any funds since 2013/4 from a list of sanctioned individuals and organizations – including Sberbank – LBS initially appeared to clarify that it had received £6.186m of Sberbank since 2017/18.

However, after The Independent highlighted a news item on the Sberbank Corporate University website from March 2018 regarding a graduation ceremony for the sixth class of its “executive development programme, delivered jointly with London Business School”, LBS admitted an “omission”. LBS clarified that it had received the money from Sberbank Corporate University, revealing the funds amounted to £12.39million since 2013/4.

The Sberbank Corporate University website boasts that the joint program “not only had a tremendous impact on the development of the leaders of the Sberbank Group, but also became a unique example of a successful strategic partnership between a Russian business leader and one of the world’s leading centers for business education. ”.

LBS said it had “ceased all association with Russian organisations” since March 4, 2022. It later revealed that its final payment from Sberbank Corporate University, worth £255,938, was received on March 7. The payment, he said, “linked to services rendered in 2021”. He then clarified that Sberbank Corporate University “chose to make the payment through Sberbank.”

Bill Browder, a British-American financier who has campaigned against corruption in Russia, urged Imperial and LBS to donate the payments to “victims of Putin’s murderous war in Ukraine”. He argued there was “no reasonable excuse for taking the money in the first place”.

In 2014, Sberbank was sanctioned by the EU, of which the UK was then a part, following the annexation of Crimea. The sanctions – which have since remained in place, replaced by UK law which came into force at the end of the Brexit transition period – concern transferable securities or money market instruments, as well as loans and credit agreements, and therefore also would not have prevented institution from receiving funds from Sberbank.

Maximilian Hess, a researcher at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said the sanctions were “structured to be less restrictive than the standard sanctions blacklist – which prohibits activity with relevant entities – and both to harm financially to Russia in the long term and insulate certain Western markets from the impact of this negative impact”. He said that the sanctions weakened the “state capacity” of the Russian state and “have largely achieved what they were meant to do”, but, he added, “they clearly should have been designed to do much more”.

LBS said: “The payments mentioned were for business services, in particular management training, which was provided before the invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions.

“The situation in Ukraine makes it impossible to continue business with Russian organizations as usual. We do not offer programs to Russian organizations while the war in Ukraine continues. And we will not engage in future relationships. This is not a judgment on the opinions and values ​​of people who have participated in our training programs. Initially, LBS said the payment of £255,938 was “authorized through general licensing… [which] enabled organizations to settle their financial affairs in the UK through Sberbank until 31 March 2022”.

In an update of his position, he said: “The last payment LBS received from Sberbank University (in relation to educational services provided before the invasion) was on March 7, 2022, i.e. i.e. a month before Sberbank is designated under the asset freeze. Prior to this date, the prohibitions that existed under the UK sanctions on Sberbank (introduced on 1 March 2022) were significantly more limited and did not prohibit the receipt by LBS, or even by LBS’s bank, of March 7 payment.

Asked to clarify its position, LBS said: “On March 7, there were no regulations prohibiting LBS from receiving payment from Sberbank Corporate University (LBS’s client). Therefore, there was no need for LBS to resort to a license to receive payment from March 7. The general license is relevant because Sberbank Corporate University has chosen to make payment through Sberbank, and since March 1 it is prohibited (subject to the general license) to institutions UK credit and financial institutions (i.e. UK banks) to process payments to, from or through Sberbank We have referred to the existence of the general license in our previous correspondence because it is this general license which allowed our bank to receive payment from Sberbank.

Referring to the 2014 sanctions, LBS said: “The sector bans you refer to have existed since 2014 and prohibit (i) dealing with transferable securities or money market instruments issued after August 1, 2014 by Sberbank; and (ii) granting loans or credits to Sberbank. LBS does not engage in these activities.

A spokesperson for Imperial College London said: “Imperial College Business School had a commercial relationship with Sberbank Corporate University between 2019 and the start of this year to deliver an executive education program examining the practical application of technologies to business problems.

“This partnership ended in February when we reviewed all relations with Russia after the invasion of Ukraine and took various actions in response. We do not have an ongoing relationship. All partnerships and collaborations at Imperial are subject to scrutiny and are regularly reviewed.

Referring to the university’s handling of the freedom of information request, the spokesperson added: “The FOI request of The Independent was interpreted as asking for details of donations and research funding. Therefore, the records searched to locate this information did not include these payments for commercial services of Sberbank Corporate University.

A UK Treasury spokesman said: ‘We cannot comment on individual cases.

Neither Sberbank nor Sberbank Corporate University responded to requests for comment.