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UK orders oligarch-linked fund to sell internet firm

London has ordered investment fund LetterOne (L1), which was founded by Russian oligarchs targeted by Western sanctions, to sell UK regional internet provider Upp for national security reasons.

Business minister Grant Shapps said that the measure was “necessary and proportionate to prevent, remedy, or mitigate the risk to national security,” according to the decision published on Monday.

London said the risks related to the “ultimate beneficial owners” of the fund and Upp’s “expanding full fibre broadband network” in the UK.

Russian oligarchs Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, whom the UK targeted with sanctions in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, announced in March that they were stepping down from the investment fund they co-founded in 2013.

The two men, who deny having any financial or political relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, resigned from the board of directors.

The company said that their stake, which is less than 50 percent, was “frozen” and that they would not receive any dividends or have any influence over its operations.

The LetterOne fund has net assets of $26.8 billion (2021 figures) invested in the energy, technology, healthcare and retail sectors.

It has its headquarters in Luxemburg and has offices in the UK capital.

LetterOne controls the Spanish supermarket chain Dia and holds shares in the German energy group Wintershall Dea and the leading Turkish mobile phone operator Turkcell.

L1 planned to invest £1 billion into Upp for the roll-out of fibre to 1 million customers in the east of England by 2025.

The fund announced in early December its intention to appoint three new non-executive directors in a bid to distance itself from its creators.

LetterOne did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for a reaction.

London last month ordered a Chinese-owned company to sell its stake in Britain’s leading semiconductor maker, again citing national security concerns amid increasingly tense relations with Beijing. AFP

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