Earlier this year I interviewed Oliver Bullough, Britain’s foremost investigator of dodgy foreign money and presumably Journalist Most Likely to Have No Knee Caps, 2025. We spoke at one point about how London’s string-pullers and financiers had been, for a long time, perfectly happy to launder plutocratic cash and reputations for fat fees and Château Lafite; to use their connections to find oligarchs Eaton Square mansions and help them dodge taxes; to play some sinister Jeeves to a succession of war-profiteering, rival-assassinating, natural-resource-pillaging Woosters.
Most of these agents, Bullough says, had been quietly aware that this sort of baddy butlering wouldn’t make for a credible public image. “There is an element of ‘While the music is playing, keep dancing, but stand near the door’ about it all,” he tells me—i.e, make lots of money while the going is good, but get out quickly once the men in windbreakers show up. And, sure enough, even before the sanctions on oligarchs were slapped into place following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, most of these smiling middlemen had receded into the background, emerging with nothing more than a healthy bonus and some good stories for the clubhouse.
Graham Bonham-Carter, however, didn’t listen when the music stopped. A British businessman and member of the eminent Bonham-Carter clan, the financier was arrested last Tuesday on charges of violating sanctions imposed on the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Bonham-Carter—whose life was racked by tragedy in 2008 when four of his closest family members, including his parents and wife, died in a freak safari bus crash in South Africa—now faces extradition to the U.S.
Essentially, prosecutors allege that the financier wired more than $1 million from a Russian bank to an account in New York, which was connected to Deripaska’s “lavish” property assets in the United States. They also say that he tried to move artwork (that most modern receptacle of dirty money) bought by Deripaska from a New York auction house to his homes in London, and lied to the auctioneers about the oligarch’s connection to the paintings. Bonham-Carter denies these charges. The court documents further allege that Bonham-Carter—whose second cousin is the actress Helena, and whose aristocratic family comprises many notable politicians, barristers, and bankers—had worked for companies under Deripaska’s control since 2003, and that he managed the oligarch’s sprawling property empire across the U.K., U.S., and Europe.
No small task. Deripaska owns pretty much every square on the Plutocrat Monopoly board. According to Forbes, he has properties in Courchevel; Paris; Saint-Tropez; Porto Cervo; New York City; Washington, D.C; Lech, Austria; and London. He also owns a huge marble palace on the Adriatic coast in Kotor, Montenegro, and a villa in Paphos, Cyprus, while a complex web of companies and trusts allows his family to enjoy further piles in France, Italy, and Sardinia.
Many of them are adorned with the subtle baubles of the 0.01 percent—helipads, multiple pools, cinemas, ski facilities, saunas, panic rooms. Bonham-Carter must have had his hands full—not least in March of this year, when Deripaska’s London town house (in oofy Belgravia) was broken into and occupied by anti-war campaigners who slung a THIS PROPERTY HAS BEEN LIBERATED banner across its grand stucco frontage.
Even before this, however, Bonham-Carter seemed dimly aware of the rising temperature. In an e-mail from October 2021, according to court documents, he wrote, “[It’s] all good apart from banks keep shutting me down because of my affiliation to my boss Oleg Deripaska,” and, “I have even been advised not to go to the U.S.A. where Oleg still has personal sanctions, as the authorities will undoubtedly pull me to one side and the questioning could be hours or even days!!”
The financier wired more than $1 million from a Russian bank to an account in New York.
This guesstimate now looks a little naïve. The heat around Deripaska stems from his close links to Putin, who has apparently always thought of the metals magnate as his “favorite industrialist” in much the same way, presumably, that a butcher might have a favorite hacksaw. Deripaska, who was a physics graduate and then a metals trader, did spectacularly well out of the fall of the Soviet Union, where he suddenly found himself in control of the country’s gargantuan state-owned aluminum assets in partnership with Roman Abramovich, another figure on many international naughty lists.
In March of this year, Deripaska was slapped with heavy sanctions by the British government for his role as a “prominent Russian businessman and pro-Kremlin oligarch” who is “closely associated with the government of Russia and Vladimir Putin.” The implication is the same as with all of his contemporaries—that you don’t stay rich (or alive) as a Russian industrialist for long unless Putin lets you, and Putin won’t let you unless there’s something juicy in it for him. To be a living oligarch, then, is to be a de facto backer of the Russian war in Ukraine.
There was a time, however, when the British establishment was more than happy to enjoy Deripaska’s miraculous wealth. In 2008, it emerged that Peter Mandelson, at the time the E.U. trade commissioner, had been wined and dined aboard Deripaska’s 238-foot super-yacht, the Queen K, off the coast of Corfu.
Soon after, Nat Rothschild, a scion of the Rothschild banking dynasty, claimed that George Osborne, the then Tory shadow chancellor, had recently also met Deripaska on his yacht. Rothschild further alleged that Osborne was seeking political donations (which are illegal from foreign nationals, let alone ones with unexplained post-Soviet wealth). Osborne denied the accusations. This was not an insignificant scoop. Rothschild and Osborne were contemporaries at Oxford’s infamous Bullingdon Club, you’ll remember, meaning Rothschild was surely breaking some ancient, chinless omertà when he muckraked his old mate.
That was late 2008, however. Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy and the world was ending, and soon there were bigger villains to fry. Mandelson was made a lord two months after his sojourn in Greece, while Osborne went on to become chancellor of the Exchequer in 2010. But Bonham-Carter will likely have no such luck. The political mood music, to use Bullough’s analogy, has not just changed but has stopped entirely. The three charges he is facing—one count of conspiring to breach and evade U.S. sanctions in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA); one count of violating IEEPA; one count of wire fraud—carry maximum sentences of 20 years in prison each. Hailing from a well-known performative family, Bonham-Carter may soon find himself with plenty of time to perfect the cell-block tango.
Joseph Bullmore is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL and the editor of Gentleman’s Journal in London