Since last month a group of squatters in Amsterdam have occupied a luxury five-story building belonging to Arkady Volozh, the sanctioned co-founder of Russian search engine giant Yandex.
A Dutch court has now allowed the squatters to stay after they argued that the house was currently vacant and that he had intended to rent or sell it in breach of EU sanctions, instead of living there himself.
“Without the penalties, the squatters would definitely have lost,” said Helen over de Linden, one of their lawyers. “So, this is a very special case, yes.”
The squatters made their message very clear to the rest of the world with three banners draped outside the apartment building.
The first referred to the close relationship between Yandex and the FSB, the Russian security service. Two more read “Against War”, followed by “and Capitalism”.
An AFP reporter was denied access to the property on Thursday by a young woman who opened the door to a visitor who had provided a password, which referred to a statement posted on the ‘Anarchist Federation’ website on Wednesday.
Enjoy the beautiful city
On a piece of paper hung near the entrance shortly after their arrival, the squatters introduce themselves as a group of young people affected by the housing shortage in the Netherlands and invite their neighbors for a drink.
The squatters said that because Volozh is subject to sanctions, including an asset freeze and an EU travel ban, the house would remain empty.
Squatting has been a crime under Dutch law since 2010, but “respect for one’s home is a human right, which can hinder eviction,” explained Juanita van Lunen, who also defended the squatters.
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But lawyers for Paraseven, a BVI-registered company that officially owns the premises, took the squatters to court in late October, demanding that they be evicted from the premises they were illegally occupying.
The lawyers said the house on Vossiusstraat, a street near Amsterdam’s best museums, had to be available for Volozh or his family to live in, including his wife, six children and two grandchildren.
EU sanctions allow sanctioned individuals to use their property for personal use, even though Volozh himself is subject to an asset freeze and travel ban.
“Occasionally they will stay there to enjoy the beautiful city of Amsterdam,” the lawyer said in court.
When the court sent a team to inspect the premises, they saw that it was divided into three different apartments, which was a clear indication of the owner’s intentions to rent or sell.
“Why did they divide the building into three different addresses? Why are there SIX bathtubs? Why does each floor have its own locks?” the squatters said in a statement.
The Amsterdam court said that while the renovation would likely have justified the property remaining empty, it was “not plausible enough” that Volozh and his family would use the property “for the foreseeable future”.
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