The University of Oxford has come under renewed pressure to reject a £2.6m donation from a Russian-British businessman after he was designated for sanctions by the UK government.
Ministers imposed sanctions on Said Gutseriev on Wednesday for “obtaining a benefit from or supporting the government of Russia” in his role as a director of SFI, a Russian conglomerate that the UK government said was involved in the “Russian financial services sector, a sector of strategic significance”.
Gutseriev donated £2.6m to the university in 2019 to establish a fellowship in archaeology and anthropology. It was named the Chingiz Gutseriev fellowship after Said’s late brother.
Oxford said on Wednesday that it would “consider if any further actions are appropriate” in relation to the donation. It has previously rejected calls for it to return the money after the UK in August 2021 imposed sanctions on Said’s father, Mikhail, for allegedly supporting the repressive regime of Belarus’s dictator, Alexander Lukashenko.
Anti-corruption campaigners said the latest sanctions underlined the case for Oxford to remove the fellowship.
James Bolton-Jones, advocacy adviser at campaign group Spotlight on Corruption, said: “Holding on to a donation from an individual who features on the UK sanctions list and is therefore understood to have close links to the Kremlin is unacceptable, especially in the current climate.
“Oxford University should give strong consideration to returning the money or, better still, donating it to a charity supporting the reconstruction of Ukraine.”
Steve Goodrich, head of research and investigations at anti-corruption organisation Transparency International, said: “Courting big donors is a major cash stream for higher education, but it is not without risk.
“Accepting endowments from those subject to sanctions or investigation is not a good look, even if they are alumni. Given the frequency with which this happens, universities in the UK need to think more carefully about whom they take money from.”
Gutseriev’s assets were frozen under the latest sanctions, meaning he will be unable to buy or sell a London property portfolio worth at least £160m that was revealed by the Guardian and reporting partners last month.
Through a spokesperson, Gutseriev previously said he had cut all ties with his father. Leaked documents seen by the Guardian suggested that Gutseriev received a head start from his father’s wealth, and Mikhail Gutseriev was previously a “controlling shareholder” of SFI, which was formerly called Safmar Financial Investments. SFI’s website was not accessible from the UK on Wednesday afternoon.
The Oxford post funded by Gutseriev sits between the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, the School of Archaeology and St Peter’s College, where he studied.
The research interests of the current post holder, Dr Timothy Clack, include disinformation and “hybrid warfare”, according to a publisher’s summary of a book he edited in May 2021 – tactics that Russia is regularly accused of using. Clack has also edited a forthcoming book, Cultural Heritage in Modern Conflict, for which he co-wrote a chapter called The Russian Weaponization of Cultural Heritage.
A spokesperson for the University of Oxford said: “The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia is causing a humanitarian catastrophe to unfold in Europe. As the university has stated, we support and will comply with all sanctions introduced in the current crisis, including those which have been introduced today.
“The university supports and will comply with the most recent sanctions, and will consider if any further actions are appropriate.”
A spokesperson for Gutseriev previously told the Guardian that Gutseriev “urges a peaceful resolution to the fighting in Ukraine and condemns the alleged human rights abuses”.
Gutseriev was approached for comment via SFI.