Top London unis paid via Kremlin-linked bank days after Ukraine invasion

Imperial and London Business School got more than £700k from Russian partner despite claiming to have cut ties since the war

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, London’s highest-ranked uni and a top business school have been paid more than £740k via Sberbank, which has been described as a “Government of Russia-affiliated entity.”

This is only a part of the nearly £15m paid to the schools for “management training” provided to Sberbank Corporate University (SCU). SCU is funded by and shares the same boss with the Kremlin-linked bank.

The latest payments also came after Imperial College London said its SCU partnership “ceased in February,” and London Business School (LBS) said it “stopped all association with Russian organisations” in March. Both schools later clarified that they were being paid for work they did before the war, did not go against any sanctions, and are currently not partners with SCU.

A leading financier “condemned” the schools for taking the money and called for them to be donated to “victims of Putin’s murderous war in Ukraine.”

London Business School (Image from YouTube screenshot)

Sberbank has been under various EU and UK sanctions since 2014, but it was designated on the UK sanctions list on 1st March following the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. The list described the bank as “involved in obtaining a benefit from or supporting the Government of Russia.” The bank’s CEO, Herman Gref, also came under personal sanctions on 24th March after being described as a “close ally of Vladimir Putin.”

Imperial and LBS had been working with SCU to deliver joint programmes in management training. The Russian uni particularly boasted the LBS-SCU programme as “a unique example of a successful strategic partnership between a Russian corporate leader and one of the top global centres of business education.”

These partnerships came despite SCU having Sberbank’s CEO as its board chairman and receiving the bank’s funding.

Imperial said it stopped working with SCU in February after “[reviewing] all connections with Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.” But it was found to receive a payment from SCU on 17th March, two weeks after Sberbank made the UK sanctions list. The uni said it was for services delivered back in January.

Imperial also initially denied receiving any money from Sberbank from 2013-2014 in a Freedom of Information (FOI) probe despite its relationship with SCU. It later claimed it misinterpreted the FOI as only “asking for details of donations and research funding” and “did not include payments for commercial services from Sberbank Corporate University.”

In the end, the uni revealed it received £2.4m from SCU since December 2019.

Imperial College London (Image from YouTube screenshot)

LBS said it “stopped all association with Russian organisations” on 4th March, but it was found to have received an SCU payment through Sberbank three days after. It said it was being paid for “educational services provided pre-invasion.” 

On receiving the payment directly from the sanctioned bank, the school said it was “permitted,” citing a general licence that “allowed organisations to settle their financial affairs in the UK through Sberbank until 31st March 2022.”

In an identical FOI request as the one for Imperial, the business school initially responded that it received £6.186m from Sberbank directly since 2017/18. But after including its partnership with SCU, which the school claimed to have forgotten in an “oversight,” LBS received a total of £12.39m from the bank.

LBS said: “The situation in Ukraine makes it impossible to continue business with Russian organisations as usual. We are not delivering programmes for Russian organisations so long as the war in Ukraine continues. And we will not commit to future relationships. This is not a judgment on the views and values of the individuals who have taken part in our training programmes.

“The last payment that LBS received from Sberbank University (in relation to educational services provided pre-invasion) was on 7th March 2022, i.e. a month before Sberbank was designated under an asset freeze.

“On 7th March there were no regulations in place that prohibited LBS from receiving any payment from Sberbank Corporate University (the LBS customer). It was therefore not necessary for LBS to rely on a licence in order to receive the 7th March payment. The general licence is relevant because Sberbank Corporate University chose to make the payment via Sberbank, and since 1st March it has been prohibited (subject to the general licence) for UK credit and financial institutions (i.e. UK banks) to process payments to, from or via Sberbank. [It] was that general licence which allowed our bank to receive the payment from Sberbank.”

An Imperial College London spokesperson 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 programme looking at the practical application of technologies to business problems.

“This partnership ceased in February when we reviewed all connections with Russia following the invasion of Ukraine and took various measures in response. We have no ongoing relationship. All partnerships and collaborations at Imperial undergo thorough scrutiny and are regularly reviewed.”

Sberbank and Sberbank Corporate University (SCU) have been contacted for comment.

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