US seizes billionaire Veskelberg’s yacht in sanctions campaign against Russia
“Today marks the first seizure by our task force of property belonging to a sanctioned individual with close ties to the Russian regime. It won’t be the last,” Garland said with Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray in a written statement. “Together with our international partners, we will do everything we can to hold accountable any individual whose criminal acts allow the Russian government to continue its unjust war.”
Sanctions were imposed on Vekselberg and the company he founded, the Renova Group, in April 2018 by the Treasury Department after the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain that Western intelligence officials reported. assigned to Russia.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, Vekselberg was slapped with new sanctions by the US government on March 11 which appointed him; three family members of Putin’s spokesperson; 12 members of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament; and 10 people on the board of directors of VTB Bank, the second largest lender in Russia.
All of Vekselberg’s assets in the United States are frozen and US companies are barred from doing business with him and his entities, whose holdings include metals, mines, technology and other net worth assets. more than $6 billion, according to the Treasury. Department.
The seizure warrant indicates that despite his status as an individual under sanction, Vekselberg and those working on his behalf made payments in US dollars to support Tango, including during a December 2020 stay in a luxurious resort of water villas in the Maldives.
US investigators have alleged that Vekselberg structured deals to conceal his identity, including using shell companies. Investigators cited three confidential witnesses, including a manager and employee of a company that provided services during the design and construction of the ship, who said the Russian was the true owner.
Vekselberg was on a March 16 Treasury Department list of 50 Russian elites whom the United States considered top priorities for a new multinational body hunting down Kremlin donor assets, called the Elite Task Force. , proxies and Russian oligarchs (REPO).
The task force is a key tool for the United States and more than half a dozen of its allies to identify and track where Russian oligarchs store their assets, a task complicated by the opaque or complicated financial instruments frequently used by the ultra-rich to hide their funds from public view.
The Treasury Department released 28 of the 50 names on the list – including Putin’s – but did not name the other 22 to avoid warning them.
“Corruption is the financial and political driver behind Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the slaughter of innocent civilians,” US Magistrate Zia M. Faruqui said in an order approving the seizure warrant and finding that investigators Americans did not need court approval to search for documents. electronic and other devices on board the Tango. The judge called the seizure “just the beginning of the settlement awaiting those who would facilitate Putin’s atrocities”, adding that it “echoes the message of the brave Ukrainian soldiers” who allegedly told a Russian warship to “go fuck you”. ”
France, Italy and Spain have seized several boats from billionaires in recent weeks, even as others belonging to Russia’s wealthiest people weigh anchor for the Maldives, which has no treaty extradition with the United States, or seem stuck in European ports unable to buy fuel. .
On March 2, France seized a yacht whose main shareholder was Igor Sechin, head of Russian oil giant Rosneft, in a Mediterranean port near Marseille. Spanish authorities on March 15 seized another vessel believed to belong to Sechin, the 440ft Crescent, in Catalonia.
Spain also seized a $140 million, 280-foot yacht registered to the daughter-in-law of Sergei Chemezov, a former KGB officer who runs state defense conglomerate Rostec and who, along with his wife and daughter-in-law, are on US sanctions lists.
Italy has reportedly seized at least three yachts – vessels worth up to $580 million each – belonging to Russian steel, oil and coal magnates who are under sanctions.
According to CBS News, however, a satellite image shows a yacht believed to belong to Putin moored in a Russian port — and beyond the reach of any possible sanction or seizure.
The Justice Department said Monday’s seizure was coordinated by an interagency KleptoCapture task force responsible for sanctions, export restrictions and economic countermeasures targeting Russia that Garland announced on March 2. In addition to the Tango, seizure warrants were for approximately $625,000 held at nine US financial institutions by individuals under sanction.
Vekselberg, born in western Ukraine in 1957 to a Jewish father who lost several relatives in the Holocaust, graduated from Moscow’s Institute of Transport Engineering in 1979 and has close ties to Putin and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev since his rise to wealth. He also has ties to American interests, including a multi-million dollar home in New York and a $5 million home in Weston, Connecticut.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Vekselberg, once a researcher in a state-run laboratory, joined the rush to take over parts of Russia’s privatized natural resource sector in the 1990s. , eventually founding the oil and metals conglomerate Renova Group, which is headquartered in Switzerland.
He for a time became Russia’s richest man in 2012, with an estimated fortune of $18 billion, after selling his majority stake in an oil joint venture with Britain’s BP to Rosneft, controlled by the Kremlin. Medvedev named Vekselberg chairman of the state-funded technology developer Skolkovo Foundation, ostensibly Russia’s answer to Silicon Valley, before his sanctions designation.
Vekselberg was among Russian business leaders close to the Kremlin whose contacts with Donald Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign were investigated by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Vekselberg and Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, met at Trump Tower in New York City days before the inauguration in 2017 with Vekselberg’s cousin, Andrew Intrater, a New York investment manager. Later that month, Cohen signed a lucrative consulting contract with Intrater’s investment firm, Columbus Nova.
US authorities describe Vekselberg as participating with government officials in diplomatic and soft power activities on behalf of the Kremlin, and he was active in Russian cultural and philanthropic circles. He is said to own more Fabergé eggs than any other individual, buying nine of the Forbes family’s jeweled treasures for $900 million in 2004. The return to Russia of the eggs – once prized possessions of the czars and looted after the Bolshevik Revolution – was presented as a patriotic gesture, with some of them later exhibited in the Kremlin and St. Petersburg.