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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 in a statement with Assistant Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray. “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. blamed on Russia.

Vekselberg was again hit with new sanctions imposed by the US government on March 11 after the Russian invasion of Ukraine named him, three members of Putin’s spokesman’s family, 12 Duma members, 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.

Vekselberg was also on a list of 50 Russian elites compiled by the department on March 16 that the United States considered top priorities for a new multinational Kremlin donor asset-hunting body called the Security Task Force. Russian elites, proxies and oligarchs (REPO).

The warrant indicates that despite his status as an individual against whom sanctions have been imposed, Vekselberg and those working on his behalf made payments in US dollars to support Tango and its owner, including for a stay in December 2020 in a luxury over water villa resort in The Maldives.

The new international task force is a key tool for the United States and more than half a dozen allies to identify and track where Russian oligarchs park their assets, a task complicated by the opaque or complicated financial instruments frequently used. by the ultra-rich to hide their assets out of public view.

“In a war partly over morale on both sides, seeing the yachts of Russian oligarchs seized and auctioned off – seeing the police in their villas, in their luxury apartments – will give a huge boost to Ukrainians and Russians who hate Putin,” Rep. Tom Malinowski said. (DN.J.) said last month. “It’s one of the ways we can weaken the support structure of this regime… The more we can make the sanctions feel like a campaign of shock and awe, the better.”

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.

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, the boss of Rosneft, the state-controlled Russian oil giant, in a Mediterranean port near Marseille. On March 15, Spanish authorities seized another vessel – the 440ft-long Crescent – ​​in Catalonia believed to belong to Sechin.

Spain also seized a $140 million, 280-foot yacht registered to the daughter-in-law of Sergei Chemezov, a former KGB officer who runs the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec and who, along with his wife and daughter-in-law, are on US sanctions lists.

Italy is believed to have seized at least three yachts – vessels worth up to $580 million each – belonging to Russian steel, oil and coal magnates, against whom sanctions have been imposed.

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, other seizure warrants were for approximately $625,000 held at nine US financial institutions. by individuals against whom sanctions have been taken.

Born in western Ukraine in 1957 to a Jewish father who lost several relatives in the Holocaust, Vekselberg graduated from the Institute of Transport Engineers in Moscow in 1979 and grew to have many connections to United States after his rise to wealth, including a million-dollar condo in New York and a $5 million house in Weston, Connecticut.

A former state-run lab researcher Vekselberg, after the collapse of the Soviet empire, joined the scramble to take over parts of Russia’s privatized natural resource sector in the 1990s , eventually founding the oil and metals conglomerate Renova Group, headquartered in Switzerland. .

He became Russia’s richest man in 2012, with an estimated fortune of $18 billion, when he sold his majority stake in an oil joint venture with British oil giant BP to Kremlin-controlled Rosneft. He is also the chairman of the Skolkovo Foundation, a state-funded technology development corporation, ostensibly Russia’s answer to Silicon Valley.

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 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.

Vekselberg has been active in Russian cultural and philanthropic circles, buying nine Fabergé eggs from the Forbes family for $900 million in 2004. Once prized possessions of the czars, the eggs were looted when the Bolsheviks seized power more of a century, and their return to Russia by an individual who allegedly possessed more tiny treasures than any other person was touted as a patriotic gesture, with some later displayed in the Kremlin and St. Petersburg.


Washington

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