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US relative of sanctioned Russian oligarch sues Treasury Department

A view of the North entrance of the U.S. Treasury Building in Washington D.C. (Sealy j/Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. cousin of Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg is suing the U.S. Treasury Department for seizing his assets worth millions of dollars.

Andrew Intrater, who facilitated his wealthy Russian relative’s attendance at Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, accused the government of violating his right against unreasonable seizures, according to a complaint filed on July 1 in New York Southern District Court.

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in April 2018 placed 24 individuals and 14 companies from Russia on a sanctions list to punish the Kremlin for “malign activity around the globe,” including violence in eastern Ukraine.

Vekselberg and his Renova Group were among them, resulting in the immediate seizure of his U.S. property, including any U.S. companies he owned a majority stake in.

The billionaire indirectly owns more than 50 percent in several U.S.-based investment funds that own stocks and bonds, subjecting the funds to seizure.

Intrater and other U.S. citizens who own the firms that oversee those funds are now unable to receive management fees or even make certain critical investment decisions, the lawsuit says. Neither Intrater nor the other U.S. citizens are subject to the sanctions.

OFAC’s “complete, indefinite, and potentially permanent interferences with Plaintiffs’ property interests are unreasonable seizures that violate the United States Constitution’s Fourth Amendment,” the lawsuit claims.

Intrater has applied to OFAC for licenses that would allow him and his co-plaintiffs to be paid while keeping any money owned by Vekselberg frozen.

However, he complained that the office’s rules and decision-making process were opaque.

“None of OFAC’s rules, regulations, or public guidance provides any limit on the time within which OFAC must act on a license application by U.S. citizens to either unblock — and thereby effectively return — property seized from U.S. citizens,” the lawsuit says.

Vekselberg is among Russia’s wealthiest men, with a net worth of nearly $12 billion, according to Forbes. The 62-year-old made his money in the country’s metals and oil industries. His Renova owned a significant stake in TNK-BP, which was bought by Rosneft for $55 billion in 2013.

Vekselberg, who relocated his family to the United States years ago, attended Trump’s 2017 inauguration thanks to Intrater, who acquired a ticket for the billionaire from Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney.

However, his attendance — and meeting with Cohen — only added to speculation about possible Russian support for the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller said he did not find sufficient evidence to conclude that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia.

Many other oligarchs not on the sanctions list are considered closer to the Kremlin, raising questions as to why he was chosen.

Vekselberg, who is fighting the sanctions in court, told the Financial Times last month they were making his life difficult.

“This is a total crisis of my life. This is not about money, not about business. This is my personal situation…. For me, the whole world was about opportunity. Now, what can I do?”