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Video: US seizes $90 million yacht from Putin-linked Russian oligarch

FBI agents and Spanish civil guard officials board and seize a yacht owned by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, April 4, 2022. (U.S. Department of Justice/Released)
April 04, 2022

U.S. federal agents and Spanish law enforcement authorities boarded a $90 million yacht from the Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg on Monday, seizing the property as part of a U.S. court order.

The U.S. Justice Department shared a video of FBI agents and Spanish civil guard members boarding the yacht on Monday. The yacht was seized at the Marina Real in the port of Palma de Mallorca, the capital of Balearic Islands, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Treasury Department said Vekselberg has maintained close ties with leading Russian government officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and former President Dmitry Medvedev. According to the DOJ, the yacht was subject to forfeiture for Vekselberg’s alleged violations of U.S. bank fraud, money laundering, and sanction statutes.

“We will now seek to have the vessel forfeited as the proceeds of a crime,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said, during a Monday press conference.

The seizure of the yacht is the first since the U.S. Department of Justice launched its “KleptoCapture” task force, aimed at seizing the assets of Russian businessmen associated with the Russian government who have tried to evade U.S. sanctions.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Vekselberg bought the yacht — named “Tango” — in 2011. The DOJ said Vekselberg has owned the yacht through shell companies to hide his ownership interest in the asset and avoid U.S. bank oversight. The U.S. Treasury sanctioned Vekselberg in April of 2018 and again last month for supporting Putin’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

“Today marks our taskforce’s first seizure of an asset belonging to a sanctioned individual with close ties to the Russian regime. It will not be the last,” Garland said. “Together, with our international partners, we will do everything possible to hold accountable any individual whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue its unjust war.”

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine was an unprovoked act of aggression that has targeted the lives and well-being of millions of people and threatened international security,” Acting Special Agent in Charge Ricky J. Patel of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York office said. “For decades, the Putin regime has been supported by a group of Russian oligarchs that abused their power for private gain to amass untold riches. As DHS’s investigative arm, HSI stands at the forefront of combatting global networks that seek to violate U.S. law and exploit our nation’s financial systems. Working with our partners at the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI, we will hold Putin’s oligarchs accountable and deny them the lavish lifestyles they cherish.”

While the U.S. has seized assets like Vekselberg’s yacht, it may be challenging to keep it. Last week, in an op-ed published by USA Today, U.S. attorney and legal scholar Jonathan Turley wrote, “The United States and Western countries have considerable authority to seize property, but less authority to keep it. The reason is that, unlike Russia, these countries are bound by property rights and rules of due process.”

“Prosecutors must show that the property is being used to commit a crime or was purchased from ill-gotten gains, but the oligarchs will try to show revenue sources from established businesses,” Turley added. “In other words, prosecutors would have to show that large corporations that have operated for decades in international markets are now deemed criminal enterprises for the purposes of these properties. It is not clear that governments now seizing the property will be able to establish the nexus between an alleged crime and these proceeds or property for some, if not most, of the oligarchs.”