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U.S. Authorities Accuse Russian Oligarch Viktor Vekselberg of Bank Fraud, Money Laundering as His Yacht Is Seized

Juan Medina | Reuters
  • U.S. authorities accused Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg of conspiring to commit bank fraud and money laundering as his superyacht was seized in Spain.
  • A new warrant to seize the massive vessel signed by a representative from the FBI gives a glimpse into the allegations against Vekselberg.
  • The FBI believes that Vekselberg used these tactics to obscure his ownership in the yacht, which is believed to be worth $90 million.

U.S. authorities accused Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg of conspiring to commit bank fraud and money laundering as his superyacht was seized in Spain on Monday.

Vekselberg, who was born in Ukraine and founded Russia-based conglomerate Renova Group, saw his massive vessel named Tango seized by Spanish investigators after the U.S. and Western allies hit him with sanctions.

The most recent U.S. sanctions came after Russia invaded Ukraine. The sanctions targeted Vekselberg's yacht and private jet.

Spanish authorities seized the boat after a request by the U.S. Department of Justice, the department said in a statement. Video published on the DOJ's YouTube page shows the FBI and Spanish authorities boarding Vekselberg's yacht.

Tango is over 250 feet long and is believed to be worth $90 million, the Justice Department said. Vekselberg was among a group of oligarchs sanctioned in 2018 by former President Donald Trump's administration. Forbes estimates Vekselberg's net worth to be just under $6 billion.

Vekselberg's yacht is the latest asset owned by a Russian oligarch to be seized after the invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. and its allies have tried to squeeze Russia's elite as part of their effort to punish Moscow for the war.

A new warrant to seize the yacht, signed by a representative from the FBI, gives a glimpse into the allegations that Vekselberg conspired to commit bank fraud and money laundering. The bureau accused Vekselberg of using these tactics to obscure his ownership in Tango. He has yet to be officially charged with a crime.

A representative for Vekselberg did not respond to a request for comment.

The warrant alleged that "Vekselberg caused payments for the TANGO to be run through various shell companies in order to prevent U.S. financial institutions from accurately executing their KYC [Know Your Customer] controls and in order to avoid the filing of SARs [Suspicious Activity Reports] related to his financial transactions."

The FBI warrant said the alleged scheme is tied to a web of little known companies that have financial interest in Vekselberg's yacht. Many of these small corporations link back to the Russian billionaire, the bureau said.

The FBI added the alleged scheme has been ongoing since 2011.

A company called Arinter is the yacht's owner, according to the warrant. The FBI said one of the company's organizational directors, RE.A.M. Management Limited, has a sister company in Russia with an identical name that has a direct relationship with Vekselberg's company, Renova.

Arinter's corporate directors are two Panamanian citizens who are also officers of a company known as Lamesa Transport LLC, according to the warrant. The limited liability company "appears to be an affiliate of other shell companies owned or controlled by Vekselberg," the FBI said.

"This complicated management and owner structure appears to be for the purpose of obfuscating Vekselberg's connection to the TANGO, in order to insulate the vessel from inquiries about payments made on its behalf," the bureau alleged.

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