Russian oligarchs try to evade sanctions: US officials

NEW YORK – US prosecutors have found evidence that Russian oligarchs are trying to evade sanctions imposed to pressure Moscow to halt its invasion of Ukraine, the head of a The Justice Department’s new task force said Friday.

Andrew Adams, a veteran prosecutor tapped to lead the “KleptoCapture” task force set up last month, told Reuters in an interview that in some cases even financiers no sanctions against them are also trying to move assets ahead of potential future sanctions.

But even as they try to hide yachts, planes or other mobile assets in countries they consider secret, Adams warns that financiers trying to evade sanctions are facing sanctions. faces an “all-time high” level of international cooperation to track ill-gotten gains. of the Russian elite.

“There are ongoing efforts – some of which are publicly reported – to move, for example, movable property in the form of yachts, planes… into jurisdictions where, I think, people perceive it to be more difficult to investigate and Adams said.

The task force’s goal is to strain Russia’s oligarchs financially in order to pressure President Vladimir Putin to halt the weeks-long assault on Ukraine.

The name of this unit is a pun on the word “kleptocracy”, which refers to corrupt officials who abuse their power to accumulate wealth. The task force includes prosecutors, investigators and analysts from multiple federal agencies.

The United States and its allies have imposed multiple rounds of sanctions targeting Putin, many of his wealthy friends, and dozens of Russian businesses and government agencies.


Tracing the fortunes of tycoons is often difficult, says Adams, because they are hidden behind “the shell of companies scattered across the globe”.

US prosecutors are receiving information from places that were previously thought to be safe havens, Adams said.

“Especially in the current context and the current climate… the level of shared sense of purpose is, I think, at an all-time high,” Adams said.

He declined to provide details about specific jurisdictions that provided information to the task force or name specific people under investigation.

He said targeting overseas assets was a major part of the unit’s work, adding that the United States was not an attractive country for supporters of Putin’s government. since about 2014 due to a series of sanctions over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

European countries found and seized the yachts of wealthy Russian businessmen.

The Spanish government has seized the $140 million Valerie superyacht that is linked to Sergei Chemezov, a former KGB officer who heads the state corporation Rostec.

Last month, France seized a ship belonging to Rosneft owner Igor Sechin, while Italy seized a yacht owned by Russian billionaire Andrew Igorevich Melnichenko.

The Justice Department said last month that information provided by US law enforcement to foreign partners contributed to many of the ship’s seizures.

“The United States is not a friendly place to deposit your money like a financier,” says Adams. “The most ostentatious, most obvious asset classes are not available in the United States.”

Adams cites a 2019 case in which US authorities seized the Wise Honest, a North Korean cargo ship accused of illegally transporting coal in violation of US sanctions even though the ship was initially This is located outside the waters of the United States, as a “play” for some of the future cases of the task force.


Adams said that criminal charges and forfeiture orders could come in the “early days” of the unit, which is also prepared for protracted legal battles by oligarchs seeking to stop them. The United States permanently confiscates their assets through civil forfeiture.

Those circumstances may allow the department to take illegal assets in cases where the person is outside the country and cannot be extradited. Meanwhile, expropriation can be accompanied by an indictment against the property owner.

“We should expect very good litigants to take things to court,” Adams said. “We’re going to get into litigation that’s going to take a while.”

The task force could also target banks, crypto exchanges or other financial institutions who help punish violators by turning a blind eye to suspicious transactions. .

Adams said many organizations have voluntarily provided the information. “Cooperation from the private sector has been routine.”

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool)

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