Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg charged with bank fraud and money laundering in yacht seizure

The yacht called ‘Tango’ belonging to Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, which was sanctioned by the United States on March 11, is seen at the Palma de Mallorca Yacht Club on the Spanish island of Mallorca, Spain, March 15, 2022.

Juan Medina | Reuters

US authorities have accused Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg of conspiring to commit bank fraud and money laundering when his mega yacht was seized in Spain on Monday.

Vekselberg, who was born in Ukraine but founded Russian conglomerate Renova Group, had his yacht named Tango seized by Spanish investigators after US and Western allies hit him with sanctions.

The most recent US sanctions came after Russia invaded Ukraine. The sanctions targeted Vekselberg’s yacht and private jet.

Spanish authorities seized the boat after a request from the US Department of Justice, the ministry said in a statement. Video posted on the DOJ YouTube page shows the FBI and Spanish authorities boarding Vekselberg’s yacht.

The tango is more than 250 feet long and is expected to be worth $90 million, the Justice Department said. Vekselberg was among a group of oligarchs sanctioned in 2018 by the administration of former President Donald Trump. Forbes estimates his net worth at 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 United States and its allies have tried to pressure the Russian elite as part of their effort to punish Moscow for the war.

A new to guarantee to seize the yacht, signed by a representative of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, outlines allegations that Vekselberg conspired to commit bank fraud and money laundering. The FBI accused Vekselberg of using these tactics to conceal his ownership of Tango.

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

The warrant alleged that “Vekselberg caused payments for TANGO to be executed through various shell companies to prevent U.S. financial institutions from accurately executing their KYC. [Know Your Customer] checks and in order to avoid filing SAR [Suspicious Activity Reports] related to its financial transactions.”

The FBI warrant said the alleged scheme is linked to a network of little-known companies that have a financial interest in Vekselberg’s yacht. Many of these small businesses are linked to the Russian billionaire, the office said.

The FBI added that the alleged scheme had been ongoing since 2011.

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

Arinter’s directors are two Panamanian citizens who are also officers of a company known as Lamesa Transport LLC, according to the terms of reference. The LLC “appears to be a subsidiary of other shell companies owned or controlled by Vekselberg,” the FBI said.

“This complicated management and ownership structure appears to be intended to obscure Vekselberg’s connection to TANGO, in order to insulate the vessel from inquiries about payments made on its behalf,” the office said.

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