US seizes yacht belonging to oligarch close to Putin

PALMA DE MALLORCA, Spain (AP) — The United States

PALMA DE MALLORCA, Spain (AP) — The U.S. government on Monday seized a mega yacht in Spain owned by an oligarch with close ties to the Russian president, the first in the government’s sanctions enforcement initiative to “seize and freeze” giant boats and other expensive assets of Russian elites.

Spanish Civil Guard and US federal agents descended on the Marina Real yacht in the port of Palma de Mallorca, the capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Associated Press reporters at the scene saw police entering and exiting the boat on Monday morning.

The seizure was confirmed by two people familiar with the matter. The people were unable to discuss the issue publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity. A spokesman for the Spanish Civil Guard confirmed that Spanish police and FBI agents were at the marina to search the vessel on Monday morning and said further details would be released later.

A Civil Guard source told The Associated Press that the yacht immobilized is Tango, a 78-metre (254ft) vessel that flies the flag of the Cook Islands and, a specialist website that tracks boats world’s largest and most exclusive yachts, values ​​at $120 million. The source was also not authorized to be named in the media and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

The yacht is among assets linked to Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire and close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who heads the Moscow-based Renova Group, a conglomerate encompassing metals, mining, technology and other assets, documents show. of the US Treasury Department. All of Vekselberg’s assets in the United States are frozen and US companies are prohibited from doing business with him and his entities.

The move is the first time the US government has seized an oligarch’s yacht since Attorney General Merrick Garland and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen convened a task force known as REPO – short for Russian Elites, Proxies. and Oligars – with the aim of applying sanctions after the invasion of Russia. Ukraine at the end of February.

Vekselberg has long had ties to the United States, including a green card he once held and homes in New York and Connecticut. The Ukrainian-born businessman built his fortune by investing in the aluminum and oil industries in the post-Soviet era.

Vekselberg was also interviewed as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and worked closely with his US cousin, Andrew Intrater, who runs the company. New York-based investment management company Columbus Nova.

Vekselberg and Intrater have been thrust into the limelight in the Mueller investigation after adult film star Stormy Daniels’ attorney released a memo claiming $500,000 in silent money had been funneled through Columbus. Nova to a front company set up by Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Columbus Nova denied that Vekselberg played a role in his payments to Cohen.

Vekselberg and Intrater met Cohen at Trump Tower, one of several meetings between members of Trump’s inner circle and high-level Russians during the 2016 campaign and transition.

The 64-year-old tycoon founded Renova Group more than three decades ago. The group has the largest stake in United Co. Rusal, Russia’s largest aluminum producer, among other investments.

Vekselberg was first sanctioned by the United States in 2018 and then again in March this year, shortly after the invasion of Ukraine began. Vekselberg was also sanctioned by UK authorities.

The US Department of Justice has also launched a sanctions enforcement task force known as KleptoCapture, which also aims to enforce financial restrictions in the United States imposed on Russia and its billionaires, in collaboration with the FBI, Treasury and other federal agencies. This task force will also target financial institutions and entities that have helped oligarchs move money to dodge sanctions.

The White House said many allied nations, including Germany, the UK, France, Italy and others, are trying to collect and share information against sanctioned Russians. In his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden warned the oligarch that American and European allies would “find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets.”

“We come for your ill-begotten gains,” he said.

Monday’s capture is not the first time Spanish authorities have been implicated in the seizure of a Russian oligarch’s superyacht. Officials said they seized a ship worth more than $140 million belonging to the CEO of a state-owned defense conglomerate and a close ally of Putin.

French authorities have also seized superyachts, including one believed to belong to Igor Sechin, a Putin ally who heads Russian oil giant Rosneft, which has been on the US sanctions list since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Italy also seized several yachts and other assets.

Italian financial police quickly seized superyacht “Lena” belonging to Gennady Timchenko, an oligarch close to Putin, in the port of San Remo; the 65-meter (215-foot) ‘Lady M’ owned by Alexei Mordashov in nearby Imperia, featuring six suites and estimated to be worth 65 million euros; as well as villas in Tuscany and Como, according to government officials.


Para reported from Madrid and Balsamo reported from Washington.

Francisco Ubilla, Aritz Parra and Michael Balsamo, Associated Press

Edward K. Thompson