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The US seizes a megayacht belonging to an oligarch with close ties to Putin

PALMA DE MALLORCA, Spain — The U.S. government on Monday seized a megayacht in Spain owned by an oligarch with close ties to the Russian president, the government’s first initiative to enforce sanctions to “seize and confiscate” huge boats and other expensive assets to freeze”. Russian Elites.

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

The seizure was confirmed by two people familiar with the matter. People could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity. A spokesman for the Spanish Civil Guard confirmed that officers from Spain’s police and FBI were at the marina searching the ship Monday morning and said more details would be released later.

A Civil Guard source told The Associated Press that the immobilized yacht is Tango, a 78-meter vessel that flies the flag of the Cook Islands superyachtfan.com, a specialized website that tracks the world’s largest and most exclusive pleasure boats, is valued at $120 million. The source was also not allowed to be named in media reports and spoke to the 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 runs the Moscow-based Renova Group, a conglomerate that, according to U.S. Treasury Department documents, makes metals, mining, technology and other assets. All of Vekselberg’s US assets will be frozen and US companies will be banned from doing business with him and his companies.

The move is the first time the US government has impounded an oligarch’s yacht since Attorney General Merrick Garland and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen put together a task force called REPO – short for Russian Elites, Proxies and Oligarchs – to seek post-Russian sanctions enforce Ukraine in late February.

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

Vekselberg was also questioned in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and has worked closely with his American cousin Andrew Intrater, who runs New York investment management firm Columbus Nova.

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

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

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

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

The US Department of Justice has also created a sanctions enforcement task force called KleptoCapture, which also aims to enforce US financial restrictions imposed on Russia and its billionaires, and works with the FBI, Treasury Department and other federal agencies together. This task force will also target financial institutions and organizations that have helped oligarchs move money to evade sanctions.

The White House has said many allied countries, including Germany, Britain, France, Italy and others, are involved in an attempt to gather and share intelligence against sanctioned Russians. In his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden warned the oligarch that US and European allies would “find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets.”

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

Wednesday’s capture isn’t the first time Spanish authorities have been involved in the seizure of a Russian oligarch’s superyacht. Officials there said they had seized a ship worth over $140 million that belonged to the CEO of a state defense conglomerate and a close ally of Putin.

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

Italy has also confiscated several yachts and other assets.

The Italian financial police quickly intervened and seized the superyacht “Lena” from Gennady Timchenko, an oligarch close to Putin, in the port of San Remo; Alexei Mordashov’s 65-meter “Lady M” in nearby Imperia, with six suites and an estimated value of 65 million euros; as well as villas in Tuscany and Como, government officials said.

Para reported from Madrid and Balsamo reported from Washington.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/us-seizes-mega-yacht-owned-oligarch-close-ties-putin-rcna22814 The US seizes a megayacht belonging to an oligarch with close ties to Putin

Caroline Bleakley

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