Politico

Putin ally's superyacht seized in Spain on U.S. warrant


U.S. and Spanish authorities conducted an operation on Monday to capture the superyacht of a U.S.-sanctioned Russian oligarch, marking the first U.S.-involved yacht seizure since penalties against Russia’s elite class were announced in retaliation for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The seized vessel is Tango, a 254-foot luxury yacht that was docked in Spain and is estimated by the U.S. government to cost $90 million. The Department of Justice said Monday that the yacht is owned by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, an energy and metal tycoon and member of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. The yacht was seized in response to a request from the U.S. Department of Justice for assistance in the execution of a seizure warrant issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Vekselberg had been sanctioned by the United States since 2018 and the Department of Justice alleged Monday that Tango was also in violation of U.S. bank fraud and money laundering statutes. The seizure is the first action carried out by the U.S. government’s interagency KleptoCapture task force, created last month as part of an elevated effort to enforce sanctions.

“Today’s action makes clear that corrupt Russian oligarchs cannot evade sanctions to live a life of luxury as innocent Ukrainians are suffering,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement. “That commitment is one we are not finished honoring.”

The U.S. investigation describes Vekselberg as the continuous owner of Tango since 2011 and that the Russian tycoon used shell companies associated with the boat to avoid bank oversight into U.S. transactions. Vekselberg, whose net worth is over $9 billion, has donated to U.S. cultural institutions including the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in New York prior to being sanctioned.

“The sanctions ultimately frustrate the ultimate beneficial owners both financially and emotionally,” Sam Tucker, head of superyachts at VesselsValue, a yacht data service, said in a recent interview with POLITICO. “Yachts already in moored in these jurisdictions would have already been frozen, and any yacht not in these waters, of which there are many, must now find alternative arrangements in the ongoing battle of cat and mouse where the cats are multiplying.”

Data from VesselsValue retrieved by POLITICO identified 65 superyachts believed to have Russian owners. The data did not reveal Tango as a yacht owned by a Russian oligarch, who notes that there are no other boats tied to Vekselberg’s name. If he does own another yacht, it may be undisclosed, VesselsValue said.

So far, around a dozen superyachts have been seized since sanctions against the Russian elite were announced in early March.

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