Washington — American and Spanish law enforcement agents took control of the mega yacht Tango anchored in the luxurious Spanish island of Palma de Mallorca on Monday after the U.S. Justice Department obtained a warrant for the $90-million vessel's seizure.
The warrant and subsequent raid targeted Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who wasby the U.S. government in 2018 and again last month following Russia's deadly invasion of Ukraine. The financial penalties blocked the billionaire from participating in the U.S. economy and prevented him from utilizing American banks to conduct business transactions.
According to the Justice Department's warrant, dating as far back as 2011, Vekselberg and other unnamed conspirators attempted to avoid detection in the U.S. by paying for the yacht through shell companies and other money laundering techniques.
"Vekselberg and those acting on his behalf and for his benefit caused U.S. dollar transactions for the Tango to be sent through U.S. financial institutions, after a time which Vekselberg was designated by the Treasury Department," the warrant unsealed Monday alleges.
The Tango, designed and built exclusively for the oligarch, who has an estimated net worth of $6 billion, had been sent to Spain for repair. Investigators say the Spanish government then alerted the Justice Department to its whereabouts on March 13.
Prosecutors in Spain obtained a "freezing" order on the vessel, paving the way for FBI and other American law enforcement agents to seize the ship.
Monday's operation was part of the Justice Department's new Task Force KleptoCapture, anaimed at holding sanctioned Russian elites accountable, as Russia continues its aggressive invasion of Ukraine.
"Today marks our task force's first seizure of an asset belonging to a sanctioned individual with close ties to the Russian regime. It will not be the last," Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday. "Together, with our international partners, we will do everything possible to hold accountable any individual whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue its unjust war."
The Associated Press noted 64-year-old Vekselberg, who was born in Ukraine, has long had ties to the U.S., including a green card he once held and homes in New York and Connecticut. He's the main owner of the Renova Group, a global conglomerate he founded 30 years ago which is based in Moscow with major assets in mining, technology and utilities. He has stakes in several technology companies and in Rusal, Russia's biggest aluminum producer.
Vekselberg and his cousin, Andrew Intrater, were investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller after the attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels released a memo that claimed $500,000 in hush money was routed through Columbus Nova, an investment company run by Intrater and reportedly affiliated with Renova, to a shell company set up by former President Donald Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, according to the Columbus Nova denied that Vekselberg, who was Intrater's biggest investor, played any role in its payments to Cohen. Vekselberg and Intrater met with 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. Mueller did not mention Vekselberg or Intrater in his final report.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that neither Vekselberg nor Intrater were mentioned in special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, as well as to note some of Vekselberg's other holdings.
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