Justice Department Announces First Criminal Resolution Involving the Illicit Sale and Transport of Iranian Oil in Violation of U.S. Sanctions
Spanish law enforcement today executed a Spanish court order freezing the Motor Yacht (M/Y) Tango (the Tango), a 255-foot luxury yacht owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. Spanish authorities acted pursuant to a request from the U.S. Department of Justice for assistance following the issuance of a seizure warrant, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which alleged that the Tango was subject to forfeiture based on violation of U.S. bank fraud, money laundering, and sanction statutes. Separately, seizure warrants obtained in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia target approximately $625,000 associated with sanctioned parties held at nine U.S. financial institutions. Those seizures are based on sanctions violations by several Russian specially designated nationals.
According to documents filed in this case, the U.S. investigation alleges that Vekselberg bought the Tango in 2011 and has owned it continuously since that time. It further alleges that Vekselberg used shell companies to obfuscate his interest in the Tango to avoid bank oversight into U.S. dollar transactions related thereto. Additionally, after Vekselberg was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department on April 6, 2018, the warrant alleges that Vekselberg and those working on his behalf continued to make U.S. dollar payments through U.S. banks for the support and maintenance of the Tango and its owners, including a payment for a December 2020 stay at a luxury water villa resort in the Maldives and mooring fees for the yacht. Vekselberg had an interest in these payments and therefore a license was required from the Treasury Department, which was not obtained.
“Today marks our taskforce’s first seizure of an asset belonging to a sanctioned individual with close ties to the Russian regime. It will not be the last,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “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.”
“Today’s action makes clear that corrupt Russian oligarchs cannot evade sanctions to live a life of luxury as innocent Ukrainians are suffering,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco. “Today the Department of Justice delivers on our commitment to hold accountable those whose criminal activity strengthens the Russian government as it continues to wage its unjust war in Ukraine. That commitment is one we are not finished honoring.”
“Today we announce another example of the FBI using our worldwide presence and partnerships, as well as our expertise and experience, to track and seize illicit money and assets, to counter threats to our safety and national security,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “We will continue to use every lawful tool to go after designated Russian oligarchs' assets – however and wherever they hide them.”
The seizure was coordinated through the Justice Department’s Task Force KleptoCapture, an interagency law enforcement task force dedicated to enforcing the sweeping sanctions, export restrictions, and economic countermeasures that the United States has imposed, along with its allies and partners, in response to Russia’s unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine. Announced by the Attorney General on March 2 and run out of the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, the task force will leverage all the Department’s tools and authorities against efforts to evade or undermine the economic actions taken by the U.S. government in response to Russian military aggression.
“The seizure of this luxury yacht demonstrates our determination to hold accountable those who support Vladimir Putin’s unwarranted invasion of another sovereign nation,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia. “We will continue to use every tool to enforce the sanctions aimed at Putin’s regime and the oligarchs who support it. Working with our federal and international partners, we will be unflagging in our efforts to bring to justice those who violate these sanctions, and to seize assets where appropriate and lawful.”
“Today’s seizure of Viktor Vekselberg’s yacht, the Tango, in Spain is the result of an unprecedented multinational effort to enforce U.S. sanctions targeting those elites who have enabled Russia’s unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine,” said Director Andrew Adams of Task Force KleptoCapture. “For those who have tied their fortunes to a brutal and lawless regime, today’s action is a message that those nations dedicated to the rule of law are equally dedicated to separating the oligarchs from their tainted luxuries. This seizure is only the beginning of the Task Force’s work in this global effort to punish those who have and continue to support tyranny for financial gain.”
“The FBI will continue to work with its partners to protect the integrity of the banking system and support the enforcement of sanctions programs,” said Special Agent in Charge Michael F. Paul of the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office. “FBI agents and analysts, regardless of where they are assigned around the world, will work tirelessly to ensure those who attempt to evade sanctions are held accountable.”
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine was an unprovoked act of aggression that has targeted the lives and well-being of millions of people and threatened international security,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Ricky J. Patel of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York. “For decades, the Putin regime has been supported by a group of Russian oligarchs that abused their power for private gain to amass untold riches. As DHS’s investigative arm, HSI stands at the forefront of combatting global networks that seek to violate U.S. law and exploit our nation’s financial systems. Working with our partners at the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI, we will hold Putin’s oligarchs accountable and deny them the lavish lifestyles they cherish.”
Upon receipt of a request from the United States pursuant to a bi-lateral treaty for mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, the Spanish central authority for mutual legal assistance forwarded the request to a Spanish prosecutor, who obtained a freezing order from a Spanish court. The order was executed by Spain’s Guardia Civil on April 4.
The Tango, International Maritime Organization number 1010703, is believed to be worth approximately $90 million or more. The yacht is now in Mallorca.
The burden to prove forfeitability in a forfeiture proceeding is upon the government.
The matter of the Tango is being investigated by the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office with assistance from the FBI Legal Attaché Office in Madrid and the HSI New York Field Office.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen P. Seifert for the District of Columbia and Paralegal Brian Rickers and Legal Assistant Jessica McCormick for the District of Columbia are handling the seizure. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided significant assistance in working with the Spanish authorities, as well as the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS).