United States obtains warrant for seizure of $45M airplane owned by Russian energy company PJSC LUKOIL
HOUSTON - The United States obtained a warrant to seize a Boeing 737-7EM aircraft owned by PJSC LUKOIL, a Russian multinational oil and gas corporation headquartered in Moscow, Russia. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas authorized the seizure, finding probable cause that the Boeing aircraft was subject to seizure based on violations of federal law.
Earlier this year, the Department of Commerce issued sanctions against Russia in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The sanctions impose export controls and license requirements to protect U.S. national security and foreign policy interests. The Russia sanctions expanded prohibitions on the export, reexport or in-country transfer of, among other things, U.S.-manufactured aircraft to or within Russia without a valid license or license exception.
According to court documents, LUKOIL owns the Boeing aircraft – bearing tail number VP-CLR and manufacturer serial number 34865 – which flew into and out of Russia in violation of the Department of Commerce’s Russia sanctions.
“The FBI will remain focused and faithful to our responsibility to protect our U.S. national security and foreign policy interests,” said Special Agent in Charge James Smith of the FBI – Houston Field Office. “We’ll continue to go after individuals who insist on helping Russia advance its hostile and illegal activities, and we’ll continue to seize their valuable possessions, wherever they may be. We thank Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Department of Commerce for their partnership in this case.”
“Once again, the United States, through its experts at the FBI and the Department of Commerce, has laid open a series of shell companies and sham corporations designed to conceal the ownership and illegal movements of controlled technology,” said Task Force KleptoCapture Director Andrew C. Adams. “The aircraft at the center of today’s affidavit was ultimately the property of Lukoil, though that ownership was obscured through a now-public series of holding companies. With today’s unsealed affidavit, aviation, insurance, and financial services companies are made aware of that nesting doll-structure, and can proactively avoid the provision of services that might aid the movement of this tainted aircraft as the United States pursues its seizure.”
“Today’s actions to enforce the powerful export restrictions placed on Russia are our latest coordinated measures that let Vladimir Putin and his allies know they are isolated and we are watching,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Enforcement Matthew S. Axelrod. “The Commerce Department’s Office of Export Enforcement continues to vigorously enforce the export laws of the United States and stand with the people of Ukraine against Putin’s war of aggression.”
“By aggressively pursuing the seizure of these assets, we have sent a resounding message to sanctions violators and third-party facilitators around the globe that we are committed to targeting any individual or entity that seeks to blatantly skirt the sanctions, export controls and license requirements imposed by the United States in response to Russia’s unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine,” said Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson, HSI Houston. “Using our broad investigative and enforcement authorities and global reach, HSI will continue to work alongside our federal partners to protect U.S. national security interests and inflict maximum disruptive effects against anyone who violates these sanctions in an effort to support the Russian government.”
The Boeing last flew into the United States in March 2019 when the plane flew from overseas to Houston with LUKOIL officials, including a Russian oligarch – then LUKOIL president and CEO Vagit Alekperov – on board the aircraft. The Boeing is believed to be in Russia and worth approximately $45 million. Since September 2014, LUKOIL has been subject to sectoral sanctions imposed by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The seizure action is being coordinated through the Justice Department’s Task Force KleptoCapture, an interagency law enforcement task force dedicated to enforcing the sweeping sanctions, export controls and economic countermeasures that the United States, along with its foreign allies and partners, has imposed 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 continue to leverage all the department’s tools and authorities to combat efforts to evade or undermine the collective actions taken by the U.S. government in response to Russian military aggression.
The FBI’s Houston Field Office, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security and HSI in Houston are investigating the seizure matter. The investigation into additional aircraft is ongoing.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Pearson and Brandon L. Fyffe of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas and Trial Attorneys Lindsay M. Heck and Sinan Kalayoglu of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section are leading the seizure action. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the FBI’s New York Field Office and the Federal Aviation Administration provided significant assistance.