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The US indicts more Russian businessmen and their aides, vowing to keep up pressure on Putin

In World
February 23, 2024

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department announced a new series of arrests and indictments Thursday targeting Russian businessmen and their middlemen in five separate federal cases, pledging that the U.S. would keep up its financial pressure on Moscow as the Ukraine war enters its third grueling year.

The action was timed to coincide with the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. The Biden administration is seeking to demonstrate its unwavering support for Ukraine, even though Republican lawmakers allied with former President Donald Trump are blocking vital additional U.S. military aid.

The cases announced Thursday include charges unsealed in New York against sanctioned Russian banker Andrei Kostin and “two of his U.S.-based facilitators.” The facilitators, Vadim Wolfson and Gannon Bond, were arrested Thursday.

Kostin is the longtime president of VTB Bank, a state-owned bank and Russia’s second-largest. He is charged with engaging in a scheme to evade sanctions and launder money to support two superyachts. He along with the two others are accused of trying to evade sanctions by concealing his ownership of a home in Aspen, Colorado. The indictment says Wolfson and Bond arranged to sell the house and provide Kostin with about $12 million from the sale.

Michael Khoo, a co-director of the department’s Task Force KleptoCapture, said on a call with reporters that the announcement was meant to send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that “we’re not going away” and “we can play the long game as well” so long as the war continues.

The KleptoCapture task force enforces the economic restrictions within the U.S. imposed on Russia and its billionaires.

The Justice Department says over the past two years it has secured court orders for the restraint, seizure, and forfeiture of nearly $700 million in assets and has charged more than 70 people with violating sanctions and export controls.

The United States has been able to transfer more than $5 million of seized Russian assets to Europe in support of Ukraine’s defense, U.S. officials said Thursday. But the process of justifying each confiscation of alleged illicit assets in court is a painstaking one by law, playing out over years.

“The Justice Department is more committed than ever to cutting off the flow of illegal funds that are fueling Putin’s war and to holding accountable those who continue to enable it,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement.

The U.S. and other allies of Ukraine had hoped to cripple and isolate Russia’s economy with a succession of sanctions targeting its financial sector and sources of revenue, including oil sales. But Putin has worked with Iran and others to blunt the impact of the international sanctions, so that the International Monetary Fund reports Russia’s economy growing at an unexpectedly healthy pace.

The White House is due to announce still more major sanctions Friday in response to the death of Putin’s most prominent critic, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, last week in an Arctic penal colony. Biden said Thursday after meeting with Navalny’s wife and daughter that the sanctions would be “against Putin, who is responsible for his death.”

Also Thursday, an indictment was unsealed in Washington, D.C., charging Vladislav Osipov with bank fraud connected to operating a 255-foot luxury yacht owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. Osipov, a Russian national, lives in Switzerland. The State Department has offered a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to his arrest or conviction.

The indictment identifies the superyacht as the Tango, the first belonging to a sanctioned Russian with close ties to the Kremlin to be seized at the request of the U.S. government following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In Florida, Serhiy Kurchenko, a sanctioned pro-Russian Ukrainian metals magnate, was indicted for trying to evade sanctions that prevent him from doing business in the United States. He and Kostin are believed to be in Moscow and thus unlikely to face U.S. justice.

Also in Florida, a civil forfeiture complaint was filed against two luxury condos in Bal Harbour owned by sanctioned Russian businessman Viktor Perevalov, the co-owner of a Russia-based construction company that was sanctioned for building a highway in Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula that Russia seized in 2014.

And in Georgia, Feliks Medvedev pleaded guilty earlier this month to helping launder over $150 million on behalf of Russian clients through bank accounts he controls. Medvedev, a Russian citizen, lives in Buford, Georgia.

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