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US authorities have charged two businessmen, Vladislav Osipov and Richard Masters, for enabling Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg’s motor yacht, named Tango, to evade sanctions.
Osipov is a Russian national with dual Swiss citizenship, while Masters is a British citizen. Both have been indicted for money laundering and fraud as well as breaching sanctions laws related to the $90m luxury yacht.
Currently, Masters has been arrested by Spanish authorities whereas Osipov is still at large.
In a statement, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said that Masters operated a yacht management company in Mallorca that assumed Tango’s operational management after Vekselberg was hit was sanctions.
According to the DoJ, Masters created a false name for the yacht, calling it ‘Fanta’, and made dollar-denominated transactions with the false name to dodge sanctions.
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This evasion allegedly resulted in ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars of transactions’ for the yacht, which could have been avoided had Vekselberg’s association in the transactions been known.
Meanwhile, Osipov, an employee of Vekselberg, served as the property manager of the yacht and designed a web of shell firms to hide the vessel’s true ownership, the DoJ alleged.
Furthermore, Osipov and Masters enabled Tango staff to do business with US firms using multiple workarounds to dodge sanctions, including payments in other currencies and through third parties.
Vekselberg has been under US sanctions since 2018, with the latest sanctions, which target his superyacht, coming in the wake of Russia’s military offensive against Ukraine.
Last April, Spanish authorities detained Tango at the request of the US for flouting money laundering and sanction statutes.
The confiscation of the 255ft yacht represented a victory for the DoJ’s KleptoCapture unit, which was created to clamp down on the assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs with ties to Putin.
Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York Field Office Special Agent in Charge Ivan J Arvelo said: “Last year, working with our partners at the Justice Department and FBI, we removed the yacht Tango from an oligarch’s portfolio and with today’s actions we have followed through on our promise of accountability to those that conduct illicit financial transactions on behalf of the oligarchs. The message is clear: Putin’s cronies will find no succour in their riches and those that illegally enable such lifestyles will be called to justice.”