The United States claims that Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire and close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, owns the mega-yacht Tango.
The US government has seized a mega-yacht in Spain owned by an oligarch with close ties to the Russian president, the first of the government’s sanctions enforcement initiative to ‘seize and freeze’ giant boats and other expensive property from Russian elites.
Spanish Civil Guard and US federal agents descended on the yacht on Monday at the Marina Real in the port of Palma de Mallorca, the capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea.
The United States had issued an arrest warrant for the vessel, named the Tango, alleging it “was subject to forfeiture for violation of United States bank fraud, money laundering and sanctions laws,” the official said. US Department of Justice in a statement.
Documents related to the US investigation allege Viktor Vekselberg bought the Tango in 2011 and used front companies to hide his interest in the ship, the Justice Department said.
Vekselberg, who was sanctioned by the United States in 2018, used American banks to make Tango-related payments in violation of those sanctions, the department said.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said this was the first US seizure of property from a Russian-sanctioned individual and “will not be the last”.
“Together with our international partners, we will do everything we can to hold accountable any individual whose criminal acts allow the Russian government to continue its unjust war,” Garland said in the statement, referring to the ongoing invasion of Russia. Ukraine by Russia.
Associated Press reporters at the scene saw police entering and exiting the boat on Monday morning.
A spokesman for the Spanish Civil Guard confirmed that Spanish police and FBI agents were at the marina to search the vessel on Monday morning and said further details would be released later.
Tango, a 78-metre (255-foot) vessel, flies the flag of the Cook Islands. Superyachtfan.com, a specialist website that tracks the largest and most exclusive pleasure boats in the world, has valued it at $120 million.
Vekselberg, a billionaire and close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, heads the Moscow-based Renova Group, a conglomerate encompassing metals, mining, technology and other assets, according to US Treasury Department documents.
All of Vekselberg’s assets in the United States are frozen and US companies are prohibited from doing business with him and his entities.
Tango’s seizure is the first under the US task force KleptoCapture, launched in early March to apply sanctions to Russians linked to the leadership after the country invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Vekselberg has long had ties to the United States, including a green card he once held and homes in New York and Connecticut. The Ukrainian-born businessman built his fortune by investing in the aluminum and oil industries in the post-Soviet era.
Vekselberg was also interviewed as part of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and worked closely with his US cousin, Andrew Intrater, who runs the New York investment management Columbus Nova.
Vekselberg and Intrater have been thrust into the spotlight in the Mueller investigation after adult film star Stormy Daniels’ attorney released a memo claiming $500,000 in silent money was funneled through Columbus Nova to a front company created by former US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michel Cohen.
Columbus Nova denied that Vekselberg played a role in his payments to Cohen.
Vekselberg was also sanctioned by UK authorities.
Monday’s capture is not the first time Spanish authorities have been implicated in the seizure of a Russian oligarch’s superyacht.
Officials said they seized a vessel worth more than $140 million and belonging to the CEO of a state-owned defense conglomerate and a close ally of Putin.
French and Italian authorities have also seized yachts and assets linked to Russian oligarchs.