The Justice Department is putting associates of Russian oligarchs on notice.
In the latest indictment of its kind, an associate of sanctioned Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg has been charged with violating sanctions and laundering money in connection with helping to maintain Vekselberg’s U.S. properties, according to a four-count indictment unsealed on Tuesday.
Vladimir Voronchenko, a Russian citizen and U.S. permanent resident who fled to Russia last May, is accused of arranging for more than $4 million in payments to maintain four properties owned by Vekselberg in New York, Southampton and Florida. Prosecutors estimate the properties’ value at about $75 million.
Voronchenko allegedly tried to sell the New York and Southampton properties after Vekselberg was sanctioned by the U.S. government in 2018, according to the indictment.
Another indicted in connection to $90 million yacht
This is the second indictment of a Vekselberg associate in recent weeks. Last month, the Justice Department charged two businessmen — one British and one Russian — in connection with the operation of a $90 million, 255-foot luxury yacht owned by Vekselberg. The yacht was previously seized by Spanish authorities at the request of the United States.
The Justice Department’s Task Force Kleptocapture, created in March 2022 following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has been leading the fight against corrupt Russian oligarchs. In recent months, the task force has increasingly focused on targeting the oligarchs’ enablers.
“Shell companies, strawmen, and professional money launderers did not shield Voronchenko or the illicit transactions charged today from the investigative persistence of [Homeland Security Investigations], FBI, and the attorneys of the Southern District of New York,” Andrew Adams, director of the task force, said in a statement.
“Today’s indictment is yet another reminder of the priority that the Department of Justice places on uncovering the proceeds of kleptocracy and sanctions evasion and on prosecuting those who would take a paycheck in exchange for facilitating money laundering and sanctions evasion.”
Charges include contempt of court for fleeing
Voronchenko is charged with one count of sanctions violation, two counts of money laundering, and one count of contempt of court for fleeing the United States just seven days after being served with a subpoena to produce documents and appear before a grand jury, according to the Justice Department.
The indictment includes a notice of U.S. intent to forfeit Vekselberg’s U.S. properties.
Vekselberg was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2018 and again last March following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
According to court documents, the billionaire used a series of shell companies to buy the four properties between 2008 and 2017.
Voronchenko, who lived in New York City; Southampton, New York; Fisher Island, Florida; and Russia, “held himself out” as a successful businessman, art collector, and art dealer, and as a close friend and business associate of Vekselberg.
Voronchenko allegedly retained a New York lawyer to help purchase the properties and later manage their finances, using the “interest on lawyer’s trust account,” or IOLTA.
The American Bar Association describes IOLTA as “a method of raising money for charitable purposes, primarily the provision of civil legal services to indigent persons.”
According to court documents, between 2009 and 2018, shell companies owned by Vekselberg allegedly sent about 90 wire transfers totaling approximately $18.5 million to the IOLTA account. The lawyer in turn used the funds to make payments to maintain and service the properties, prosecutors allege.
After the Treasury Department sanctioned Vekselberg, the lawyer’s account began receiving funds from a different account in the name of a shell company controlled by Vekselberg as well as an account controlled by a family member of Voronchenko, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors estimate that between June 2018 and March 2022, approximately 25 wire transfers totaling approximately $4 million were sent to the IOLTA account.
“Although the source of the payments changed, the management of the payments remained the same as before: Voronchenko and his family member directed the Attorney to use these funds to make various U.S. dollar payments to maintain and service the Properties,” the Justice Department said.
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