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Russian Oligarchs Scramble to Hide Yachts as DOJ Descends


Worldwide, the ultra-wealthy are notorious for trying to hide their wealth for tax reasons, while simultaneously showing it off, usually via their offspring or spouses. The proof of their wealth has already been the subject of a number of documents leaks made public in the last few years, but hiding money is one thing …

Hiding an ostentatious yacht is quite another. 

To that end, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marches on, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has now announced the formation of a special task force to go after the assets of Russian billionaire oligarchs who support Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

With the Hollywood-style catching name of “KleptoCapture,” the task force will target their lucrative assets, including yachts, artwork and mansions. 

The announcement of the task force formation came after President Joe Biden's State of the Union speech, during which he singled out the Russian political and financial elite.

"We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains," President Biden said.

The KleptoCapture task force will use federal law enforcement resources from various agencies, including the FBI, the Treasury Department and the IRS. 

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said the primary goal of the task force would be to enforce the sweeping sanctions, export restrictions, and economic countermeasures that the United States and its allies have imposed on Russia. 

“We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue this unjust war,” Garland said. 

The U.S., the EU and the UK have responded to the invasion of Ukraine with economic sanctions on Russia, including measures targeting oligarchs in Russian president Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. That pretty much includes all of them as all those who tried to rebel against Putin are not oligarchs anymore.

On Thursday, French authorities said that they seized a yacht owned by Russian Igor Sechin, CEO of Rosneft, Russia's massive state oil and gas company. 

Earlier this week, Germany seized a $600-million yacht belonging to billionaire Alisher Usmanov.

There are different estimates as to how much Russia’s wealthiests have lost since the start of the invasion of Ukraine. 

Just on the first day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, 22 of Russian richest individuals lost $39 billion. Among those, Vagit Alekperov, chairman of oil company Lukoil, lost $6.2 billion.

According to a Bloomberg report, Russia's wealthiest individuals have lost $83 billion since the beginning of this year, with the majority of the losses since the invasion.

At the start of the invasion, Putin reportedly summoned some dozen oligarchs and told them that “what is happening is a necessary measure…we were simply left with no chance to do otherwise”. 

None of the billionaires apparently commented during the meeting, but now, some are testing the water and sending vague messages that war should stop, but they are still failing to criticize the government. 

Nonetheless, they are taking their vast losses to heart. 

Following President Biden’s speech and the seizure of the yachts belonging to Usmanov and Sechin, oligarchs are now on the move to countries that don’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S. 

According to an Agence France-Presse report, at least five new superyachts owned by Russian billionaires are now anchored in Maldives.

Media reported that the yachts of Oleg Deripaska, the founder of aluminum giant Rusal, steel magnate Victor Rashnikov, and Alexander Abramov, a cofounder of steel producer Evraz, are among the owners of those anchored yachts. Russian banker Andrey Kostin’s yacht is heading to the Maldives from Turkey, as we speak, according to reports. 

According to Marine Traffic data, Lukoil’s Alekperov is reportedly sailing his yacht from Barcelona to Montenegro, while Roman Abramovich’s yacht is reportedly moored in St. Maarten.

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