Putin ally Viktor Vekselberg has luxury yacht seized in Spain, say police

Billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, an oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin, has had his luxury yacht seized by authorities in Spain, say police.

It is part of sanctions imposed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

Spain’s Civil Guard and US federal agents descended on the yacht in the port of Palma de Mallorca, the capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands.

Superyachtfan.com, a specialist website that tracks the world’s largest and most exclusive recreational boats, values the 78-metre vessel, called Tango and carrying the Cook Islands flag, at $120 million (€109 million).

The US Justice Department, which obtained a warrant from a federal judge in Washington, alleges the yacht should be forfeited for violating US bank fraud, money laundering and sanctions statutes.

The yacht is among the assets linked to Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire and close Putin ally who heads the Moscow-based Renova Group, a conglomerate encompassing metals, mining, tech and other assets, according to US Treasury Department documents.

All of Vekselberg’s assets in the United States are frozen and American companies are barred from doing business with him and his entities. The Ukrainian-born businessman built his fortune by investing in the aluminium and oil industries in the post-Soviet era.

Prosecutors allege Vekselberg bought the Tango in 2011 and has owned it since then, though they believe he has used shell companies to try to obfuscate his ownership and to avoid financial oversight.

They contend Vekselberg and those working for him continued to make payments using US banks to support and maintain the yacht, even after sanctions were imposed on him in 2018. Those payments included a stay in December 2020 at a luxury water villa resort in the Maldives and fees to moor the yacht.

It’s the first US seizure of an oligarch’s yacht since US Attorney General Merrick Garland and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen assembled a task force known as REPO — short for Russian Elites, Proxies and Oligarchs — as an effort to enforce sanctions after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.

“It will not be the last,” Garland said in a statement. “Together, with our international partners, we will do everything possible to hold accountable any individual whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue its unjust war.”

The White House has said that many allied countries, including German, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and others are involved in trying to collect and share information against Russians targeted for sanctions. In his State of the Union address on March 1, President Joe Biden warned oligarchs that the US and European allies would “find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets”.

“We are coming for your ill-begotten gains,” he said.

Monday’s capture is not the first time Spanish authorities have been involved in the seizure of an oligarch’s superyacht. Officials said they had seized a vessel valued at over $140 million (€127 million) owned by the CEO of a state-owned defence conglomerate and a close Putin ally.

French authorities have seized superyachts, including one believed to belong to Igor Sechin, a Putin ally who runs Russian oil giant Rosneft, which has been on the US sanctions list since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Italy has seized several yachts and other assets.

Italian financial police moved quickly to seize the superyacht Lena belonging to Gennady Timchenko, an oligarch close to Putin, in the port of San Remo; the 65-metre Lady M owned by Alexei Mordashov in nearby Imperia, featuring six suites and estimated to be worth €65 million; as well as villas in Tuscany and Como, according to government officials.

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