Associate of sanctioned Russian oligarch indicted in money laundering scheme
By Kara Scannell, CNN
A Russian national was indicted for helping an oligarch evade US sanctions by financing multimillion dollar properties in Manhattan, the Hamptons and Florida — the latest sign that prosecutors continue to put pressure on wealthy businessmen with ties to the Kremlin.
Vladimir Voronchenko, an art dealer and childhood friend of sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, was charged with violating US sanctions, international money laundering, conspiracy, and contempt of court for not complying with a grand jury subpoena. Voronchenko left the US in May after receiving the subpoena for his testimony and remains at large.
Prosecutors are seeking the forfeiture of $75 million worth of Vekselberg’s properties, including two Park Avenue apartments, his home in Southampton, New York, and two apartments, including a penthouse, on Fisher Island, Florida.
The criminal charges come as prosecutors have taken numerous steps that appear to be encircling Vekselberg, the founder and chairman of the Board of Directors of the Renova Group, a Russian aluminum and energy conglomerate. Vekselberg was sanctioned in 2018 by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control in response to what it called “worldwide malign activity.”
Vekselberg has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
In April, a 255-foot luxury yacht named Tango and owned by the Russian billionaire was seized by Spanish law enforcement at the request of US officials. The case marked the first seizure by a newly formed US task force that’s dedicated to cracking down on sanctions violators in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
One month later, Voronchenko was served a grand jury subpoena at one of Vekselberg’s properties on Fisher Island, according to the indictment.
In September, CNN observed federal agents searching two of the New York properties owned by Vekselberg. Two large safes and other items were removed from an apartment building on Park Avenue, CNN reported. His other property in Southampton was also searched.
Last month, federal prosecutors announced charges against two businessmen for allegedly facilitating sanctions evasion by taking over the management of Vekselberg’s yacht once the billionaire was sanctioned.
After Vekselberg was sanctioned and US institutions were prohibited from doing business with him, the men allegedly used a false name to hide from financial institutions that payments were intended for Tango. They also allegedly used workarounds with US companies that allowed the yacht to continue operating by accessing weather forecasting equipment, computing systems and luxury services.
Prosecutors allege Voronchenko, who stayed in Vekselberg’s properties, violated sanctions by transferring $4 million to cover maintenance fees, taxes and insurance premiums for the properties after Vekselberg was sanctioned. Voronchenko allegedly funneled the payments through a shell company he controlled, named Smile Holding Ltd.
He also allegedly violated sanctions by attempting to sell the Southampton property and Park Avenue apartments without obtaining a license.
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