Two businessmen have been charged with orchestrating a money laundering scheme to protect Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who has close ties to President Vladimir Putin, from having his $90 million yacht seized.
Vladislav Osipov, 51, a dual Russian and Swiss citizen, and British citizen Richard Masters, 52, are charged with sanctions evasion and money laundering related to their operation of the 255-foot luxury yacht “Tango” after Vekselberg was hit with sanctions.
Masters was arrested in Spain on Friday at the request of the Justice Department. Osipov remains at large.
“Facilitators of sanctions evasion enable the oligarchs supporting Vladimir Putin’s regime to flout U.S. law,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves said.
Both men allegedly used shell companies to allow Vekselberg’s ownership of the yacht. He was sanctioned in April 2018. U.S. sanctions forbid American companies such as banks from conducting business with those sanctioned entities.
Masters ran a yacht management company in Palma de Mallorca, Spain and allegedly took over the management of Tango, the Justice Department said. He allegedly changed the yacht’s name to “the Fanta” to help avoid sanctions restrictions from banks.
As a result, U.S. financial institutions processed hundreds of thousands of dollars of transactions for Tango that otherwise wouldn’t have been permitted if Vekselberg’s involvement was made known.
In addition, Osipov and Masters had yacht employees continue to do business with U.S. companies and used a series of workarounds to avoid detection, such as payments in other currencies and through thirds parties, federal prosecutors said.
“As a result of these schemes, the working mechanisms of Tango, to include its internet, technology, weather forecasting, and computing systems, as well as the trappings of Tango, including its satellite television, luxury goods, and teleconferencing software, were all U.S.-origin products and services supplied by U.S. companies, for the benefit of Vekselberg,” the Justice Department said.
The yacht was seized in April by Spanish authorities at the request of the Justice Department. Several luxury yachts owned by Russian oligarchs have been the subject of U.S. sanctions following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago.