A U.S. judge signed a warrant authorizing the seizure of two luxury airplanes worth more than $400 million and traced by authorities to Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, court filings indicate.
Federal authorities announced the judicial authorization as part of the U.S. Department of Justice Task Force KleptoCapture, rolled out by Attorney General Merrick Garland earlier this year in March, toward the early stages of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
“The Justice Department will use all of its authorities to seize the assets of individuals and entities who violate these sanctions,” Garland said at the time. “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. Let me be clear: if you violate our laws, we will hold you accountable.”
Since that time, the Justice Department issued indictments under the U.S. sanctions regime and moved to seize a $300 million yacht. Other targets of Justice Department actions have been accused of flouting sanctions, but Abramovich is not currently on the list of individuals under U.S. sanctions.
Instead, the administrative actions announced on Monday hinge upon alleged export violations.
“Through a Series of Shell Companies”
In its latest actions, the Justice Department targeted two aircraft that they found were “owned and/or controlled by” Abramovich “through a series of shell companies”: a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner and a Gulfstream G650ER.
FBI agent Alan Fowler wrote in an affidavit that Abramovich’s planes had their ownership masked through a thicket of shell companies disguising their beneficial owner.
“On or about March 16, 2020, the Gulfstream was sold to Clear Skies Flights Limited (‘Clear Skies’), a Jersey corporation, for approximately $60 million,” the affidavit states.
The FBI says that this company’s authorized representatives were “affiliated with one of Abramovich’s investment vehicles, MHC Services (Limited), with an address associated with the Chelsea Football Club, the professional English soccer team that Abramovich then owned.”
“Corporate documents indicated that Clear Skies was a wholly owned subsidiary of Wotton Overseas Holdings Limited (‘Wotton’), a Jersey corporation,” the Justice Department said.
According to a footnote of the filing, Wotton also reportedly owns certain yachts of Abramovich and a helicopter.
As for the Boeing, U.S. authorities say that it was sold to Wenham Overseas Limited, a British Virgin Islands company said to be owned by Abramovich. Authorities say it’s a wholly owned subsidiary of Wotton.
U.S. authorities mapped out the alleged shell companies in court papers.
“Flight records for the Boeing reflect that, after the Russia sanctions went into effect on or about February 24 and March 2, 2022, the Boeing was reexported to Russia,” the Justice Department says. “Specifically, on or about March 4, 2022, the Boeing flew from Dubai, United Arab Emirates to Moscow, Russia. That same day, the Boeing flew back to Dubai, where it has remained since then.”
Not yet taken into custody, both of the aircraft are abroad: the Gulfstream apparently in Russia and the custom $350 million Boeing in Dubai. But they are now known as “tainted assets,” a Justice Department official said in a background call with reporters.
“Today’s warrants demonstrate the reach of U.S. authority,” the official added.
Along with the Justice Department’s warrant, the Commerce Department released a charging letter public supporting the administrative action, which an administration official described as a new policy of transparency. The Commerce Department usually releases those papers when a regulatory action is resolved, but the agency changed its regulation for deterrence purposes.
“On two occasions, on or about March 12, 2022, and on or about March 15, 2022, Roman Abramovich engaged in conduct prohibited by and contrary to the Regulations, by reexporting controlled items, specifically a U.S.-origin Gulfstream G650ER aircraft classified under Export Control Classification Number (‘ECCN’) 9A991, to Russia without the required BIS license,” Commerce Department wrote.
The same document listed other flights by the vessel.
“Specifically, the Gulfstream flew from Istanbul, Turkey to Moscow, Russia on or about March 12, 2022,” the charging letter states. “On or about March 13, 2022, the Gulfstream flew to Tel Aviv, Israel and then to Istanbul, on or about March 14, 2022. On or about March 15, 2022, the Gulfstream flew to Moscow again. Roman Abramovich was a primary passenger on part, if not all, of those flights to and from Russia.”
The administrative action could lead to a penalty of two the value of the seized assets, officials said.
Read the documents, below:
(Photos via DOJ)
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