June 6, 2022 Russia-Ukraine News

A US judge has approved the seizure of two private planes from Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich valued at more than $400 million for violating US export and sanctions laws.

The planes, a Gulfstream and a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, considered one of the most expensive private jets in the world, are currently in Russia and Dubai, according to an FBI agent’s supporting affidavit. of the warrant of seizure.

The US Department of Commerce also announced administrative charges against Abramovich. If found guilty, the maximum penalty could be equal to the value of the planes, an administration official said.

The US moves are part of an effort to punish Russians known to be close to the Kremlin and pressure Moscow’s economy in an attempt to halt the invasion of Ukraine.

Although Abramovich has not been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, a US Department of Justice official said the seizure warrant indicates that “no one is above the law and not being on the OFAC list does not give you permission to evade sanctions or export controls.

Authorities say the American-made planes flew in and out of Russia without obtaining a license from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Aircraft and aircraft parts are subject to export regulations due to their potential military use and national security implications.

More background: After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the US Commerce Department tightened sanctions and began requiring licenses for the export of aircraft, which previously did not need approval. In early March, the ministry also banned an American plane owned by a Russian national from being exported to Russia.

In an unusual move, the seizure warrant was made public and not filed under seal. The US Department of Justice official said the record was made public to reveal the names of shell companies that the US says were used to protect beneficial ownership and to encourage dialogue with banks, security companies insurance and others to cooperate.

The official said it was also meant to send a message to anyone helping those sanctioned or accused of violating US laws that they run “the risk of being seen as obstructionists.”

In the affidavit, the FBI agent described four layers of front companies that he unraveled to trace the plane back to Abramovich. The filing said the FBI had located documents used to create the companies overseas, in jurisdictions beyond the control of the United States and beyond its power of subpoena.

These documents indicated that Abramovich was the owner of the companies that purchased the jets.

Authorities say that in mid-March the Gulfstream jet flew twice to Russia, where it remains. In early March, the Boeing plane flew from Dubai to Russia and returned to Dubai, where it remains. The Boeing, originally purchased for $93.6 million, has been customized and is now valued at around $350 million, according to the FBI affidavit.

Andrew Adams, the head of US task force KleptoCapture, which seized two luxury yachts and bank accounts, previously told CNN they were looking at what laws they can enforce and what types of assets they can seize, no matter where they are located.

“These seizures are, will continue, and people recognize that where seizures are happening around the world are in pockets of the world that maybe weren’t expected,” he previously said, adding: “There is no refuge.”

Christi C. Elwood