Two businessmen, Vladislav Osipov, 51, a Russian national, and Richard Masters, 52, a United Kingdom national, are charged in separate indictments unsealed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, with facilitating a sanctions evasion and money laundering scheme in relation to the ownership and operation of the Motor Yacht (M/Y) Tango (International Maritime Organization number 1010703), a $90 million, 255-foot luxury yacht owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. The defendants are charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and to commit offenses against the United States, violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), and money laundering. The United States requested that the Kingdom of Spain provisionally arrest Masters for purposes of extradition. The arrest was executed by the Spanish Guardia Civil today. An arrest warrant against Osipov is outstanding.
“Today’s indictments and the arrest executed by Spanish law enforcement demonstrate the FBI’s continued focus on tracking down and holding accountable those who assist sanctioned Russian oligarchs,” said FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate. “The FBI, along with our international partners, will continue to aggressively investigate and pursue anyone who facilitates the corrupt practices of others, placing our institutions at risk.”
“Facilitators of sanctions evasion enable the oligarchs supporting Vladimir Putin’s regime to flout U.S. law. The United States will not allow its financial institutions and persons to be manipulated or defrauded for the purposes of benefitting those supporting an illegal war,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia.
“The Department of Justice has been clear. Corporations and executives have a choice: they can participate in the global effort to uproot corruption, sanctions violations, and money laundering, and enjoy the benefits of prompt and fulsome cooperation; or they can, as Osipov and Masters are alleged to have done, attempt to shield themselves and their clients behind a veil of fraud,” said Director Andrew Adams of Task Force KleptoCapture. “These men made their decisions, and now face the consequences of a failed attempt to profit through, rather than standing against, a sophisticated, transnational criminal enterprise.”
“Russian oligarchs are the product of an ecosystem of corruption that abuses rule-of-law-based monetary structures to enrich themselves with the luxury trappings and lifestyles that everyday people only dream of – all the while as thousands of Ukrainians are homeless due to Russia’s unlawful invasion,” said Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo of the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York Field Office. “As stewards of the American financial system, HSI will not stand idly by as U.S. dollars are used by oligarch criminal networks to operate and maintain these high value symbols of corruption. Last year, working with our partners at the Justice Department and FBI, we removed the yacht Tango from an oligarch’s portfolio and with today’s actions we have followed through on our promise of accountability to those that conduct illicit financial transactions on behalf of the oligarchs. The message is clear: Putin’s cronies will find no succor in their riches and those that illegally enable such lifestyles will be called to justice.”
“The indictment alleges that both defendants used a variety of techniques to mask ownership of the Motor Yacht Tango in violation of U.S. law,” said Special Agent in Charge Alvin M. Winston of the FBI Minneapolis Field Office. “Together with the Justice Department’s KleptoCapture Task Force, the FBI will hold accountable those who assist Russian Oligarchs in their efforts to hide assets and violate sanctions. We thank our international partners who helped facilitate the arrest of Richard Masters in Spain earlier today.”
According to the indictment, despite U.S. sanctions issued against Vekselberg in April 2018, Osipov and Masters facilitated the operation of Tango through the use of U.S. companies and the U.S. financial system, attempting to obfuscate Vekselberg’s involvement in the vessel. Osipov, an employee of Vekselberg who functioned as a property manager for Tango, designed a complicated ownership structure of shell companies to hide Vekselberg’s ownership of the yacht, despite that Vekselberg designed the yacht, was the sole user, and was the ultimate beneficial owner.
As alleged, Masters ran a yacht management company in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. After Vekselberg was sanctioned in April 2018, Masters’s company took over the management of Tango, and conspired with others to evade the U.S. sanctions. According to the indictment, among other things, Masters devised a scheme to use a false name for the yacht, “the Fanta,” in order to hide from financial institutions that payments in U.S. dollars were ultimately for the benefit of Tango and Vekselberg. As a result of this obfuscation, U.S. financial institutions processed hundreds of thousands of dollars of transactions for Tango that they otherwise would not have permitted had they known of Vekselberg’s involvement in the financial transaction. Further, these payments and Vekselberg’s involvement therein were not reported to the Department of the Treasury.
Additionally, according to the indictment, Osipov and Masters advised and enabled Tango employees to continue to do business with numerous U.S. companies, using various workarounds to avoid sanctions, such as payments in other currencies and through third parties. 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 efforts of these facilitators permitted Tango to continue to operate as a luxury yacht with the full array of services and luxury goods available to it, supported by hundreds of thousands of dollars of illegally-obtained U.S. services and U.S. financial transactions, and all for the benefit of Vekselberg.
On April 4, 2022, Spanish law enforcement executed a Spanish court order freezing Tango. The Spanish acted following a request from the Department of Justice that it assist with the execution of a seizure warrant, issued in March 2022 by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which alleged that Tango was subject to forfeiture based on violations of U.S. bank fraud, money laundering, and sanctions statutes.
The FBI Minneapolis Field Office is investigating the case. Valuable assistance has been provided by the HSI New York Field Office and the Spanish Guardia Civil – Jefatura de Informacion – Unidad Central Especial Numero III (UCE-III).
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen P. Seifert, with valuable assistance provided by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Rajbir Datta and Maeghan Mikorski, Paralegals Brian Rickers and Jorge Casillas, and Legal Assistant Jessica McCormick, all of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia are prosecuting the case. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided significant assistance in working with the Spanish authorities throughout this matter.
The case has been coordinated through the Justice Department’s Task Force KleptoCapture, an interagency law enforcement task force dedicated to enforcing the sweeping sanctions, export restrictions, and economic countermeasures that the United States has imposed, along with its allies and partners, in response to Russia’s unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine. Announced by the Attorney General on March 2, 2022, and under the leadership of the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, the task force will leverage all the Department’s tools and authorities against efforts to evade or undermine the economic actions taken by the U.S. government in response to Russian military aggression.
An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.