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The Justice Department’s “Operation KleptoCapture” is seeking to seize luxury real-estate in Miami, the Hamptons and New York City, worth roughly $75 million and belonging to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, court documents show.
NBC News was the first to report the raid of Vekselberg’s properties in September of last year. Those searches by the Justice Department and Homeland Security Investigations, in part, led to Friday’s seizure filings.
Prosecutors allege that Vekselberg’s business associate Vladimir Voronchenko, a fugitive who was indicted this month, violated sanctions and was involved in international money laundering. After Vekselberg was sanctioned in 2018, Voronchenko tried to sell properties in Park Avenue and Southampton without obtaining proper U.S. approval in violation of sanctions laws, prosecutors said.
Voronchenko was served with a grand jury subpoena in May of last year on Fisher Island, and, according to prosecutors, later that month he took a flight from Miami to Dubai and ultimately Moscow — approximately 9 days after receiving the subpoena. He remains a fugitive to this day, prosecutors said.
The addresses identified in court documents are 19 Duck Pond Lane, Southampton, New York; 515 Park Avenue, Units 21 and 2I, New York, New York; 7002 Fisher Island Drive, Unit 7002 PH2, Miami Beach, Florida; and 7183 Fisher Island Drive, Units 7182 and 7183, Miami Beach, Florida.
These properties owned by Vekselberg are in addition to the $90 million 255-foot yacht, called the Tango, which Justice Department said is owned by Vekselberg and had already been seized by Spanish authorities on behalf of the U.S.
Vekselberg is well known to U.S. law enforcement and in Washington political circles.
A U.S. official with expertise in oligarchs said Vekselberg had an established model for seeking influence — identify areas of potential investment, provide funds to his proxies, and then let those proxies find “avenues” to move money to get the deals done — which could mean contributions or payments to individuals as needed.
A company controlled by Vekselberg made $500,000 in payments to former Trump attorney and convicted felon Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti said in 2018. Avenatti said the payments came from a U.S.-based company called Columbus Nova, which he said was controlled by Vekselberg and Vekselberg’s cousin Andrew Intrater.
The payments allegedly went to Cohen’s company, Essential Consultants, which was the same company that Cohen used to wire Daniels $130,000 to stop her from going public with her account of an alleged sexual affair with President Donald Trump over a decade ago.
In 2018, Andrey Shtorkh, a spokesman for Vekselberg, told NBC News that neither Vekselberg nor his business, Renova Group, had ever « had any contractual relationship with Mr. Cohen or Essential Consultants.”
He added, “As to a relationship between Columbus Nova and Mr. Cohen you have to ask Mr. Andy Intrater, because Columbus Nova is a company owned and managed by him.”
More recently Intrater’s contributions toward George Santos’ campaign have come under scrutiny, including about $23,700 in publicly listed FEC campaign donations in 2022 to Santos’ campaign or related PACs. In 2021, he donated $5,800 to Santos’ campaign as well.
Recent calls to Intrater have not been returned.
Vekselberg, like many of his fellow oligarchs, got his start in Russia’s rapid and flawed move from communism to capitalism in the 1990s. After serving as an engineer in a state-owned pump manufacturer, he made the leap into private enterprise. Through a set of influential contacts, he was able to buy state assets on the cheap and wound up a billionaire with a big chunk of the world’s largest aluminum company and one of the world’s largest oil and gas firms.
His partners were often oligarchs like Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire linked by U.S. law enforcement to Russian organized crime, but according to U.S. officials, Vekselberg kept out of the seamiest precincts of Russia’s economic life.
Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, once said of Vekselberg: “I would never describe him as being in the inner circle. He didn’t make his money under Putin. He made his money in the 1990s. But everyone has to make compromises. In fact, he has a complicated relationship with the Kremlin.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com
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