Sixteenth Russian oligarch-linked yacht seized, first including apparent U.S. involvement

Sixteenth Russian oligarch-linked yacht seized, first including apparent U.S. involvement

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A megayacht linked to Viktor Vekselberg, a Ukrainian-born multi-billionaire and ally of Vladimir Putin, has been seized in Spain in what is believed to be the first recent Russian oligarch-linked yacht seizure that directly involved the U.S. government.

Former CIA Officer Alex Finley estimates that 16 yachts linked to Russian oligarchs have been seized since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24.

Spain’s Civil Guard announced the seizure online Monday and confirmed that it was done in conjunction with the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations, the investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Photos released Monday show officials from Spain’s Civil Guard alongside officials from both U.S. agencies aboard the vessel named “Tango” in the port of Palma de Mallorca, the capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea.

Spanish Civil Guards stand by the Tango superyacht, suspected to belong to a Russian oligarch, as it is docked at the Mallorca Royal Nautical Club, in Palma de Mallorca, in the Spanish island of Mallorca, Spain, April 4, 2022. Juan Poyates Oliver/Handout via REUTERS   THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.

Spanish guards stand by the Tango superyacht, suspected of belonging to Russian oligarch, as it is docked at the Mallorca Royal Nautical Club, in Palma de Mallorca, in the Spanish island of Mallorca on April 4 (Juan Poyates Oliver/Handout via REUTERS)

Associated Press reporters also reported witnessing the officials on board. According to Spain’s Civil Guard, the boat is owned by Vekselberg, and officials seized documents and computer devices from it that will be analyzed for further evidence.

The 254-foot-long boat boasts seven cabins for guests and is worth $120 million, according to Superyachtfan.com. It was completed in 2011 and was a finalist in the 2012 World Superyacht Awards.

Vekselberg was hit by U.S. sanctions last month after the Treasury Department called him a “Russian tycoon and Kremlin insider.” Biden officials noted that since making his money, he has become “one of the largest technological investors in Russia.” His yacht and airplane were specifically noted in the announcements of the sanctions.

It’s unclear what will happen to the detained yachts or who will pay for maintenance.

“Officials can detain them for a certain amount of time based on suspicion or open source reports, but eventually beneficial ownership, or the individual who actually owns the yacht (as opposed to the company listed as the owner), has to be confirmed by untangling the financial web of shell companies and management companies that shield the ultimate owner,” Finley wrote recently. “How much time do they have to do this? Unclear. But based on government press statements, in all likelihood authorities plan to detain the boats as long as sanctions are in place or until it is proven the owner is not on the sanctions list.”

A U.S. Homeland Security Police (HSI) agent climbs on board the Tango superyacht, suspected to belong to a Russian oligarch, as it is docked at the Mallorca Royal Nautical Club in Palma de Mallorca, in the Spanish island of Mallorca, Spain, April 4, 2022. Juan Poyates Oliver/Handout via REUTERS  THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT

A U.S. Homeland Security Police (HSI) agent climbs on board the Tango superyacht on April 4 (Juan Poyates Oliver/Handout via REUTERS)

Complicated ties to U.S. politics

Even prior to the invasion, Vekselberg had been in U.S. crosshairs. He is being investigated in the U.S. for tax fraud and money laundering and has also had a variety of entanglements with U.S. politics.

In 2018, he was questioned by agents working for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

According to the New York Times, he was confronted after he stepped off a private plane in the New York area and was then questioned by federal agents. He also reportedly had his electronic devices searched at the time of the investigation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and businessman Viktor Vekselberg attend a ceremony unveiling the memorial to members of the resistance at Nazis concentration camps during World War Two, at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre in Moscow on June 4, 2019. (Photo by Sergei ILNITSKY / POOL / AFP)        (Photo credit should read SERGEI ILNITSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Viktor Vekselberg at a ceremony in 2019. (SERGEI ILNITSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Vekselberg was never charged with any wrongdoing but had raised interest after attending Donald Trump’s 2016 inauguration. Vekselberg was also present, according to photographs, at an infamous 2015 Moscow gala that saw Michael Flynn — who went on to become Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor for just 22 days — seated next to Vladimir Putin.

Also in 2018, he was sanctioned by the U.S., reportedly to punish Moscow for meddling in the 2016 election.

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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