July 21, 2024

Civil Forfeiture Complaint Filed Against Six Luxury Real Estate Properties Involved In Sanctions Evasion And Money Laundering

Civil Forfeiture Complaint Filed Against Six Luxury Real Estate Properties Involved In Sanctions Evasion And Money Laundering

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Andrew C. Adams, the Director of Task Force KleptoCapture, Ivan J. Arvelo, the Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), and Maged Behnam, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Miami Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the filing of a civil forfeiture complaint against six real properties located in New York, New York, Southampton, New York, and Fisher Island, Florida, worth approximately $75 million.  The Complaint alleges that the properties, which are beneficially owned by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, are the proceeds of sanctions violations and were involved in international money laundering in promotion of sanctions violations committed by, among others, Vladimir Voronchenko, a/k/a “Vladimir Vorontchenko,” who was indicted on February 7, 2023. 

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Today’s action, filed on the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, seeks forfeiture of six luxury properties owned by Viktor Vekselberg that his associate Vladimir Voronchenko maintained by funneling millions of dollars into the United States.  With the filing of this complaint, the United States sends a strong message to those who violate sanctions and engage in money laundering that the United States will use every available tool to forfeit criminal proceeds and will use that money to help our allies in Ukraine under the newly enacted law.”

Director of Task Force KleptoCapture Andrew C. Adams said: “Strawmen, corrupt professionals, and shell companies may be the hallmarks of money laundering and sanctions evasion, but they are obstacles that diligent, dedicated investigators and prosecutors will surmount.  Today’s filing marks yet another step that the Department of Justice and our partners at HSI and FBI have taken toward dislodging ill-gotten gains from those who would attempt to evade U.S. sanctions, and toward making the value of these properties available for aid to Ukraine.”

HSI Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo said: “For years, Russia’s weaponization of corruption has relied on opaque legal structures – and Western enablers – to move, hide, and spend stolen wealth, enriching its oligarchs and ultimately resourcing the war in the Ukraine.  Since the invasion, HSI New York and our partners have worked tirelessly to cut Russia’s corruptocrats and their assets out of the American financial system.  Today we continue our active measures and remove jewels from the crown of yet another oligarch, stripping him of the luxury assets he so cherishes.”

FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Maged Behnam said: “The mission of the interagency Task Force KleptoCapture is to enforce sanctions, export restrictions, and economic countermeasures imposed by the United States in response to Russia’s unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine one year ago.  This civil forfeiture complaint is an example of the Task Force’s ongoing work to fulfill this mission.  I commend the hard work, dedication, and cooperation of this team of professionals.”

According to the allegations in the Complaint filed in Manhattan federal court today:[1]

On April 6, 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) designated Vekselberg as a Specially Designated National (“SDN”) in connection with its finding that the actions of the Government of the Russian Federation in Ukraine constituted an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.  On or about March 11, 2022, OFAC redesignated Vekselberg as an SDN and blocked Vekselberg’s yacht and private airplane.

Prior to his designation by OFAC, between in or about 2008 and in or about 2017, Vekselberg, through a series of shell companies, acquired six real properties in the United States, specifically, (i) two apartments on Park Avenue in New York, New York, (ii) an estate in Southampton, New York, (iii) two apartments on Fisher Island, Florida, and (iv) a penthouse apartment also on Fisher Island, Florida (collectively, “the Properties” or the “Defendants-in-rem”).  As of the date of the Complaint, the Properties were worth approximately $75 million. 

Voronchenko, Vekselberg’s close friend and business associate, retained an attorney (the “Attorney”), who practiced in New York, New York, in connection with the acquisition of the Properties.  The Attorney also managed the finances of the Properties, including by paying common charges, property taxes, insurance premiums, and other fees associated with the Properties in U.S. dollar transactions from the Attorney’s interest on lawyer’s trust account (“IOLTA account”).

Prior to Vekselberg’s designation as an SDN, between approximately February 2009 and March 2018, companies owned by Vekselberg sent approximately 90 wire transfers totaling approximately $18.5 million to the IOLTA account.  At the direction of Voronchenko and his family member who lived in Russia, the Attorney used these funds to make various U.S. dollar payments to maintain and service the Properties. 

Immediately after Vekselberg’s designation as an SDN, the source of the funds used to maintain and service the Properties changed.  The IOLTA Account began to receive wires from a bank account in the Bahamas held in the name of a shell company controlled by Voronchenko, Smile Holding Ltd., and from a Russian bank account held in the name of a Russian national who was related to Voronchenko.  Between approximately June 2018 and March 2022, approximately 25 wire transfers totaling approximately $4 million were sent to the IOLTA account.  Although the source of the payments changed, the management of the payments remained the same as before: Voronchenko and his family member directed the Attorney to use these funds to make various U.S. dollar payments to maintain and service the Properties.  Additionally, after Vekselberg was sanctioned in 2018, Voronchenko and others tried to sell both the Park Avenue apartment and the Southampton estate.  No licenses from OFAC were applied for or issued for any of these payments or attempted transfers.  

On or about May 13, 2022, federal agents served Voronchenko on Fisher Island with a Grand Jury subpoena, which called for his personal appearance for testimony and his production of documents, including documents relating to the Properties.  Approximately nine days later, on or about May 22, 2022, Voronchenko took a flight from Miami, Florida, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and then went to Moscow, Russia.  Voronchenko failed to appear before the Grand Jury and has not returned to the United States.

*                *                *

The Properties subject to the forfeiture action are as follows:

  • 19 Duck Pond Lane, Southampton, New York 11968;
  • 515 Park Avenue, Units 21 and 2I, New York, New York 10022;
  • 7002 Fisher Island Drive, Unit 7002 PH2, Miami Beach, Florida 33109; and
  • 7183 Fisher Island Drive, Units 7182 and 7183, Miami Beach, Florida 33109.

Mr. Williams praised the outstanding work of the New York and Miami field offices of HSI and the FBI.  Mr. Williams further thanked the Department of Justice’s National Security Division and Office of International Affairs and OFAC for their assistance and cooperation in this investigation.

On March 2, 2022, the Attorney General announced the launch of 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 allies and partners, in response to Russia’s unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine.  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.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jessica Greenwood, Joshua A. Naftalis, and Sheb Swett are in charge of this action. 

[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the Complaint, and the description of the Complaint set forth herein, constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Originally published at https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/newyork/news/civil-forfeiture-complaint-filed-against-six-luxury-real-estate-properties-involved-in-sanctions-evasion-and-money-laundering