Back in April last year, U.S. and Spanish authorities seized the $90 million yacht Tango owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. On Friday, indictments were unsealed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charging two men, Vladislav Osipov, 51, a Russian national, and Richard Masters, 52, a U.K.national,, with facilitating a sanctions evasion and money laundering scheme in relation to the ownership and operation of the Tango.
Masters has been provisionally arrested by Spain’s Guardia Civil and is being held pending extradition proceedings. An arrest warrant against Osipov is outstanding.
According to the indictments, 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, is alleged to have 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.
“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.”
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. Additionally, these payments and Vekselberg’s involvement were not reported to the Department of the Treasury.
WORK AROUNDS TO AVOID SANCTIONS
Further, 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,” says the Department of Justice. “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.”
“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.”
“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.”