A 255-foot luxury yacht owned by a Russian billionaire was seized by Spanish law enforcement on Monday at the request of US officials, according to the Justice Department.
The Russian, Viktor Vekselberg, has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his case marks the first seizure by a newly formed US task force that’s dedicated to cracking down on sanctions violators in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The US Justice Department said the $90 million superyacht, dubbed “Tango,” was seized based on alleged violations of US bank fraud, money laundering and sanctions statutes. Its seizure happened on Spain’s Mallorca island in the Mediterranean, according to court documents.
The US judge who allowed the seizure, Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui, issued a scathing eight-page order in which he cited Putin’s “murder of civilians” and destruction of Ukraine’s cities.
“The seizure of the Target Property is just the beginning of the reckoning that awaits those who would facilitate Putin’s atrocities. Neither the Department of Justice, nor history, will be kind to the Oligarchs who chose the wrong side,” Faruqui wrote.
Faruqui concluded his order with a reference to a March CNN article that detailed the damage to Snake Island, where Ukrainian defenders famously responded to the threat of Russian invasion with the words: “Russian warship, go f*** yourself.”
“The Department of Justice’s seizure echoes the message of the brave Ukrainian soldiers of Snake Island,” Faruqui wrote.
DOJ special unit
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday’s seizure “will not be the last.”
“Together, with our international partners, we will do everything possible to hold accountable any individual whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue its unjust war,” he said in a statement.
Another $625,000 spread across nine different banks was frozen as part of investigations into sanctions violations by Russian nationals, according to the department.
The DOJ announced last month that it was launching a special unit to help enforce sanctions against Russian government officials and oligarchs, targeting their yachts, jets, real estate and other assets.
The unit, called KleptoCapture, includes prosecutors and federal agents and experts in money laundering, tax enforcement and national security investigations from the FBI, the IRS, the US Marshals Service, and the US Postal Inspection Service.
Though a handful of Russian oligarchs – those billionaires who made much of their fortunes under the watchful eye of Putin – have called for peace since the war in Ukraine began, many have stayed quiet as nations cut off their access to markets and commerce.
This story has been updated with additional details.