The US Justice Department is charging Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev with sanctions violations, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday, the first criminal charges against an oligarch since Russia invaded Ukraine.
“As the indictment charges, the Treasury Department previously identified Malofeyev as one of the main sources of financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea, and for providing material support for the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic,” Garland said. “After being sanctioned by the United States, Malofeyev attempted to evade the sanctions by using co-conspirators to surreptitiously acquire and run media outlets across Europe.”
Garland touted the new indictment among several actions the Justice Department has taken against the Russian regime at a news conference Wednesday. He also announced that a botnet that was being controlled by the by the Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU had been disrupted.
In addition, the Justice Department is assisting with the collection of evidence for potential war crimes prosecutions related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I personally spoke with our chief Justice Department prosecutor in Paris who was meeting with a French war crimes prosecutor,” Garland said. “The day before, criminal division prosecutors met with prosecutors from Eurojust and Europol to work out a plan for gathering evidence with respect to Ukraine. And at the same time, the United States is, at the request of the Ukrainian prosecutor, assisting in the collection of information with respect to the atrocities that took place in Ukraine.”
Garland noted the “horrible images” that have come out of Ukraine recently.
“The world sees what is happening in Ukraine. The Justice Department sees what is happening in Ukraine. This department has a long history of helping to hold accountable those who perpetrate war crimes,” he said.
Garland says the department is sending a ‘message’ to enablers of the Russian regime
The charges against Malofeyev were filed in the Southern District of New York and were the first criminal charges brought by the Justice Department against a Russian oligarch since Russia invaded Ukraine, Monaco said at the press conference. In a press release unveiling the indictment, FBI assistant director Michael Driscoll accused Malofeyev of playing “leading role in supporting Russia’s 2014 invasion of eastern Ukraine,” and said Malofeyev “continues to run a pro-Putin propaganda network, and recently described Russia’s 2022 military invasion of Ukraine as a ‘holy war.’”
In addition to the sanctions violation charges, the department said it had seized Malofeyev funds being held in a US bank account. The new indictment links Malofeyev to an American television producer the Department previously charged for allegedly violating US sanctions tied to Russia’s takeover of Crimea.
Garland touted the new charges along with the disruption of the GRU botnet, which is a bot that can hack and steal information.
“The Russian government has recently used similar infrastructure to attack Ukrainian targets,” Garland said. “Fortunately, we were able to disrupt this botnet before it could be used. Thanks to our close work with international partners, we were able to detect the infection of thousands of network hardware devices.”
The new actions come in addition to a yacht – owned by another Kremlin tied oligarch facing sanctions, Victor Vekselberg – that was seized earlier this week.
Additionally, Garland said Wednesday, the Justice Department, in coordination with its German law enforcement partners, seized the “Russia-affiliated Hydra darknet market – the world’s largest illegal marketplace on the dark web.” Charges had been brought, according to Garland, against a Russian national who allegedly administered the market’s technical infrastructure.
Monaco said that the Hydra market exchange was facilitating the buying and selling of a “staggering variety” of illicit goods in Russian-speaking countries.
Garland vowed that the Department “will continue to work alongside our international partners to hold accountable those who break our laws, threaten our national security, and harm our allies.
“Our message to those who continue to enable the Russian regime through their criminal conduct is this: It does not matter how far you sail your yacht. It does not matter how well you conceal your assets. It does not matter how cleverly you write your malware or hide your online activity,” Garland said. “The Justice Department will use every available tool to find you, disrupt your plots, and hold you accountable.”