WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Wednesday announced the creation of a task force to prosecute billionaire oligarchs who aided President Vladimir V. Putin in his invasion of Ukraine, part of a U.S. effort. United to seize and freeze the assets of those who have violated the sanctions.
The task force will mobilize the resources of various federal agencies to enforce the sweeping economic measures the United States has imposed as Russia continues its unprovoked assault on Ukraine.
“We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to investigate, arrest and prosecute those whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue this unjust war,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement.
The task force will be overseen by Lisa O. Monaco, the assistant attorney general. Andrew C. Adams, a veteran corruption prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, will lead day-to-day operations, according to multiple people briefed on his new role who spoke on condition of anonymity to release his name.
The task force announcement came after President Biden used his State of the Union address on Tuesday night to warn Russian oligarchs, saying the administration was “joining European allies to find and seize their yachts, their luxury apartments, their private properties”. jets.
It’s unclear how successful the Justice Department will be in prosecuting wealthy Russians, but the department typically establishes task forces in an effort to outline its priorities and urge prosecutors to bring cases.
“Catastrophic events, such as 9/11 or the invasion of Ukraine, often prompt the government to take stock of all of its enforcement tools to deal with a unique threat to international security,” said said David H. Laufman, a partner at Wiggin and Dana who oversaw enforcement of U.S. sanctions laws as a Justice Department official during the Obama and Trump administrations. “That’s what the Biden administration is doing here.”
The creation of the team, called Task Force KleptoCapture, adds to the series of actions that Western leaders have taken in recent days in an effort to undermine Mr Putin and the politically connected elite in Russia with alleged ties. close with him. By imposing potentially crippling sanctions on Russian financial institutions and beginning to freeze trillions of dollars in assets controlled by Moscow and oligarchs, the United States and its allies hope to push Mr. Putin out of Ukraine.
The Biden administration has sanctioned several Russian entities, including the country’s main development and military banks, one of its sovereign wealth funds and a subsidiary of state-controlled energy giant Gazprom. He sought to freeze Mr. Putin’s assets as well as those of his foreign minister, Sergei V. Lavrov, and other Russian national security officials. And he has curbed purchases of Russian sovereign bonds, barred some Russian banks from accessing Western financial markets, and cut off Russia’s access to some foreign technology products.
The European Union and Britain have taken similar punitive measures and have also banned certain military exports to Russia. But Russia went ahead with its onslaught of attacks in Ukraine.
The creation of the task force reflects the tough scrutiny of Russian oligarchs, many of whom have built their fortunes through their ties to Mr Putin. While they may not be directly involved in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they allow Mr. Putin to help him hide his own assets and stay in power.
Russian oligarchs have invested their fortunes in assets around the world, and their ties to Mr. Putin have helped them gain influence and connections in the worlds of fine arts, real estate, Wall Street and the arts. Silicon Valley.
Some members of the Russian elite are said to be rushing to sell off their assets to protect them from seizure, presumably in anticipation of sanctions. One of the country’s most prominent oligarchs, Roman Abramovich, said on Wednesday he would sell Premier League football team Chelsea.
Other Moscow-linked oligarchs have hired US lobbyists and white-shoe law firms to try to weaken US sanctions laws like the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 measure that initially imposed sanctions on some government officials. Russian government in response to human rights abuses.
Russo-Ukrainian war: what you need to know
A city is captured. Russian troops took control of Kherson, the first Ukrainian city to be defeated in the war. The overrun of Kherson is important because it allows the Russians to gain more control of the southern coast of Ukraine and to push west towards the city of Odessa.
While many US law and lobbying firms have stopped representing Russian entities, not all have. For example, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, one of the nation’s largest law firms, appears to be continuing to work on 2016 election-related litigation with Alfa Bank, which the United States has placed under sanctions last week. The sanctions imposed on Alfa Bank were lighter than those imposed on some other Russian financial companies and did not require Skadden Arps to sever its ties; the law firm did not respond to requests for comment.
Alfa Bank was founded by Ukrainian-Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman, whom the European Union separately sanctioned this week, noting that he “has been called a top Russian financier and an enabler of Putin’s inner circle.”
Mr. Adams, who will lead the day-to-day operations of the task force, has a proven track record of investigating Russian organized crime and recovering illicit assets. He joined the US Attorney’s office in Manhattan in 2013 and worked in the violent and organized crime unit before helping oversee money laundering investigations.
He has helped lead the bureau’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit since 2018. Under his leadership, the unit successfully prosecuted cases involving an Armenian criminal organization, corruption and money laundering scheme. money involving Brazilian public officials and a racehorse doping network, among others.
The task force will include prosecutors and investigators from the Department of Justice who have expertise in enforcing laws regarding sanctions, export controls, corruption, asset forfeiture, money laundering and taxes. And he will work with investigators from the IRS, FBI, Marshals Service, Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security and Postal Inspection Service.
The task force will target individuals and businesses attempting to evade anti-money laundering laws, hide their identities from financial institutions, and use cryptocurrencies to evade sanctions and launder money. The Department of Justice said it would use civil and criminal asset forfeiture to seize assets belonging to those subject to sanctions.
The department said its work would complement that of a transatlantic task force announced last weekend to identify and seize the assets of penalized Russian individuals and companies around the world.
charlie savage contributed reporting from Washington, and Rebecca Davis O’Brien and William K. Rashbaum from New York.