US agents search properties linked to Russian oligarch

Federal law enforcement officers from the United States simultaneously raided homes in Manhattan, a premium Hamptons beach neighborhood, and a private Miami island on Thursday that were connected to a wealthy Russian tycoon whose $120 million boat was confiscated in April.

According to FBI spokesman Jim Marshall, who is headquartered in Miami, the agency was conducting “court-ordered law enforcement activities” on Thursday at a Park Avenue skyscraper, a Southampton, New York mansion, and the community of Fisher Island. The agency declined to provide more details. Boxes were being carried out of the Park Avenue residence by dozens of federal officials.

The homes connected to Viktor Vekselberg, a key friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, were examined by FBI investigators and Homeland Security Investigations officers. A request for comment made to the attorneys who have defended Vekselberg did not get a response right away.

Vekselberg was the subject of the searches, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. The speaker spoke on the condition of anonymity since they were not permitted to do so.

A similar search was conducted at Fisher Island, close to Miami Beach, when scores of FBI and other federal agency officers were seen on houses connected to Vekselberg and his allies.

The searches were initially reported by NBC News.

As part of its efforts to implement U.S. financial sanctions on Russia and its billionaires, a federal task force has been investigating Russian oligarchs and the money trail that supports Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. A task force spokeswoman refused to comment.

Businessman Vekselberg, who was born in Ukraine, amassed a fortune by making investments in the oil and aluminum sectors during the post-Soviet period. Vekselberg is the CEO of the Moscow-based Renova Group, a conglomerate that has businesses in the metals, mining, technology, and other sectors, according to records from the US Treasury Department.

He was one among the first Putin loyalists that the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned in April 2018 in retaliation for Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine. American businesses are prohibited from doing business with Vekselberg and his enterprises, and all of his assets in the country have been frozen.

A 254-foot yacht owned by Vekselberg was impounded by the US authorities at a Spanish port in April. The boat may have been forfeited at the time due to crimes of American bank fraud, money laundering, and sanctions laws, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Vladimir Voronchenko, a boyhood friend of Vekselberg, or organizations connected to Voronchenko’s family and acquaintances are the sole owners of every property examined on Thursday. The museum in St. Petersburg that was established to display the oligarch’s collection of Faberge eggs was founded by Voronchenko.

On Fisher Island, there were four opulent condos among the estates. According to property records, three were acquired for a total of $42 million but are now worth much more. Two are owned by The Medallion Inc., a business established in Panama and with Olesya Kharlamova, Voronchenko’s wife, listed as a director.

Kharlamova, who was born and reared in Ukraine like her husband, is a board member of a condominium association for two opulent high-rise buildings on Fisher Island. These buildings are so popular with jet-setting Russians that locals have called them the “Red Zone.” A state-of-the-art cinema, infinity-edge swimming pools, and a fur coat storage facility that shields clothing from Miami’s humidity are just a few of the amenities offered.

In 2008, Medallion Inc. spent over $11 million for a penthouse apartment at 515 Park Avenue in Manhattan and $11.4 million for the Southampton residence in New York. On Thursday, both were searched.

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