Spanish police on Monday said they detained a British citizen at the Madrid airport for allegedly helping a Russian oligarch dodge sanctions on his yacht.
The order to arrest the man came from the US, which is charging Richard Masters with facilitating a sanctions evasion and money laundering scheme concerning the ownership and operation of a $90 million luxury yacht owned by Viktor Vekselberg.
Vekselberg is the owner and president of Renova Group, a Russian conglomerate with interests in aluminum, oil, energy, telecoms and other sectors. He also has close links to the Kremlin.
In 2018, the US imposed sanctions on Vekselberg over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, officially freezing around $2 billion worth of his assets. Sanctions were tightened and broadened after Russia’s more recent attack on Ukraine.
Masters allegedly ran a yacht management company in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. After sanctions were announced, he “conspired” to change Vekselberg’s yacht’s name from ‘Tango’ to ‘Fanta’ to hide from financial institutions, according to the US Department of Justice.
He was also involved in enabling the yacht to continue benefiting from US products and services such as satellite television and teleconferencing software, according to the Department of Justice.
Spanish police say the Brit’s company earned €800,000 ($870,000) for servicing and operating Vekselberg’s yacht, despite being fully aware of the sanctions.
Even so, Spanish authorities seized the yacht in April 2022.
“Facilitators of sanctions evasion enable the oligarchs supporting Vladimir Putin’s regime to flout U.S. law. The United States will not allow its financial institutions and persons to be manipulated or defrauded for the purposes of benefitting those supporting an illegal war,” said Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia.
The US has also charged Vladislav Osipov, a 51-year-old Russian citizen, of working with Masters to help Vekselberg evade sanctions.
“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.
In 2021, Forbes valued Vekselberg’s fortune at $9.3 billion.
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