• Fri. Sep 22nd, 2023


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Ex-Fox News Producer Broke Law With Work for Russian Oligarch, U.S. Says

A former Fox News producer was charged on Thursday with violating U.S. sanctions by working for a Russian oligarch who has been accused of being a leading financial supporter of separatists in Crimea and eastern Ukraine and has close ties to President Vladimir V. Putin.

The producer, John Hanick, was arrested in London last month and charged in U.S. District Court in Manhattan in what federal prosecutors said was the first such indictment stemming from sanctions imposed as a result of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Konstantin Malofeev — the oligarch who employed Mr. Hanick, according to the indictment — was labeled “one of the main sources of financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea” by the Treasury Department when the sanctions were put in place in December 2014. Mr. Hanick worked for Mr. Malofeev from 2013 to 2017, the indictment says.

The case against Mr. Hanick, a 71-year-old U.S. citizen, was announced as the United States and much of the rest of the world continue to punish Russia financially amid broader efforts to halt its war on Ukraine. On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced a new task force to “hold accountable corrupt Russian oligarchs” who had supported the invasion.

Although the charges against Mr. Hanick arise from eight-year-old sanctions, they are of a piece with other steps the United States and its allies have taken more recently and indicate that the federal authorities will use every available lever to exert pressure on Mr. Putin and his circle.

Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, emphasized the point in a statement.

The charges, he said, showed a “commitment to the enforcement of laws intended to hamstring those who would use their wealth to undermine fundamental democratic processes.”

Mr. Hanick, who was with Fox News at its inception and spent 15 years at the network before leaving in 2011, is charged in the indictment with one count of violating sanctions and another of lying to F.B.I. agents who interviewed him last year.

Lawyers for Mr. Hanick could not be reached for comment. A Fox News spokeswoman declined to comment on the charges, but said that the indictment had described Mr. Hanick’s role at the network inaccurately, that he had been a director, not a producer.

Mr. Malofeev, a banker and devoted follower of the Russian Orthodox faith, is one of Russia’s most influential magnates and among the most prominent conservatives within the country’s Kremlin-allied elite. (The indictment renders his surname as Malofeyev.)

He is a bulwark of Mr. Putin’s support on the Russian right, has ties to far-right politicians in the United States and Europe and has been accused of financing separatists in eastern Ukraine in addition to his activities in Crimea. He has denied the accusations.

He has also been a main figure in a push meant to increase Russia’s influence in Africa while diminishing that of Western nations.

Mr. Hanick’s work for Mr. Malofeev involved developing media outlets in Russia, Greece, Bulgaria and elsewhere, according to the indictment. He moved to Russia in July 2013 after negotiating an employment agreement “directly with Malofeev” that provided for a salary, a $5,000 monthly housing stipend and health insurance, the indictment says.

At the start, Mr. Hanick worked mostly on a project to build a Russian cable television news network, which went on the air in April 2015, the government said. Mr. Malofeev was by then subject to the U.S. sanctions as well as similar European measures.

Mr. Hanick played a leadership role at the network, described variously in emails as board chairman, general producer and general adviser, the indictment says.

The indictment quotes a January 2015 email from Mr. Hanick to Mr. Malofeev in which Mr. Hanick wrote that a draft policy statement for the network was meant “to implement your vision.”

“You are the founder and chief architect of the project,” Mr. Hanick’s email said, according to the indictment. “We, as board members, have the responsibility to direct the staff to implement your instructions.”

Mr. Hanick moved to Greece in May 2015 to develop a Greek television network that would “partner with the Russian TV network,” the indictment says. According to the indictment, Mr. Hanick later wrote to Mr. Malofeev that the network would be an “opportunity to detail Russia’s point of view on Greek TV.”

He also worked on behalf of Mr. Malofeev in 2015 to acquire a Bulgarian TV network, traveling to the country and taking steps to conceal the oligarch’s role, the indictment says.

Interviewed by F.B.I. agents in February 2021, Mr. Hanick acknowledged learning that Mr. Malofeev was subject to U.S. sanctions within several months of their being announced, according to the indictment. But he lied by saying he did not know Mr. Malofeev had any connection to the Bulgarian network until he read about it in the news media, the indictment says.

Mr. Malofeev has long been a strong advocate for a return to monarchy in Russia. He told The Guardian in 2017 that he became enamored of the idea after falling in love as a teenager with “The Lord of the Rings,” which ends with the hero ascending the throne. His law school dissertation was on the legal avenues for restoring Russian royalty.

In an interview with The New York Times at his ornate office on Moscow’s Garden Ring in March 2020, he said the “quasi-monarchy” Russia had “basically” become under Mr. Putin was “a very good thing.”

“If we were now to start calling him emperor, not president, then we wouldn’t have to change much in the Constitution,” he added.

Michael M. Grynbaum contributed reporting. Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.