• Tue. Sep 26th, 2023


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U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Yacht Company That Caters to Russian Elites

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government leveled sanctions against a yacht management company and its owners, describing them as part of a corrupt system that allows Russian elites and President Vladimir V. Putin to enrich themselves, the Treasury Department announced on Thursday.

Imperial Yachts, which is based in Monaco and controlled by the Moscow-born Evgeniy Kochman, caters to Russian oligarchs. The Treasury Department said Mr. Kochman and his company provide yacht-related services to “Russia’s elites, including those in President Putin’s inner circle.” Imperial Yachts, the department said, conducts business with at least one person subject to sanctions.

The Treasury Department also identified four yachts linked to Mr. Putin: the Shellest, the Nega, the Graceful and the Olympia. The department said Mr. Putin used the Nega for travel in Russia’s north, and the Shellest periodically travels to his Black Sea palace. The department said Mr. Putin has taken numerous trips in the Black Sea on the Graceful and the Olympia.

The Treasury action did not name the 459-foot Scheherazade, an Imperial Yachts-associated ship that U.S. intelligence officials say could have been built for Mr. Putin’s use.

“Russia’s elites, up to and including President Putin, rely on complex support networks to hide, move and maintain their wealth and luxury assets,” said Brian Nelson, the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department.

“We will continue to enforce our sanctions and expose the corrupt systems by which President Putin and his elites enrich themselves,” he added.

The department also announced sanctions against four Russian government officials and Yury Slyusar, the president of a Russian state-owned company that supplies aircraft to Russia’s military.

The State Department separately imposed sanctions on Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian minister of foreign affairs, and Alexei Mordashov, a Russian billionaire. The Commerce Department announced that it was adding 71 organizations to its entity list, in an attempt to block Russia’s military from importing key technology.

Also put under sanctions was Sergei Roldugin, a Russian cellist and a longtime friend of Mr. Putin, described by the Treasury Department as “a custodian of President Putin’s offshore wealth.” Mr. Roldugin was added to the European Union’s sanctions list in late February, days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has been described as “Putin’s wallet.

Mr. Kochman and Imperial Yachts were the focus of a New York Times investigation showing that the company was at the heart of what is essentially an oligarch-industrial complex, a network of companies including German shipbuilders, French designers, high-end Italian carpenters and Spanish marinas that serve Russian oligarchs and employ thousands of skilled workers.

According to a U.S. intelligence assessment, a group of investors led by one of Russia’s richest men, Gennady Timchenko, who has been under sanctions since 2014, provided the money to buy three ships: the Scheherazade, the Crescent and the Amadea, whose construction at a German shipyard was overseen by Imperial Yachts. Their combined cost of as much as $1.6 billion could have bought six new frigates for the Russian navy.

In addition to Imperial Yachts, the Treasury Deparment issued sanctions against four other companies owned or controlled by Mr. Kochman. Those include OOO Bilding Management, which is known as BLD Management, a company that builds and renovates villas in Russia as well as in Western Europe for oligarchs.

A lawyer for Imperial Yachts, Simon Clark, previously denied that the company had any connection to Mr. Timchenko and said it “never conducted business or provided services to any parties subject to international sanctions.”

But Treasury officials disputed that contention in their announcement. Mr. Clark did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

U.S. and international authorities have moved to seize the three yachts connected to Mr. Kochman and his company. U.S. officials are fighting a court battle in Fiji to take control of the Amadea, which they contend was sold last year to Suleiman Kerimov, a Russian oligarch who is on a U.S. sanctions list. Feizal Haniff, a lawyer for the British Virgin Islands company that controls the Amadea, said the owner is Eduard Khudainatov, who is not under any sanctions.

Mr. Khudainatov is a protégé of Igor Sechin, the chief executive of the state-controlled oil company Rosneft and a close ally of Mr. Putin.

Mr. Khudainatov is also the owner — on paper — of the Scheherazade, according to documents the United States submitted to a Fiji court. The United States contends that he is a “straw owner” of the two vessels.

Last month Italy impounded the Scheherazade, after it appeared to be readying to set sail from the port of Marina di Carrara, on the northern coast of Tuscany. In March, Spain seized the Crescent in the port of Tarragona. Spanish police told Reuters that the superyacht is believed to belong to Mr. Sechin.

The United States added the Flying Fox, another yacht managed by Imperial Yachts, to its sanctions list. The 446-foot vessel is the world’s biggest yacht available for charter, at 3 million euros ($3.2 million) a week, according to Imperial’s website. Last year, Jay-Z and Beyoncé vacationed on the yacht.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and other American officials are helping lead an international effort to seize the assets of Russians who have acted as enablers of the Kremlin and its invasion of Ukraine.

In an interview Tuesday, before the new sanctions were announced, Elizabeth Rosenberg, the assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes at the Treasury Department, said that international cooperation to go after Russian oligarchs and their assets was increasing.

“It feels like we’re experiencing a sea change right now,” Ms. Rosenberg said. “It’s a huge leap forward on international cooperation for hunting assets, for freezing them and for pursuing law enforcement investigations and activity, including seizure activities.”

Treasury officials say taking action against oligarchs and the companies that help them spend their wealth will ultimately hurt the Russian government’s ability to wage war against Ukraine.

“Suddenly some of these secrecy jurisdictions around the world are no longer so secret for Russian ultrahigh-net-worth individuals to hide and move their money,” Ms. Rosenberg said. “It will constrain Russia’s ability to make money to support their war effort.”