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Justice Ministry accuses Russian oligarch of violating sanctions


WASHINGTON — The Justice Department said Wednesday it has charged a Russian oligarch with violating U.S. sanctions and unveiled additional measures designed to tackle Russian money laundering and disrupt online criminal networks in the purpose of imposing financial sanctions on Moscow.

The moves came as the United States stepped up pressure on the Kremlin and some of the wealthiest Russians in light of growing evidence of atrocities in Ukraine and Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said the United States United were helping their European partners investigate possible war crimes. .

The oligarch, Konstantin Malofeev, 47, is widely regarded as one of Russia’s most influential business tycoons – he is said to have deep ties to President Vladimir V. Putin – and is among the most prominent conservatives in Russia. the country’s Kremlin-allied elite. (The indictment returns his surname Malofeyev.)

The actions demonstrated the reach of a task force created last month to find and seize the assets of wealthy Russians who violate US sanctions on Russia, and the sanctions appeared aimed at enforcing sweeping economic sanctions that the United States have imposed with the European Union. allies.

“The Department of Justice will use every tool available to find you, disrupt your plots and hold you accountable,” Garland said, adding that officials have decided “to prosecute Russian criminal activity.” He pointed to the seizure this week of a $90 million yacht belonging to Viktor F. Vekselberg, who previously faced sanctions for Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Mr. Garland said law enforcement was also prosecuting Mr. Malofeev for illegal transfer of money in violation of sanctions.

The criminal charges against Malofeev, which were unsealed in federal district court in Manhattan, follow an indictment filed in March against former Fox News employee John Hanick. Mr Hanick, an American citizen, is accused of having worked for the oligarch from 2013 to 2017, and was arrested in February in London.

Justice Department officials said in a statement on Wednesday that the charges against Mr. Malofeev relate to his hiring of Mr. Hanick “to work for him in the operation of television networks in Russia and Greece and to attempt to acquire a television network in Bulgaria”.

The US Treasury Department, in imposing sanctions on Mr Malofeev in December 2014, called him “one of the main sources of funding for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea”.

Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement Wednesday that the sanctions prohibit Mr. Malofeev from paying or receiving services from U.S. citizens, or transacting with his property in the states. -United.

“He consistently flouted those restrictions for years,” Mr Williams said.

Mr Malofeev, believed to be in Russia, remains at large, the Justice Ministry said. Mr Garland said the department had seized “millions of dollars” from a US financial institution believed to be traced back to Mr Malofeev.

The Justice Ministry also said it was taking steps to counter nefarious online activity, including disrupting a botnet organized by the Russian government’s military intelligence agency.

Mr. Garland also announced the seizure of Hydra Market, a Russian-language darknet market that dealt in drug sales, fake passports and other documents, and the theft of financial data. The department said it believed the market accounted for 80% of cryptocurrency transactions on the dark web and that around $5.2 billion worth of bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies had been seized with the help of authorities. Germans.

This announcement was accompanied by new sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies on Wednesday against some of the largest Russian banks.

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