Speed Reads

Task Force KleptoCapture

U.S. seizes its 1st Russian oligarch superyacht since Putin's Ukraine invasion, intends to keep it

U.S. and Spanish authorities on Monday boarded and seized a superyacht the U.S. says belongs to Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, at port on the Spanish island of Mallorca. A U.S. seizure warrant says Vekselberg has owned the Tango, a 250-foot luxury yacht worth about $90 million, since 2011, but has kept his ownership shielded through shell companies and other opaque financial instruments.

Vekselberg, the founder of metals and technology conglomerate Renova Group, has been under U.S. sanctions since 2018, in response to Russia's poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. The Treasury Department hit him with new sanctions on March 11, part of an effort by the U.S. and Western allies to raise the cost of the Ukraine war for Putin and those enabling his actions. 

This was the first yacht seized by the U.S. since Russia invaded Ukraine, and the first asset seizure by the Justice Department's new Task Force KleptoCapture. "It will not be the last," Attorney General Merrick Garland said. "Together, with our international partners, we will do everything possible to hold accountable any individual whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue its unjust war."

Spain, France, Italy, and other European countries have seized about a dozen superyachts tied to Russia's elite since Putin invaded Ukraine, as well as real estate and other assets. But unlike those seizures, "U.S. officials said Monday they would seek the yacht's forfeiture, alleging it represents the spoils of a crime," The Wall Street Journal reports

Yacht data service VesselsValue lists 65 superyachts owned by wealthy Russians, Politico reports, but Tango isn't among them, nor any other yacht tied to Vekselberg. 

Several superyachts owned by Russian oligarchs have sailed to the Maldives, the Seychelles, Dubai, and other ports where the U.S. and Europe can't nab them. But "these things are living, guzzling animals on the water that need maintenance," and "you need ports that can cater to that," Capucine de Vallée of Boat Bookings tells BBC News. "All the leading shipyards are in northern Europe." 

They would typically be headed to Europe now, Chris Jefferies of Superyacht World Magazine, tells BBC News. "Between December and April it's Caribbean season, and then yachts are moved to Europe for the Mediterranean season which will normally run from May to September."