Biden administration launches new ‘KleptoCapture’ task force to go after Russian oligarchs

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration announced a new task force Wednesday that will enforce sweeping U.S. and allied sanctions imposed on Russian officials and oligarchs that have helped finance President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war in Ukraine.

The new task force, comprised of interagency law enforcement officers from the FBI, Marshals Service, IRS, Postal Inspection, Homeland Security Investigations and Secret Service, will target “the crimes of Russian officials, government-aligned elites, and those who aid or conceal their unlawful conduct.”

The task force will use various tools at its disposable, including cryptocurrency tracing, to track down and prosecute those who violate the sanctions and seize assets.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, who will oversee the new task force, said in a statement, “Oligarchs be warned: we will use every tool to freeze and seize your criminal proceeds.”

A police officer patrols a deserted Red Square during the pandemic of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Valery Sharifulin

Teased by President Joe Biden in his State of the Union address Tuesday evening, the new Department of Justice task force, dubbed Task Force KleptoCapture, will seek to deprive Russian oligarchs of assets and other tools used to evade sanctions.

“The U.S. Department of Justice is assembling a dedicated task force to go after the crimes of Russian oligarchs,” Biden said. “We are coming for your ill-begotten gains,” the president added.

Superyachts owned by Russian billionaires have been on the move ever since the U.S. and their allies started previewing possible sanctions against these types of properties.

CNBC previously reported that at least four massive yachts owned by Russian business leaders have been moving toward the Maldives and Montenegro. The Maldives doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S., according to Nomad Capitalist.

Since that report, one of the yachts started to shift its position. Vagit Alekperov, who is president of Russia-based Lukoil, sailed his yacht named Galactica Super Nova into a port in Montenegro, according to data from Marine Traffic.

Yet on Wednesday, it was last seen heading out to sea from the Montenegro docking area.

As of late Tuesday, it was docked near a yacht named Trident that’s said to be owned by sanctioned Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyy. He was marked last year by the U.S. State Department, which accused Kolomoyskyy of “significant corruption.” Kolomoyskyy’s yacht has been parked at the Montenegro port since mid-February, according to Marine Traffic.

The Ukrainian billionaire has also previously suggested that Ukraine should start aligning itself more with Russia, even though he helped finance equipment for Ukrainian fighters when they defended Crimea from the Russians in 2014.

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A giant yacht known to be owned by Putin is on track to enter Kaliningrad, Russia’s only year-round ice-free port on the Baltic Sea, after spending time in Hamburg, Germany.

The task force is yet another approach the Biden administration has taken in lockstep with trans-Atlantic allies to hold Putin and complicit Russian elites to account.

“The Justice Department will use all of its authorities to seize the assets of individuals and entities who violate these sanctions,” wrote Attorney General Merrick Garland in a statement announcing the new unit.

“We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to investigate, arrest and prosecute those whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue this unjust war,” Garland added.

The State Department said Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the new task force with his Ukrainian counterpart on Wednesday.

Correction: Kaliningrad is Russia’s only year-round ice-free port on the Baltic Sea. An earlier version mischaracterized the port.

Jinggo B Danuarta

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