U.S. prosecutors seize properties, charge Russian on Ukraine invasion anniversary

February 25, 2023 8:05 am

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland [Source: Reuters]

U.S. prosecutors on Friday said they were seeking to forfeit six properties in New York and Florida allegedly belonging to a sanctioned Russian oligarch, and separately charged a Russian national with illegally exporting counterintelligence equipment.

The announcements came on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation.” The Department of Justice has sought to use asset seizures and criminal charges to squeeze business executives aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin to press him to stop the war.

“For as long as it takes, the Department of Justice will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our Ukrainian and international partners in defense of justice and the rule of law,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

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Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said they had filed civil forfeiture complaints against New York and Florida properties collectively worth $75 million that it said were owned by Viktor Vekselberg, who the United States sanctioned in 2018 over alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and again in 2022 over his ties to Putin after the invasion of Ukraine.

Two of the properties – an apartment on Park Avenue in Manhattan and an estate in Southampton, New York – had been searched by FBI and Homeland Security Investigations agents last year.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn said it had charged Ilya Balakaev, a Moscow resident, with providing U.S. equipment to Russia’s FSB intelligence agency as well as a North Korean government official in violation of U.S. sanctions.