Updated Apr 6, 2022 - Politics & Policy

DOJ seized "millions of dollars" from Russian oligarch

Attorney General Merrick Garland in front of Deputy U.S. Attorney General Lisa Monaco and  FBI Director Christopher Wray at the Justice Department on April 6.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, flanked by deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco and FBI director Christopher Wray, at the Justice Department on April 6. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Attorney General Merrick Garland unveiled an indictment against Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev on Wednesday for sanctions violations and announced the seizure of "millions of dollars from a U.S. financial institution" as proceeds traceable to the violations.

Why it matters: The indictment is part of a series of actions the Justice Department has recently taken to disrupt Russian criminal activity and enforce U.S. sanctions on Russian oligarchs for supporting the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine.

The indictment against Malofeev, opened in the Southern District of New York, marks the first criminal charges against a Russian oligarch since Russia invaded Ukraine, according to deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco.

  • Monaco said Malofeev is accused of "flagrantly" and "repeatedly" violating U.S. sanctions imposed on him in 2014 by attempting to establish pro-Kremlin media companies in Europe and through a scheme to transfer his "multimillion-dollar investment" in a Texas bank to a business associate, which has been seized.
  • She added that the U.S. and German law enforcement agencies Tuesday disrupted the Russian-language dark website Hydra, the world's largest darknet marketplace, and indicted a Russian citizen for maintaining the computer servers that supported it.
  • The marketplace, through cryptocurrency transactions, sold illicit goods and services, including illegal drugs, stolen financial information, fraudulent passports and hacking tools and services.

What they're saying: "Our message to those who continue to enable the Russian regime through their criminal conduct is this: It does not matter how far you sail your yacht, it does not matter how well you conceal your assets, it does not matter how cleverly you write your malware or hide your online activity," Garland said.

  • "The Justice Department will use every available tool to find you, disrupt your plots and hold you accountable," he added.
  • "We have our eyes on every yacht and jet. We have our eyes on every piece of art and real estate purchased with dirty money, and on every bitcoin wallet filled with proceeds from crimes," Monaco said.

FBI director Christopher Wray said the U.S. disrupted a botnet of "thousands" of devices created by the Russian military intelligence agency, commonly known as the GRU, "before it could do any harm."

  • Wray said many of the devices infected by the botnet belonged to small businesses around the world, though the malware was removed through a court-approved FBI operation.
  • Wray said the malware botnet was specifically created by the GRU's "Sandworm" team, which was behind a massive cyberattack against Ukraine's power grid in 2015 and the 2017 NotPetya malware attacks that devasted computer systems around the world and caused billions of dollars in damages.

The big picture: The Justice Department's newly created Russian sanctions enforcement task force marked its first major seizure of Russian assets this week after, with the help of Spanish law enforcement officials, taking control of a $90 million yacht owned by oligarch and billionaire Viktor Vekselberg.

  • Vekselberg has been sanctioned by the Department of Treasury since at least 2018, though the department announced new sanctions against him last month for supporting Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Go deeper: Senators seek to repurpose Russian assets for Ukraine aid

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional information throughout.

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