A British man has been arrested in Spain for extradition to the US for allegedly helping an oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin evade sanctions.
The US Department of Justice (DoJ) said in a statement that Richard Masters, 52, was arrested by the Spanish Guardia Civil last Friday, though his Russian-Swiss co-accused Vladislav Osipov remains at large.
The pair are charged separately, in indictments unsealed in the US District Court in the District of Columbia, with facilitating a scheme for oligarch Viktor Vekselberg connected to his 90-million-dollar (£73 million), 255-foot yacht Tango.
The DoJ said the pair are charged with conspiracy to defraud the US and to commit offences against the US, violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), and money laundering.
The US imposed sanctions against Mr Vekselberg in April 2018 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, with Washington strengthening the measures in March 2022 following Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The UK, Australia and Poland also joined Washington in March in seizing Mr Vekselberg’s assets and imposing travel bans, with the DoJ the next month seizing Tango in Spain.
The department alleges Mr Masters ran a yacht company in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, which he used to manage Tango after initial sanctions were imposed in 2018.
It is claimed Mr Masters and Mr Osipov used US firms and the American financial system to mask Mr Vekselberg’s involvement with the vessel, with Mr Osipov using a complex structure of shell companies to hide ownership.
Mr Masters is alleged to have devised a scheme that involved calling the yacht “the Fanta” to hide from banks the hundreds of thousands of pounds in payments in US currency that were ultimately to Mr Vekselberg’s benefit.
US Attorney Matthew Graves said: “Facilitators of sanctions evasion enable the oligarchs supporting Vladimir Putin’s regime to flout US law.
“The United States will not allow its financial institutions and persons to be manipulated or defrauded for the purposes of benefitting those supporting an illegal war.”
Director Andrew Adams of department task force KleptoCapture said Mr Masters had to face the “consequences” of his actions.
“The Department of Justice has been clear. Corporations and executives have a choice: They can participate in the global effort to uproot corruption, sanctions violations, and money laundering, and enjoy the benefits of prompt and fulsome cooperation; or they can, as Osipov and Masters are alleged to have done, attempt to shield themselves and their clients behind a veil of fraud,” he said.
“These men made their decisions, and now face the consequences of a failed attempt to profit through, rather than standing against, a sophisticated, transnational criminal enterprise.”
The Americans’ international partners were thanked for apprehending Masters.
FBI special agent in charge Alvin Winston said: “The FBI will hold accountable those who assist Russian oligarchs in their efforts to hide assets and violate sanctions. We thank our international partners who helped facilitate the arrest of Richard Masters in Spain earlier today.”
Press Association – Benjamin Cooper