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DOJ charges Russian oligarch with sanctions violations, disrupts military cyberattack

Attorney General Merrick Garland also said U.S. prosecutors are meeting with their counterparts in Europe about Russian atrocities in Ukraine.
Image: Konstantin Malofeev, Konstantin Malofeyev
Konstantin Malofeyev, the chairman of the board of directors of the Tsargrad media group, during an interview with Reuters in Moscow, on Sept. 16.Tatyana Makeyeva / Reuters file
/ Source: Associated Press

The Justice Department unsealed criminal charges Wednesday against a Russian oligarch and revealed the disruption of a computer malware attack carried out by Russian military intelligence, the latest in a series of moves against Russian interests following the invasion of Ukraine.  

Attorney General Merrick Garland also disclosed that U.S. prosecutors are meeting with their counterparts from two European organizations regarding Russian atrocities in Ukraine and that the department is helping Ukrainian authorities gather evidence.

“The Justice Department has a long history of holding accountable those who commit war crimes,” Garland said.

The criminal charges were filed against Konstantin Malofeyev, who was added to the Treasury Department sanctions list in 2014 after the U.S. said he provided financial support to Russian separatists in Crimea. The charges accuse him of violating the sanctions by trying to start media outlets in several European countries.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said the companies “would help spread pro-Kremlin misinformation across Europe.”

Malofeyev was accused of seeking to transfer a $10 million investment he made in a Texas bank to a business associate in Greece. The earlier sanctions had blocked the transfer.

Malofeyev “continues to run a pro-Putin propaganda network and recently described Russia's 2022 military invasion of Ukraine as a ‘holy war,’” said Michael Driscoll, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York office.

The charges are the first the Justice Department has brought against a Russian oligarch since Ukraine was invaded. 

It was not immediately clear whether Malofeyev, who is believed to be in Russia, had a lawyer to speak on his behalf.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said agents disabled a Russian military attempt to take over thousands of small computers by creating a global botnet that could then overwhelm targeted computers with denial-of-service attacks. The FBI was able to copy and remove the Russian malware from firewall devices used for command and control of the botnet machines.

Disrupting the botnet "strikes a blow against Russian intelligence, the Russian government,” Wray said. The FBI said the same Russian military intelligence team has carried out computer attacks against Ukraine’s electric power grid and the Winter Olympic Games. 

As for Russian atrocities in Ukraine, Garland said he was not calling for any specific kind of tribunal. 

“We are collecting information for the purposes of investigation,” he said, adding that he has spoken with the Justice Department’s chief prosecutor in Paris. 

Lawyers from the department’s criminal division have been meeting with officials of two organizations, the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice and Europol, to work out a plan to gather evidence of atrocities, he said.