The Justice Department is moving to seize two aircraft belonging to billionaire Russian oil magnate Roman Abramovich, including his massive Boeing 787 Dreamliner, according to court documents.
A federal judge in Manhattan signed the seizure order for the two jets, the 787 and a Gulfstream G650ER, on Monday, the court filings show.
The Dreamliner is reported to be one of the most expensive private planes in the world. The Commerce Department says it was delivered “green,” or unfurnished, from Boeing and was customized in Europe. It's now valued at $350 million, according to the charging letter.
The seizure is part of “Operation KleptoCapture,” which is focused on the lawful seizure of Russian oligarchs' assets in the wake of Russia's assault on Ukraine. While Abramovich has been sanctioned by the United Kingdom, the European Union and Canada, he hasn’t been sanctioned by the U.S. The Wall Street Journal reported that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had asked President Joe Biden to refrain from sanctioning Abramovich because of the oligarch's assistance in peace talks between Ukraine and Russia. NBC News has not independently confirmed The Journal's reporting.
The Justice Department said it's going after the jets now because Abramovich flouted Commerce Department restrictions from February on export controls on aviation-related items to Russia.
A senior Justice Department official told NBC News on Monday that the government moved to seize the aircraft as part of its work “incentivizing those closest to the Kremlin to distance themselves from the Kremlin, from the Russian state, as it continues to ramp up the war.”
The Commerce Department and the FBI say Abramovich continued to use both planes after the restrictions were put in place, flying the Gulfstream multiple times in March and taking the Dreamliner to Russia in March before taking it to Dubai, where it remains, court filings say. The Gulfstream is still in Russia.
The filing notes that while it was generally known Abramovich owns the planes, it took investigators time to prove it because they had to track a series of transactions through five shell companies and flight records.
The FBI says it relied on corporate documents and information from people who were in meetings with Abramovich’s representatives for certain business transactions to be able to show that he was the ultimate owner.
The Justice Department official who spoke to NBC News said “information provided by private-sector actors, information provided by foreign counterparts around the world, has been a resounding success” for the KleptoCapture task force.