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DOJ: KleptoCapture's goal is 'disruption and discomfort' of Russian oligarchs

"Corrupt" billionaires who amassed wealth through "extortion and degradation of the rule of law” are on the target list — but it doesn't stop there, a senior DOJ official said.
Image: Then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks with Oleg Deripaska at an investment forum in Sochi in 2008.
Then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks with Oleg Deripaska at an investment forum in Sochi in 2008.Ilia Pitalev / AFP-Getty Images file

The Biden administration’s new task force targeting Russian oligarchs will go after those “who have assisted the regime responsible for the invasion of Ukraine” — meaning not just the elites, but also those within their sphere, a senior Justice Department official said Friday. 

“Our success will be defined as dismantling, disruption and discomfort for these oligarchs, their enablers and their networks,” the official said in explaining the work of the so-called KelptoCapture task force announced last week.

“These people amassed huge wealth through corruption, extortion, and degradation of the rule of law,” the official said. “These are corrupt billionaires who have to do so much to hide their assets.”

The task force will concentrate on individuals and entities subject to Treasury Department sanctions, which freeze or block access to their assets. The Justice Department will also go further, seeking to bring criminal charges or civil lawsuits in order to seize those assets.

That means financial institutions, money transmission services, and cryptocurrency exchanges "who willfully fail to maintain adequate anti-money laundering policies and procedures" and allow the "free flow" of the oligarchs' money will be "in the crosshairs,” the official said.

Possible criminal charges include money laundering and bank or wire fraud. 

The task force will be overseen by Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and run by Andrew Adams, an experienced corruption prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan.   

“Their real estate, corporate shareholdings, bank accounts, yachts, airplanes, jewelry — all of that is on the table,” the official said. “We want to cut off funds used to support the Russian war machine or reward its enablers.”

Close to 900 Russian individuals and entities are on the U.S. sanctions list, including more than 200 added under a new round of sanctions imposed last year. But the task force will also prosecute those who help in evading the sanctions.

Federal prosecutors last week charged a U.S. citizen, John Hanick, with helping a Russian oligarch set up and operate a cable television news network in Russia. Court documents said Hanick worked for Konstantin Malofeyev, identified as one of the main sources of financing for efforts to promote Russian separatist groups in Ukraine.

Hanick was arrested on the charges in London, and the U.S. is now seeking his extradition.

The official said that the task force will pursue any individuals or financial institutions that actively help evade sanctions “or that stick their heads in the sand or blind themselves to moving dirty money.”

In the past, U.S. prosecutors have accused Russian oligarchs of hiding their assets by using secret bank accounts, shell companies, and offshore facilitators. But now, the official said, international outrage over the invasion of Ukraine has led to unprecedented unanimity in cracking down even further.

“It’s important for us to be impactful and public in our work. The scale and pace of sanctions around the world is unprecedented,” the official said.