Author: Dr. Angelika Hellweger
25 January 2023
2 min read
Two men were charged with sanctions evasion regarding a luxury yacht that is subject to a freezing order. Angelika Hellweger details the case and explains why freezing assets can be the start rather than the end of the legal process.
Two businessmen have been charged in the US over sanctions evasion and money laundering relating to a luxury yacht owned by a Russian oligarch.
Vladislav Osipov, 51, a dual Russian-Swiss citizen, and 52-year-old Briton Richard Masters are facing charges regarding the $90 million, 255-foot yacht Tango, owned by the sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.
The two men are charged with conspiring to defraud the United States and committing criminal offences against the US, violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and money laundering. Masters was arrested in Spain so he could be extradited to the US. An arrest warrant is pending against Osipov.
US sanctions were imposed on Vekselberg in April 2018. Osipov and Masters are accused of facilitating Tango’s operations via the use of US companies and the US financial system and attempts to conceal Vekselberg’s involvement with the ship.
Osipov, an employee of Vekselberg who was property manager for Tango, devised a complicated ownership structure of shell companies to hide his employer’s ownership of the yacht - even though Vekselberg designed the yacht, was the sole user and the ultimate beneficial owner.
Masters ran a yacht management company in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. It is alleged he took over the management of Tango after Vekselberg was sanctioned in April 2018, and worked with others to circumvent US sanctions.
According to the indictment, Masters’ plans included using the fake name “The Fanta’’ for the yacht. This, according to the authorities, led to US financial institutions processing hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of transactions for Tango that they would not have otherwise allowed. These payments and their links to Vekselberg were not reported to the Ministry of Finance.
It is also alleged that Osimov and Masters used various tactics to sidestep sanctions – including payments in non-US currencies and the use of third parties – so that Tango employees could keep doing business with US companies. This enabled the Tango to keep operating as a luxury yacht with a full range of services, including Internet, technology, weather forecasting, satellite television and teleconferencing software – with Vekselberg as the beneficiary.
In April last year, authorities in Spain enforced a Spanish court order to freeze Tango. This followed a request from the US Department of Justice for assistance in enforcing a seizure order issued in March 2022 by the US District Court for the District of Columbia.
The freezing of Tango will have pleased the US Department of Justice. Yet while the freezing of a yacht – or any other asset – can represent a step forward for the authorities, it cannot be viewed as a successful conclusion of their efforts.
Even if a yacht or other asset is frozen, the legal challenges are far from over. Freezing a yacht can be an extremely costly exercise, due largely to the enormous maintenance costs. As a general rule of thumb, about 10% of a yacht’s value is spent every year on running and maintaining it. Docking fees, wages of crew members and insurance, as well as any repairs or upgrades, can all cost significant amounts of money.
If a yacht is not being maintained properly, its value is rapidly declining. This means, to take an example, that if a yacht is worth £100 million, it will come with a £10 million annual bill for running costs.
Many jurisdictions will not allow the oligarchs to pay for maintenance costs as they cannot access their frozen bank accounts. As a result, when authorities in any such country freeze such a vessel it is left to the taxpayers to fund the enormous maintenance bills. Yet if the authorities were to decide not to maintain the yacht properly (in order to save taxpayers’ money) a sanctioned person might well sue them for damaging his assets. The freezing of such an asset is, therefore, one step in the legal process rather than the end of it.
Angelika is a specialist in international, high-level economic crime investigations and large-scale commercial disputes. She has widely-recognised expertise in representing corporates and conglomerates in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and United States.