A US judge approved the seizure of two of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s private planes valued at over $400 million for violating US export and sanctions laws.
The planes, a Gulfstream and Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, which is believed to be one of the most expensive private planes in the world, are currently in Russia and Dubai, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit to support the seizure warrant.
The US Department of Commerce also announced administrative charges against Abramovich. If found liable the maximum penalty could be as much as the value of the planes, an administration official said.
The actions taken by the US are part of an effort to punish Russians known to be close to the Kremlin and apply pressure to Moscow’s economy to try to end the invasion in Ukraine.
While Abramovich has not been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, a US Justice Department official said the seizure warrant indicates that “no one is above the law and not being on OFAC’s list doesn’t give you a license to evade sanctions or export controls.”
Authorities say the American-made planes were flown in and out of Russia without obtaining licenses from the US Commerce Department. Airplanes and aircraft parts are subject to export rules because of their potential military use and national security implications.
More background: After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the US Department of Commerce tightened sanctions and began requiring licenses for the export of planes, which didn’t previously need approval. By early March, the department also prohibited an American plane owned by a Russian national from being exported to Russia.
In an unusual move, the seizure warrant was made public and not filed under seal. The US Justice Department official said the filing was public to reveal the names of shell companies the US believes were used to shield the actual ownership and to encourage dialogue with banks, insurance companies, and others to cooperate.
The official said it was also intended to send a message to anyone who helps those sanctioned or accused of violating US laws that they run “the risk of being viewed as obstructionists.”
In the affidavit, the FBI agent outlined four layers of shell companies he unraveled to trace the aircraft to Abramovich. The filing indicated that the FBI located documents used to set up the companies offshore, in jurisdictions outside of the US’s control and beyond their subpoena power.
Those documents indicated that Abramovich was the owner of the companies that purchased the jets.
Authorities say in mid-March the Gulfstream jet flew into Russia twice, where it remains. In early March the Boeing aircraft flew from Dubai to Russia and back to Dubai, where it remains. The Boeing, which was originally bought for $93.6 million was customized and is now valued at about $350 million, according to the FBI affidavit.
Andrew Adams, the head of the US’s KleptoCapture task force, which has seized two luxury yachts and bank accounts, previously told CNN that they are taking a broad look at the laws they can apply and the types of assets they can seize, no matter where they are located.
"These seizures are, are going to continue apace, and people recognize that where the seizures are happening around the world are in pockets of the world that might not have been expected," he previously said, adding, "There are no safe havens."